For the last several weeks, NFL training camps have gone into full swing. All 32 teams are taking on the unenviable task of selecting a final roster of 53 players from the initial 90-player preseason roster, so those 90 players are putting the pedal to the metal, as their careers may hang in the balance. But for many teams, there aren’t 90 players on the field every day.
Sure, injuries are a part of the game, but some of the absentees aren’t on the sideline, or even at the training complex. That’s right, this select group is chilling on the couch in air-conditioned comfort while agents badger general managers for more money.
Contract holdouts are an ugly reality in the NFL, and they take away from the ultimate goal of training camp, which should be to come together as a team and become a cohesive unit that has gone through the repetitions and is ready for any in-game scenario because all 53 players have actually attended the entire camp.
Look at it this way–holdouts usually consist of the best of the best, the guys who expect a large pay day and will do anything in their power to get it. If a team’s best player is absent for upwards of two weeks at the beginning of camp, how is that player going to fit in with the other guys when we get closer to the regular season? They certainly won’t be as fresh, and might even find themselves losing playing time to some younger players who were perfectly happy with their wages from the start.
Holdouts might claim that it’s all about the Lombardi Trophy, but staying home is directly detrimental to a team’s success on the field. If you want proof of this, here’s a list of some notable holdouts, and how each player’s team fared that season and beyond:
Darrelle Revis, New York Jets (2010)
The scoop: Revis held out for almost all of Jets training camp in 2010. The two sides didn’t reach a deal until September 5, just over a week before the first game of the regular season. When he finally did take the field, it didn’t take long for trouble to arise. Revis injured his hamstring in Week 2 against the Patriots, and was not fully healed until mid-October. The Jets did end up winning two playoff games, but ultimately bowed to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.
Jamarcus Russell, Oakland Raiders (2007)
The scoop: This one is almost laughable. No, it is laughable. The rookie Russell felt he was worth more than Oakland was willing to give him, so he held out for all of training camp. A rookie quarterback actually sat out all of training camp. When Russell finally got his 6-year, $68 million deal just before the regular-season opener, it was already too late. Russell went 7-18 as a starter in Oakland, and played just three seasons with the Raiders before he was out of football. What’s he up to now? Russell ballooned up to 300 pounds several years ago, and this spring, he sent letters to all 32 NFL teams asking to play for free. Ah, the irony. The Raiders have struggled mightily as well since Russell’s demise–the team still hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2002.
Kelly Stouffer, St. Louis Cardinals (1987)
The scoop: Jamarcus Russell might have skipped his rookie training camp, but at least he didn’t skip his rookie season. Though many years ago, this pathetic tale reminds us that greed is not confined to the 21st century. Stouffer, a quarterback from Colorado State, was drafted sixth overall in 1987 by the Cardinals, but that was the highest Stouffer ever got on the NFL totem pole. Stouffer felt it was necessary to press the front office for big bucks, and the fight wasn’t short. In fact, Stouffer sat out all of 1987 trying to reach a common ground regarding his contract. Since Stouffer missed his rookie year, he became dead weight for the Cards, and when they moved to Arizona in 1988, Stouffer didn’t join them on the migration. He was instead subjected to the third-string job with the Seahawks, and left the game in 1992. It’s really too bad Stouffer acted the way he did, since many NFL players in ’87 were replacements, due to the player strike. He could have left his mark against inferior players and had a lot of success, but money got in the way. The Cardinals, who were banking on finding a franchise quarterback, would make the playoffs just once between 1987 and 2007.
If the last two subjects are any indication, holdouts take away from the common goal of a football team. It makes practice so much more difficult, because more often than not, the holdouts are the most talented players on the roster. Don’t try and force a mega-deal during the first year, only to end up bankrupt five years down the road. Looking forward, I hope to see more players prepare for the future financially. Inflated performance on the field is always better than an inflated ego. Learn the game before you make the money, because if you can do both, football can provide for a lifetime.
Revis photo courtesy of NJ.com
Russell photo courtesy of NFL.com
Stouffer photo courtesy of Seahawks.com