The CBA makes it easier to hold out than to show up and leave

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Whenever players under contract choose not to show up for training camp, management-side mouthpieces routinely lament the fact that the player has chosen to violate the terms of his agreement. But there are two agreements that apply to every NFL player: The agreement between player and team, and the agreement between all players and the league.

That broader agreement gives each player the right to skip training camp, with the understanding that he can be punished with expensive fine (many of which often are never actually collected). The Collective Bargaining Agreement could have been written in stronger terms, allowing the team to pursue a court order forcing the player to return or giving the team the right to shut the player down for the entire year if he doesn’t show up. Instead, the CBA authorizes teams only to fine a player who doesn’t show up — which necessarily authorizes all players to not show up.

Once a player shows up, everything changes. If he later leaves, the team can send him a “five-day letter,” which (obvious given the label) tells the player that if he doesn’t return within five days, he could be placed on the reserve/left squad list. Placement on the reserve/left squad list ends the player’s season, prevents him from playing for anyone (even if traded), and tolls the contract that he already doesn’t like for an entire year.

That’s why players almost never show up and then walk out. The CBA shifts the power to the team once the player reports for camp.

Of course, there’s room for creativity, notwithstanding the team’s power to end the season of a player who reports and then bolts. For most if not all key players who hold out, the team doesn’t want to be without them for the full season. If Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, for example, reports with a pledge from the team to get his deal done and he later grows frustrated by a lack of progress and leaves, would the Cowboys shut him down for the whole season? Hell no.

Players also could, if they wanted, choose to leave, wait for the five-day letter, and then return on day four, perhaps repeatedly.

The other dynamic at play when it comes to holding out versus walking out is the distraction factor. It’s less of a disruption for a player to have never shown up than for a player to be there and then literally to disrupt the proceedings by getting up and leaving.

For those reasons, it makes far more sense for Elliott, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, Saints receiver Michael Thomas, and Washington tackle Trent Williams to not show up. Yes, it can get expensive. But they have the power to do it under the labor agreement, and the best way to pressure an NFL team into fixing a contract that has been outperformed is to withhold services by not showing up at all.

11 responses to “The CBA makes it easier to hold out than to show up and leave

  1. I think one of the major points of emphasis for the NFLPA for the next CBA will be teams’ obviously deliberate overuse/underpaying players at RB. Zeke and Melvin have gotten ridiculous carries to start their careers and now they are reluctant to pay them like top contributors. It seems like the plan is to run these guys into the ground and let them walk if a team-friendly deal can’t be reached.

    Melvin doesn’t deserve Gurley money by any stretch, but Zeke does and I’m glad these guys are seeing what’s right in front of them and taking a stand.

  2. I would like to know what percentage of contractual fines are actually honored for not showing up to work. I assume in most cases the fines are forgiven once they work something out.

  3. This will be something that teams will fix in the next CBA. What is the point for teams to have the ability of a 5th year option if the players don’t show up for their 4th year, base rookie deal?

  4. 3 year rookie contracts make a lot more sense to me.

    I’d also like to see the NFL move to a soft cap like the NBA instead of a hard cap, which would allow teams to pay more to keep their own drafted players while paying a luxury tax to do so. If Dallas wants to pay Zeke $15M/season and pay an equivalent amount in luxury tax for every dollar spent over the cap then why shouldn’t they be able to do so to reward the guy they drafted and supported. The taxed money could go into a fund that is then redistributed to the teams equally to reward other players who outperform their contracts. Seems like a win-win to me.

  5. If the NFL gave anything up for this provision, they lost bigtime. I don’t think there is anyone who could possibly hold out of training camp who would possibly get benched for the entire season if they were otherwise available and willing to play.

    Further, holding out of training camp is largely a symbolic move. Players do this in order to show they intend to not play during the season if they don’t get a new contract, however if the new CBA forced them to report to camp, they would show up and simply hold out during the season.

  6. I would like the fines to stand with the money going to children’s hospitals.

  7. A player who does not report to training camp and who is not injured should be barred from playing the season and should forfeit any income. It is time to honor contracts or to ensure the player who doesn’t, doesn’t get a dime ever until he honors what he signs.

  8. It’ll never happen, but it would be interesting if they could ever come up with a way that the players would actually get paid per their contract but allow the teams a way to cut them to save against the cap. So basically, teams could get cap relief if the player under-performs to the contract but they still have to pay the player what they said they would pay them.

  9. Do what the AAF did, 3 year fixed contracts for draft choices. Lose a year of service for holding out during a rookie contract.

    Holdouts (and lowballing) makes the sport a lot less fun to watch for fans.

  10. Ultraviolet Thunder says:
    July 28, 2019 at 8:47 pm
    A player who does not report to training camp and who is not injured should be barred from playing the season and should forfeit any income. It is time to honor contracts or to ensure the player who doesn’t, doesn’t get a dime ever until he honors what he signs.
    Get the players to agree to it in the CBA and you will get your wish. If you were an NFL owner what would you be willing to give up to make this happen? The process is not one sided.

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