KANSAS CITY, Mo. — De’Anthony Thomas swayed to, then fro, then to again, the way a cartoon character does after another cartoon character hits him with a giant rubber cartoon mallet.
July had come early on Tuesday afternoon, with the fury of a thousand microwaves. The Kansas City Chiefs’ rookie tailback/slotback sat on his helmet. Then he swayed (again) to the huddle, where he sort of crouched rather than stood. Then he ran a play, which the former Oregon star took to the end zone.
Then he collapsed.
Which, if we’re to be blunt, is a roundabout way of saying that Justin Houston is a freaking genius.
Houston, the Chiefs’ 25-year-old outside linebacker and pass-rushing specialist, did not attend the sauna that was the first day of the Chiefs’ mandatory minicamp — just as he didn’t attend voluntary OTAs before that, or voluntary spring workouts before that.
Fun fact No. 1: The Georgia native recorded 21 sacks in his last 27 regular-season games, including 11 in 11 tilts last fall. Rushing mate Tamba Hali recorded 19 sacks over his last 27 regular-season appearances.
Fun fact No. 2: In 2013, Houston reportedly raked in $555,000 in base salary, good for 36th on the roster. Hali took home $12.25 million, which was first.
And, well, here we are.
Holdouts are not especially fun — unless, of course, you happen to be the holdout-er (holdout-ee?), and you have access to air conditioning, time to kill and a burning desire to finally catch up on "Game of Thrones."
Coaches and players who are here, sweating to the oldies, have to answer questions as to why you’re not. Fans question your loyalty and general fealty to the cause.
We feel we have to pick sides because, well, this is America, World Cup be damned. We don’t play for ties.
But NFL contract games, in truth, are more often like the chorus to that classic rock chestnut by Dave Mason, "We Just Disagree":
To put it another way, Jonathan Baldwin used to look like the second coming of Calvin Johnson every May.
No, this is about gamesmanship, the business end of the stick, and each side taking turns beating the other over the head with it.
Houston’s agent is Joel Segal, a negotiator with a track record of getting good money for his clients, but not without drawing several lines in several sandboxes first. In MMA terms, the holdout is one of Segal’s favorite types of submission tactics, historically.
General manager John Dorsey knows this, of course, which is Reason No. 4B why outside linebacker Dee Ford was taken in the first round of last month’s draft.
Ford ran opposite Hali at outside linebacker for most of the first-team defensive sets Tuesday, again drawing raves for that insanely quick first step off the edge. No, the kid isn’t big, but the kid can play, and that’s the Chiefs’ No. 1 counter-argument and insurance policy in the Houston discussions.
The longer Houston stays away, the better No. 55 looks.
By the same token, if Ford pulls a hamstring between now and late July, all the leverage lands in Segal’s lap.
The stick swings both ways.
Folding your arms in June is cute. Folding them in August is risky, given that the player slapped with the franchise tag could very well lose money, long-term — and Dorsey still has that card in his hand, ready to play, for 2015.
In the meantime, sure, Houston misses the joys of spring, the cheeseburgers, the bonding.