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NFL holdouts need a better plan
Maybe we shouldn’t be so freaked out about this. In the NFL, players hold out every year.
(No, seriously. Brett Favre actually does hold out every year.)
But this year it just seems like an epidemic. All-Pro Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis is only the most obvious. There are also Chargers left tackle Marcus McNeill, Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson and another All-Pro, Patriots guard Logan Mankins. We’re heading into the preseason’s final stretch, and some pretty key pieces have yet to report.
And there have been noises made about taking holdouts indefinite. About sitting out an entire season, to show their teams what they would be missing, to prove a point.
Yeah. Good plan there, guys.
Look, I am not against anyone getting paid whatever he can. Especially in a field in which your career could be over in an instant.
But being a professional athlete, your livelihood is tied in a major way to your youth. It’s a small window (which is why they should get what they can when they can). But losing a season? That’s a heck of a point to make, especially with a potential lockout looming behind Door No. 2.
There’s tough negotiating, and then there’s threatening to miss a year. That’s crazy talk.
Think a guy who is one, maybe two years older would have any more leverage whenever talks resumed? No. And they know it. Everybody knows it.
So many things have to go right to make it in sports at the highest level, at any level. So many things have to come together. So many guys don’t make it. Wrong place. Wrong time. Wrong fit. Wrong luck.
Sometimes, you never get that moment back.
Kelly Stouffer sat out an entire season, in 1987. The moment never happened for him. He’s said the holdout had nothing to do with it. He’s said it was about something bigger, that he has no regrets. But all we know is that you never know what happens when you alter the space-time continuum. All we know is he never got that moment back.
And then there is Revis' mentor and uncle, Sean Gilbert. Like his nephew, Gilbert was a great player, a Pro Bowler. Like Revis, he wanted a bigger contract, and held firm and held out. In fact, as a Redskin, Gilbert missed the entire 1997 season, sticking to his guns. He eventually went to the Panthers the next season, and got his big-money deal. But what's he most famous for, since signing that contract?
Being Darrelle Revis' uncle.
Oh, there are holdout success stories, too. The ultimate player model was Emmitt Smith, the recent Hall of Fame inductee with the more dubious honor of breaking the Cowboys record for longest rookie holdout in 1990. Didn't hurt Emmitt though, as he was named the league’s top first-year offensive player. But Emmitt didn’t need a training camp in order to know how to take a handoff, cut left, slip contact and get that extra yard. And his was a tough negotiation. But they were going to come to an agreement. He wasn’t going to miss a whole year. That’s crazy talk.
Emmitt later struck again the summer after winning his first Super Bowl and and famously held out for two games in 1993. The result? The Cowboys famously went 0-2 and Jerry Jones famously folded (and oh yeah, the 'Boys went on to repeat behind Emmitt's Super Bowl MVP performance). But when Jerry tells the story now, his eyes twinkle. No, Smith was never going to miss a full year.
And Cornelius Bennett. The Biscuit missed 102 days after being drafted by the Colts in 1987 (part of that was through the players strike). His is a success story because he became a Pro Bowl player and went on to play in five Super Bowls. But rather than throwing him off track, his holdout actually put him in the right place, right time. It gave him his moment. He got shipped to the Bills.
On the flip side, there is JaMarcus Russell, who held out for 47 days, missed his first training camp and never found his footing in the NFL.
But hey. Let he who has never (allegedly) used cough syrup recreationally cast the first stone.
The key to holding out seems to be the length of it. Long enough for them to know they’d miss you. Enough time left for you to make a difference when you get back, so the season isn’t lost.
Teams want to get players in camp, before seasons are lost.
But too long and you’ve lost your leverage. Sitting out a year? That’s like saying people better give you what you want because you’ve taken a hostage. And then holding the gun to your own head. (It worked in “Blazing Saddles.”)
That’s the thing about holdouts. Players have so little leverage. This is the only time in their lives they can do this. This is the only place. This is their only move.
But going past the point of no return?
In 1980, John Riggins was one of the NFL’s top running backs, and he was in a contract dispute. He held out for an entire season. So there, he made his point. But the system did, too.
“I’m bored, I’m broke,” he said when he reported 11 months later. “And I’m back.”