Friends, we live in wild, joyous times. The NFL lockout has only been officially over for two days, and teams have been busy spending money like a teenage girl with daddy’s credit card. The frenzy has been exhausting, intoxication, addicting, and so much better than anything that’s been associated with football over the past four months.
But once that frenzy fades, holdout season begins. It sucks, but we’ll take a few days of hearing what player X is eating for lunch, and reporters quite literally searching for players and talking to their grandmothers over CBA legalese. Still, after months of anxiety generated by football and its potential absence, fans of a few teams may have to endure a new form of torture when key players lounge in their living rooms in protest as training camps begin.
Camps start to open this weekend, and the holdout clouds are looming. They’re dark, scary, and sometimes they even communicate with each other.
That’s Titans running back Chris Johnson, who usually speaks in only hyroglifics on Twitter.
Johnson’s intention to holdout has been clear for quite some time, nearly since the day he agreed to a re-worked deal prior to training camp last season after threatening a holdout. He could easily become this year’s Darrelle Revis, and won’t be content to play for his $800,000 base salary this year. He’s still playing under his rookie contract, a deal that Johnson’s agent Joel Segal says he’s clearly outplayed.
Johnson needs to get paid, and he should get paid. He’s been a Pro Bowler in each of his first three seasons, and set the record for yards from scrimmage in 2009 while also being named the offensive player of the year. At 25, Johnson is already steadily advancing to 30, the running back death age when players often decline suddenly and drastically. Tennessee entered free agency roughly $10.3 million under the cap, and after signing Matt Hasselbeck to a three-year contract worth $21 million, some parts may have to be moved to get Johnson into camp.
Johnson’s co-conspirator in the above tweet is DeSean Jackson, the Eagles wide receiver who’s also getting paid like a rookie, but isn’t playing like a rookie. Earlier this week Michael Vick spoke to the Philly media and was realistic about the possibility of Jackson holding out.
“I spoke to DeSean [Monday] and tried to figure out what was going to happen. Hopefully he’ll be here [Wednesday]. DeSean’s got some things to think about and some decisions to make that only he himself can make.
“I just don’t know. I’m just being realistic about the situation. It’s all in what DeSean wants. So hopefully he’ll be here.”
Philly Sports Daily reports that Jackson won’t be making an appearance during the first day of the Eagles camp today, and he won’t be there Thursday either.
Players have until Thursday to report to camp without incurring a daily fine. Revis was fined just over $16,500 daily for his holdout last year, but that penalty has now increased to $30,000. Even for rich athletes like Jackson and Johnson (which is also the name an accounting firm in my neighborhood), that’s a sizable investment to secure their financial future before a major injury.
Jackson is set to make $565,000 during the final season of his rookie contract this year, and he’s made the Pro Bowl in two of his first three seasons. Jeremy Maclin lines up opposite Jackson in Philadelphia, and he’ll make $658,500 in 2011 after signing a $15.5 million contract in 2009. Jackson had 22.5 yards per catch to Maclin’s 13.8, and the perpetual showboater also contributes as a dynamic and explosive return man, scoring four times on punt returns last year.
Lastly, Frank Gore’s locker could also be empty when the 49ers report for camp. Like Johnson, Gore is aware of his impending decline as he approaches the age of 30. The difference is that he’s three years older than Johnson, and knows this is likely his last chance at a sizable pay day.
Gore will have a $2.9 million base salary during the final year of his contract. When healthy, he’s still effective, and has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in four or his last five seasons. Health has been a consistent problem throughout his career though, as Gore has missed nine games over the last three years, and has played a full 16-game season only once.
He’s fully aware that given his injury history, his value will suffer on the open market next spring. Gore is also aware that the 49ers aren’t in a position of leverage since rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh will be highly reliant on the running game no matter which quarterback he trots out. At this point faith is sparse at the position between Alex Smith, and an inexperienced Colin Kaepernick.
But giving money to an asset destined to decline is a risky and unwise decision for a re-building organization, and a team that’s likely going to lose a lot of games this year, with or without Gore. Unlike Johnson and Jackson, he doesn’t have youth on his side.