The halfway point of the NFL preseason officially occurs at the conclusion of Monday night’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts. One of the biggest stories in any NFL preseason are the players who refuse to report to training camp because they want a better deal. Contract holdouts have become an annual rite of passage in the dog days of summer.
The two biggest names who have not yet reported to training camp are the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald and the Oakland Raiders’ Khalil Mack. Donald and Mack are the past two winners of the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. It is unknown when (or if) these defensive stalwarts will report to their teams.
One player expected to follow in the footsteps of Donald and Mack by not reporting to camp was New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham, like Donald and Mack, is a member of the draft Class of 2014. Instead of holding out, Beckham reported to training camp despite not having played a down in the preseason.
He was a constant presence at the Giants’ facility in the spring as he worked to return from a broken ankle. Beckham promised his contract situation would not be a distraction though he has made no secret of his desire to get a new deal. It could be because the Giants have a new head coach and general manager. Regardless of the reason, Beckham is taking the path of least resistance when it comes to his contract negotiations.
Fans and analysts have opinions on players who holdout for new or better deals.
The general consensus is that professional athletes get paid a king’s ransom to play a game. They should be “grateful” for making millions of dollars. When discussing salary, it is often said it is a “privilege” to play in the National Football League.
What is often lost is being a professional athlete is (dare we say it?) a job. Professional athletes, in this regard, are no different than the millions of people throughout the country who get up every morning and go to work. The biggest difference is the amount of money on the table. The salaries of professional athletes are published in newspapers and on websites. They are discussed ad nauseum on television shows and on social media.
There is a simple fact that is often overlooked or outright ignored. Most working people are underpaid for their services. There are very few people who are paid what their level of work or productivity dictates. It is true of most of the aforementioned millions of people who get up to go to work every day. It is certainly true of professional athletes.
The NFL, like any corporation, has one distinct goal: to make money. In the pursuit of the almighty dollar, they want to get the most while spending as little as they possibly can. The San Francisco 49ers made quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo the NFL’s highest-paid player with a five-year deal worth as much as $137.5 million. It is safe to assume they could have paid him more. Whether or not Garoppolo’s performance warrants such a deal is irrelevant. It’s not necessarily what you know (or do), it’s what you can negotiate in today’s professional sports climate.
Professional athletes have worries and concerns that the average worker doesn’t deal with. For starters, they cannot play sports forever. Despite what Tom Brady accomplished last season, Father Time is undefeated. At some point, NFL players will have to hang up their cleats. In many instances, they will never make NFL-level money ever again.
NFL contracts are not fully guaranteed. If they aren’t on the field, they don’t get paid. In the cases of Donald and Mack, they are fined by their respective teams for every day they don’t show up to training camp. The physicality of the NFL means many players leave the game with life-long injuries and medical concerns that need to be handled. They will need money to pay for the doctors and medicines they will need to take care of their health as they get older.
NFL teams, like any other business, are concerned with the bottom line ahead of everything else. No matter how much a team convinces themselves and the world they care about their players, the bottom line is the bottom line. Players are expendable, just like any worker in any field in any corporation. They need to treat themselves as if the president and CEO of their own company.
Which way is right when it comes to contract negotiations: the path taken by Donald and Mack or the path taken by Beckham? The answer is there is no right way. All three players outperformed their rookie deals without question. The path is determined by the players themselves. They have to decide based on their particular financial situation and their own conscience. There is no right way.
Critics who maintain players should not holdout for better deals didn’t have a voice in decades past. As Herm Edwards reminded us in an ESPN 30 For 30 film, players used to have to get jobs in the offseason. It wasn’t until free agency and players’ ability to move for more cheddar if they so desired that this became an issue.
The players are the ones with their names on the jerseys. Fans chant their names. They watch the games in stadiums and on television. Why shouldn’t the players demand a bigger piece of the pie, especially when they outperform their contracts?
– Curtis Rawls is a Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage and covers the NFL, the New York Giants, and the NBA. Please like and follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Twitter. Curtis can be followed on Twitter @CuRawls203.