Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

02 Sep 2012

Maurice Jones-Drew's Holdout: One Massive Waste of Time

Maurice Jones-Drew reported today, and Gregg Rosenthal over at NFL.com is absolutely right. What the hell was the point of all this? MJD doesn't get any additional money, and he loses carries early in the season which will just hurt him with his next contract negotiation. Meanwhile, the Jaguars won't get one of their best players at full strength until Week 2 or 3. This helped nobody.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 02 Sep 2012

42 comments, Last at 05 Sep 2012, 2:44pm by E


by Nathan :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 12:33pm

I feel like 95% of holdouts accomplish absolutely nothing but hurting all parties involved.

by Venger :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 12:40pm

Training camp for established vets is just a lot of pain with no reward. Particularly for running backs. Who wouldn't want to skip that morass? Brett Favre tried to do it every year, and no one ever gave him crap.

by Paydro70 (not verified) :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 6:13pm

Exactly... he missed the chance to get injured in preseason, which I'd say is a benefit. The idea that he's going to lose bargaining position because he gets fewer carries in week 1 (if that even happens...) is laughable IMO.

by sam :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 8:12pm

Um, people gave Favre crap for it every year. But more importantly, how can anybody say his holdout doesn't matter because he's a vet? He got his playbook today. New coach, new offensive coordinator. This is a lot more than knowing where to run with the football (something he won't need much work getting up to speed on). He's got to learn routes and pass blocking assignments.

If it was pointless, and only an injury risk, they wouldn't push vets in training camp.
sam! or the original sam from the old FO

by Paddy Pat :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 1:13pm

It helped ownership. Jones-Drew lost a bunch of money due to fines and made himself look like a fool. Less likely to earn any kind of extension, and the team is rebuilding anyway, Jones-Drew can't be part of their long-term plans. The NFLPA really needs more power.

by DEW (not verified) :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 1:58pm

That's not a union power question, though. The non-guaranteed contract problem continues to exist, but that's a matter to be settled in collective bargaining between the union and the owners--if the players hadn't wanted to agree to that, they didn't have to (and if they caved to the pressure to do so, well...that's what "bargaining" is all about). Holding out is just a player saying "I signed a contract to do X, Y, and Z, but I'm just going to refuse to do it in the hope you'd rather bribe me to come back instead of enforcing it." It's the problem of non-guaranteed contracts that makes this even resemble a valid practice (Imagine if your plumber got halfway through installing your bathroom, then decided to "hold out" for more money).

by PatsFan :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 5:52pm

Why does it need to be settled in collective bargaining?

There's nothing in the CBA that outlaws guaranteed contacts. (In fact, Adam Vinatieri had a guaranteed contract at one point when he was with NE). Players are free to negotiate guaranteed contracts. They just don't want the lower pay commensurate with a guaranteed contract -- they'd rather take the higher pay and roll the dice on not getting cut. (Which is probably not a bad strategy most of the time).

by Boo-urns (not verified) :: Mon, 09/03/2012 - 9:26am

Meh. You've made this point before. 1) This isn't a free market, dude. Players can't negotiate freely until they're UFAs (which for RBs often doesn't happen until their career is almost over), and even then they're subject to the franchise tag. 2) The fact that you can name only one player who's negotiated a fully guaranteed contract (a veteran kicker at the height of his negotiating power) points out the obvious fact that players are totally outgunned (by RFA, by rookie contracts, by the franchise tag, by salary caps, etc.) in these negotiations.

Thanks for playing, management tool.

by Boo-urns (not verified) :: Mon, 09/03/2012 - 9:30am

another way to put this: you make it sound as if a player can negotiate a fully guaranteed contract. in fact, rookies and RFAs have basically no leverage to negotiate such a contract (other than holding out, which you presumably are opposed to), because they have no options under the current system.

if you were pushing for a fully free market (no drafts, no tags, etc.), I would be with you 100%. but the fact is, the only way the players can get leverage (other than dismantling the union and suing, which you were actually opposed to) is through the CBA process.

by PatsFan :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 7:46pm

Any player, even a rookie, can certainly negotiate a fully-guaranteed contract.

To take a ridiculous logical extreme, if a player says "I demand a guaranteed $10,000/yr" the team will gladly agree to that contract. Ergo any player, even the lowliest rookie, can get negotiate a fully-guaranteed contract.

Now, what's the max $$$ a player could get on a fully-guaranteed contract? Well, it'll certainly be less than what they could get on a non-guaranteed contract, which is as it should be (a guaranteed contract is economically equivalent to a non-guaranteed contract plus insurance, and insurance ain't free nor should it be).

And is that guaranteed contract size less than what union shills and player apologists like yourself think it "should" be? Apparently so.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Wed, 09/05/2012 - 12:36pm

To take a ridiculous logical extreme, if a player says "I demand a guaranteed $10,000/yr" the team will gladly agree to that contract.

No, they won't, because they can't. There's a salary minimum. They have to hit that. And, in fact, most rookies are at the salary minimum, plus some small signing bonus. Teams would never negotiate a fully-guaranteed contract with those rookies, because on average, it's more money than they pay those rookies. Maybe they might guarantee the 1st year, but only for rookies that are nearly guaranteed to make the team... and then, what does the guarantee get them, except less money (since they have to give something up to get that).

The only way most teams would do a minimum salary guaranteed contract is if it were for a short frame - like, 3 years or less - or if the player in question were good enough that the minimum salary is a big drop from market value.

But the minimum salary is pretty high for vets, and in fact, most teams wouldn't guarantee the contract for lower-tier vets because they get a cap savings at the minimum salary (with little guaranteed money - a fully-guaranteed multi-year contract would invalidate the discount).

It's not as easy as you think it is, and it's really hard for running backs, where the rookie contract is such a huge percentage of the player's useful career. NFL running backs really get screwed by long rookie contracts, and in fact, the rookie's first free agent contract often is viewed as "pay me for what I did", not what I will do. There's a reason that running backs are the ones that hold out so often. It's because that rookie contract screws them over, and they view the later contracts as making up for it. The fact that they aren't guaranteed means that, when they continue to produce, they again feel like they're being screwed over.

Really, for running backs, being angry at the guaranteed contract is just misplaced anger: they should be angry at being locked into a crappy rookie contract (and restricted free agency) for a significant portion of a very short career. But it's not surprising that they often complain about it, because that contract is what owners give them to make up for a perfectly valid complaint.

Running backs are really unique in this situation. The NFL really needs to do something about them.

by tuluse :: Wed, 09/05/2012 - 12:51pm

Minimum salary contracts do get guaranteed for the year if the veteran makes the roster. Which might actually hurt some players. There is a solid chance Josh McCown makes the Bears roster this year if they didn't have to guarantee his contract.

by Jericho (not verified) :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 11:51am

I'm not aware of any league that mandates guaranteed contracts. It's almost entirely negotiated at a player-to-team level. You can have non-guaranteed contracts in the NBA or MLB. That said, NFL players do not get tons of guarantees because of health and longevity concerns. However, almost every NFL contract has at least some guaranteed money (and in some cases, a ton of money like with Mario Williams).

I don't know if there is a good long-term solution. Because the avergae career is so short, NFL players have little time to "cash in". Players in other sports can make it up over the long-term. But in the NFL that often does not happen. You could pay rookies more, but the NFL just got rid of that problem and let's face it, all rookies (in any sport) get the shaft in terms of salary. The franchise tag restricts movement, but is still not overly harmful to players.

Also it should be pointed out this particular scenation. I can understand a lower picked rookie, stuck on a low level contract, holding out for a better (more fair market value) contract. But Jones-Drew was not in that boat. He was already an established player and signed a deal. He just did not like that other, newer contracts surpassed his. But that's going to happen in any sport. If he really did not want to risk that, he should have signed a 1 year deal. And then renegotiated year-2-year.

by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 12:14pm

I'm don't think health concerns are the reason they don't do guaranteed contracts in the NFL. I know that was the original reason, but these days they do an amazing job of rehabbing injuries to the point I think they go the non-guaranteed route because A)That's how it's always been done and B)To protect owners from themselves. (With a heavy emphasis on B.)

by tuluse :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 1:22pm

In the NBA a very high percentage of a contract must be guaranteed.

by Jerry :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 6:40pm

Maybe some entry-level contracts in baseball aren't guaranteed, but most are. And I'm pretty sure that NHL contracts are guaranteed as well. The NFL is the only league where guarantees are rare.

by dryheat :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 7:18pm

NHL contracts are guaranteed, but are allowed to be bought out for 2/3 remaining value.

by JonFrum :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 4:35pm

J-D hasn't paid any fines yet. We'll see how that goes. And the NFLPA has all the power it needs. The union could have bargained for a change of rules regarding hold outs. They didn't, because they had other priorities. That's the nature of bargaining. You give something up to get something more important. And then you live with the results.

Jones-Drew was happy to take $9 million up front for doing nothing, and $17.5 million guaranteed. As soon as the contract was signed, the injury risk for that $17.5 million was all on the team. Now that he's played a few years of the contract, and the benefit of putting the risk on the team has fallen off, now he wants to change the rules and not play out the contract.

For every player who signs a multi-year deal, he knows that each year new contracts will go up in value, and the up-front bonus money won't keep coming. This is not a surprise to anyone. So it's difficult for me to have any sympathy whatsoever for players who take the benefits and then don't want to deal with the deficits.

If I was bargaining for management for an NFL team, I would tell every player who didn't come in to camp that not only would there be no deal, but all fines accrued would be taken out of any salary paid - without exception. I'd tell it to every player, and every agent, and make sure they understood ahead of time. That way, there's no excuses. By holding out, you voluntarily choose to pay fines. So be it.

by Paddy Pat :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 11:21am

I guess the trouble here is that there is a valid claim that an athlete can "outplay" a contract. In the plumbing analogy above, if your plumber does a better job than what you contracted him for, well that's his problem, although I guess you could say that he's now earned your favor and you're likely to rehire him in the future (something not in the cards for a running back, in most cases). Is Jones-Drew more like a surgeon who encounters extra hardships on the job and decides to keep working without waking up the patient to negotiate a bigger contract and then simply expects to collect more money after the fact? He negotiated a contract expecting to do something, but instead he's been called on to do more and has produced more than the terms of the contract anticipated (though the contract was very vague). I think it's a question of leverage. If contracts were much more incentive laden, players wouldn't holdout, because they would be earning their incentives or they wouldn't.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 1:57pm
by Danish Denver-Fan :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 1:58pm

Heh, that sounded like a spam-bot. But really, you should check it out.

by chemical burn :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 2:07pm

I don't know... I tend not to click on links unless they promise me gucci watches.

by justanothersteve :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 4:11pm

I hold out for the Ugg Boots myself.

by akn :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 5:49pm

No deal unless they throw in the Brazilian supermodel.

by Nathan :: Mon, 09/03/2012 - 10:33am

Make her crave your pocket Hercules! Order your Cialis, Levitra, or Viagra now!

by wr (not verified) :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 4:47pm

Well, for all the talk there about how the Jags had MJD
over a barrel, it's also true that the front loaded contract
was a really good deal in terms of maximizing income vs. the risk
of a career ending injury, given how short RB careers tend to be
on average. Since he hasn't had said injury, the deal doesn't look
very good now.

by jackiel :: Mon, 09/03/2012 - 12:34am

Great read. Ever since he signed his last deal, the market for RBs has improved significantly and he's currently underpaid even though he's the most important player on his team's offense. If I was in his shoes, I'd hold out too. The only mistake he made was failing to stay the course. I feel that if he held out through midseason something (new deal, trade, etc.) would have happened in his favor. It's not like the Jaguars have great fan support and the continued absence of the team's most popular player would not be good for ownership.

Unless he's broke like Chris Johnson was during his 1st holdout, I don't know why MJD decided to come in.

by Paddy Pat :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 11:30am

He didn't want to be fined and lose his paychecks.

by dryheat :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 11:45am

Ever since he signed his last deal, the market for RBs has improved significantly and he's currently underpaid

Well wait a minute...at the time he signed his contract, it was at the high end of the RB payscale. So Peterson, Williams, Forte, McCoy sign new deals, and now he's down the scale a bit. If the deal was fair when he signed it, it's still a fair deal. I mean, I get it from MJD's side -- when he turns 30, he won't get another big contract, but he presumably knew that before and he and his agent agreed to the deal, probably not realizing RBs would so be making 7-9 million per season. But other starters from only a year ago like Ced Benson, Mike Bush, Ryan Grant are playing for close to vet minimums or are looking for work. 4 million for the season, plus the pro-rated signing bonus, seems to be a fair wage.

Players say they want security, and that's fine. But what MJD, and especially Revis, are looking for is long-term security at yearly market-value prices with multiple signing bonuses. That just isn't very realistic.

by jackiel :: Wed, 09/05/2012 - 2:49pm

Lots of good points. However, it has to upset MJD that his contemporaries who happened to be drafted a round ahead of him (AP) or were lucky enough to get to free agency right after the signing of the new collective bargaining agreement (Williams) are going to make much more money over their careers for similar rates of production. And holdouts have worked for guys like Chris Johnson and Revis, who were key players on their teams. However, those teams were gunning for long playoff runs while Jacksonville is going nowhere this year.

For most guys at most positions, especially injury prone ones, I think it's difficult for them and their agents to forecast just how the next 5 years of their careers will turn out. The difference between the 3rd best guy at a position and the 10th best guy is very small and is tough to forecast 5 years in adavance (scheme, injuries, schedule, etc.). Of course, teams know this as well.

I think you'd see more holdouts if players didn't go through money like it's water. If they weren't living paycheck to paycheck, then the cost of missing 5-6 games is worth it if your tactics get you $10 million in new guaranteed money in MJD's case. You only come in if you need the money.

by bernie (not verified) :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 3:41pm

Well the other thing to conside from a Management point of view, is Jones Drew is entering his 7th year....how many great years does he really have left in him? It doesn't make sense to pay premium cash to a running back who is beyond his 6th year in the league. That's not to say that they can't still be very productive, but you get better value for your money by going younger, and not losing a massive amount of production value.
My model would be draft a back and if his first 2 years of production are in the stud category, resign him to a 5 year extension at that point. He gets a bunch of money which will probably keep him happy, and you've got him locked up over the prime of his career. When he enters the last year of his contract, draft a new guy who can either share carries with him over the last year of his contract, or trade him to some team desperate enough to take him off your hands while he still has perceived value.

by Ulrik (not verified) :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 5:48pm

I don't think that players that hold out are breaking their contract or anything. Players can retire at any time, and teams can cut them at any time.

An NFL contract is basically "if you play for us, we will pay you X money. You can't play for any other NFL team during this period." Nothing there requires the player to do anything.

by PatsFan :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 5:54pm

Well, the contracts do require the player to not hold out or else be fined (and of course not get paid).

by Ulrik (not verified) :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 5:56pm

Also, how is it bad for MJD to lose carries? If I were a GM a huge number of carries would be a negative, not a positive, in a free agent runner I was looking to sign.

by Boo-urns (not verified) :: Mon, 09/03/2012 - 9:32am

agreed. If MJD ends up playing another year because he's taken a few less carries, that's probably a net positive for him.

the franchise tag is one of the unfairest things in pro football today. cuts the knees off of players negotiating for long-term contracts, gives them one year at "market value" in a sport where one's career can end immediately.

by Lance :: Sun, 09/02/2012 - 10:15pm

The lesson here is that you should only hold out when you're on a good team. I'd say that in this case, the ownership almost would have preferred if Jone-Drew had held out the whole season-- they avoid paying his salary, they do worse (meaning a better draft pick) and it's not like a public with Super Bowl hopes had their dreams dashed by an ownership not willing to up the ante on their big star.

by Drunken Benson (not verified) :: Mon, 09/03/2012 - 10:22am

My cynical two cents: PUBLICITY! MJD is legendary in fantasy football and hardcore fans. But playing in JAX, most casual fans are barely aware he exists. MJD is a smart, a great interview, and media-savvy. He is nearing the end of his career and is thinking about a future behind the microphone. How to keep his name in the headlines for a month? Holdout! Mission accomplished.

by Anonymous Coward (not verified) :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 2:25pm

The problem with your analysis is you are lumping fantasy football players in with hardcore fans when in fact they are the casual fans.

by Xao :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 4:06pm

This seems like an odd site to make that claim...

by jackgibbs :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 4:48pm

I'd consider myself a fairly hardcore fan (I'm here, after all) and I am an avid fantasy football player. I still think the above analysis is pretty ludicrous, however.

my position will always be that so long as players can be cut for under-performing, I have no problem with them holding out when they outperform their contract. maybe somebody who knows about these things can tell me why there is no such thing as a contract that guarantees a player to be among the top 3-5 or so paid at his position for a certain number of years in the contract. sort of like how the rams got st louis to guarantee a top 25% stadium...

by PatsFan :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 7:49pm

Because no team (not even a Dan Snyder-led one) would be crazy enough to sign such a contract?

It would be one thing if it was just money. But in a league with a salary cap it would be foolish to sign something like that because it would leave you unable to plan your cap since the salary of your player could increase significantly, totally outside your control.

by E :: Wed, 09/05/2012 - 2:44pm

Saying that the holdout was a massive waste of time is judging the process based on the outcome, no? I mean, so MJD folded his hand ... it doesn't mean it was a weak one to start with, just not enough to go all in. Other players wouldn't fold when the team calls their bet, and then teh player either loses big (Joey Galloway perhaps) or wins big (Emmitt Smith, CJ2K). MJD could have come to camp in May, could have held out until week 10 or done anything in between. In the interim, he though he might have gotten Jax to call his bluff and pay him. What he didn;t realize is that they were holding pocket Aces - the fact that they'll be irrelevant with or without him.