Restricted trio may be forced to hold out

A wise man once remarked that all the contract talk that comes this time of year is usually just bluster.

“The offseason is about money,” former Baltimore Ravens head coach and current NFL analyst Brian Billick said. “Always has been, always will be.”

Mankins skipped a recent minicamp after saying he wants to be traded.
(David Butler II/US Presswire)

Billick generally believed that once training camp came around, the tiffs over money tended to fade. Either players realized they weren’t going to get raises or extensions, or they felt the tug of returning to the team and their teammates (don’t underestimate that, as sappy as it sounds).

This year, in part because of the looming negotiations over the collective bargaining agreement and the rules that have resulted from the uncapped season, some contract situations figure to get sticky. From restricted free agents such as New England Patriots guard Logan Mankins(notes) to Washington Redskins veteran defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth(notes), there are a half-dozen players who could seriously impact the season with their potential absence or change of venue.

Here’s a rundown of those six:

Logan Mankins, Vincent Jackson(notes) and Marcus McNeill(notes): These three are among nine restricted free agents who haven’t signed their contract tenders yet. The catch for these three is that not signing the tenders before the June 15 has theoretically cost them anywhere from $1.7 million (Mankins) to $2.6 million (Jackson) because the teams have reduced the tenders to each player.

The other six restricted free agents lose no more than $100,000 on their offers because CBA rules stipulate that tendered players make 110 percent of last year’s salaries. As a result, the other six restricted free agents will feel far less of a financial impact than Jackson, Mankins and McNeill.

However, not signing is the best strategic move these three could make, even if it costs them more money than some people make in a career. The reason is this: All three players can now stay away from their teams without incurring significant fines and/or other penalties (such as losing a year toward free agency).

At issue is that all three were prevented from becoming unrestricted free agents this year when NFL owners opted to go to an uncapped year. By rule, the uncapped year pushed the requirement for unrestricted free agency from four years of service to six years. Sure, those are the breaks, but it’s fair to say that all three would have gotten much greater contracts if the rules were different.

Much greater.

For instance, based on recent contract figures for other players at these positions, Mankins would likely be making an average of $8 million a year with at least $25 million guaranteed on a long-term deal rather than the $3.168 million tender he was offered. Jackson would be getting close to $10 million a year with roughly $30 million guaranteed rather than the $3.268 million he was tendered for one year. McNeill would be making as much as Jackson, if not more.

Now, before you start crying crocodile tears about this and claim they should just show up and play, consider this: All of them watched what happened to then-New York Jets running back Leon Washington(notes) last season. Washington, traded to the Seattle Seahawks in April, played last season on a one-year tender, broke his leg and wasn’t able to get a long-term deal done. In fact, he may not be ready to play by the beginning of this season.

That’s the nature of football, which gets us back to the strategy of not signing the tender. The only power players really have is their ability to withhold services: the more talented the player, the greater his impact on the fortunes of his team. In the case of Jackson and McNeill, the Chargers are kidding themselves if they think they can be a serious contender without either or both of them.

Refusing to sign the tender allows both players to hold out well into the regular season (they will have to report sometime between Week 6 and Week 11 of the season depending on how the CBA is interpreted). Then again, all three probably could get away with not playing at all and still be unrestricted free agents if a new CBA is finally negotiated sometime in 2011. It’s likely a new CBA would again feature a four-year requirement for unrestricted free agency, if not shorter.

In other words, players like Mankins and Jackson are probably better served sitting out and refusing to play for $3 million or so for one year rather than risk playing, getting hurt and missing a chance at $8 million or so a year.

While this is a hard concept for most fans to accept, it is logical. Moreover, fans should think about it this way: What would you do in the same situation? Would you risk the chance to make life-changing money for one year’s worth of pay that, while still good, doesn’t have anything close to that impact?

Albert Haynesworth: It’s actually pretty sad that the relationship between Haynesworth, who has publicly asked for a trade last week, and Washington coach Mike Shanahan soured from the moment it started. In a lot of ways, these two should have been able to get along. Both are extremely intelligent and football smart. In a lot of ways, Haynesworth would benefit from playing for Shanahan.

Strangely, Shanahan got it in his head that it would be a good idea for Haynesworth to be a nose tackle (the Redskins aren’t selling that idea right now, but they did earlier) in a 3-4 defense. At 6-foot-6, Haynesworth is nothing like a traditional 3-4 nose tackle. Those guys are usually the squatty-bodied types, such as Vince Wilfork(notes) in New England or the Pittsburgh SteelersCasey Hampton(notes). That’s not Haynesworth, who is much better suited for the right end spot in a 3-4 or right tackle spot in a 4-3.

But the better question is why Shanahan, who has never coached a team with a 3-4 defense, is having defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who hasn’t coached a 3-4 scheme in more than a decade, install a 3-4 on a team that doesn’t have the personnel to do it?

Throw in the fact that other defensive linemen on the Redskins are privately complaining about the switch and you can understand why Haynesworth wants out. Of course, from a PR standpoint, this is a disaster for Haynesworth, who vows that he will show up to training camp on time. Anybody who collects $33 million in just over a year should be happy to have a job … at least that’s what guys like Joe the Plumber think.

And guys like Joe the Plumber are pretty much right about that. This is not like the situations facing Mankins, Jackson and McNeill.

That said, Haynesworth rolls to the beat of his own mix master. He will do everything in his power (short of violating his contract) to get out of Washington. If agent Chad Speck is willing to be the henchman, it shouldn’t be that hard.

Basically, look for Speck to question just about everything Shanahan is doing. The war of public rhetoric is the kind of stuff Shanahan hates and will eventually force him to get rid of Haynesworth. That is, unless Shanahan is willing to have Haynesworth show up to camp and wait it out until Haynesworth loses his cool (a trademark Haynesworth move if you have followed his career and personal life), subsequently punishing him in some way because of “conduct detrimental to the team.”

Look for this to get uglier before it gets resolved.

Darrelle Revis and Chris Johnson: These situations are really interesting because neither player has the obvious leverage that comes with an expired contract or only a year left on a deal. Both have three years remaining on their contracts. However, both are either the best or second-best player at their respective positions. In Revis’ case, he plays cornerback, one of the top four positions in terms of value (quarterback, left tackle and pass rusher are the others).

While both would incur problems if they were to hold out a significant portion of training camp or the season (they would incur stiff fines and potentially lose a year toward free agency), the reality is that neither of their teams can afford to have them sit out part of the season.

Furthermore, Revis and Johnson are counter examples to the popular complaint about rookies and young players making too much money. In three years, Revis has made approximately $14.9 million and he is scheduled to make $1 million total this season. As for Johnson, the contract he signed as a first-round pick in 2008 was a five-year deal worth of $12 million, including a salary of $550,000 this year.

While that’s wonderful money in the real world, it’s mediocre in the NFL, particularly for players who may be the best at their positions. It’s also a long way from the $30-$45 million that gets guaranteed to the top three or four NFL draft picks these days.

Fact is, even if Revis plays out his entire current contract, he stands to make roughly $36 million total over six years. Again, great money in real life, but a bargain compared to what he would get on the open market, where he’s considered just as good – if not better – as Nnamdi Asomugha of the Oakland Raiders. Asomugha is making roughly $15 million per year.

Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards last season.
(Don McPeak/US Presswire)

There are some factors working in Revis’ favor, but they are more psychological than hard-and-fast. Failing to pay Revis, particularly after Jets owner Woody Johnson indicated he wanted Revis to be a Jet for the rest of his career, would put a damper on the momentum the franchise built last season and is hoping to continue as it opens a new stadium. The Jets are in position to contend for a division, if not a conference, title. Having Revis is a must if the Jets are to run coach Rex Ryan’s blitz-happy scheme.

Beyond that, Johnson is in the midst of asking his fans to buy PSLs for the new stadium. How logical is it for Johnson to ask for a financial commitment from fans when Johnson is unwilling to make a long-term financial commitment to the team’s best player?

In Tennessee, Chris Johnson faces longer odds in getting a new deal. The Titans have one of the cheapest owners in the league with Bud “Bottom Line” Adams, as he is known to plenty of current and former employees.

A daring holdout is possible, but expect both players to show up and play this season.

QUICK SLANTS

The New Orleans Saints have come up with a cool idea to help with the oil spill recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast. Between now and the morning of the NFL season opener on Sept. 9, the Saints will hold a raffle to win an authentic Super Bowl XLIV ring, an exact version of the one given to players and coaches recently for their victory over the Indianapolis Colts. The winner will also receive a case payment to cover the tax liability for winning the ring. Tickets start at $2 and can be purchased by visiting saintsgulfcoastrenewal.org. The winner will be announced during the season opener on the night of Sept. 9.

Jimmy Graham
(Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire)

Speaking of the Saints, the team is exceptionally excited about third-round pick Jimmy Graham, a tight end from the University of Miami. Graham has displayed great speed and athleticism, but is obviously a bit raw in football after playing only one season (he played basketball at UM before moving to the gridiron). Quarterback Drew Brees went so far as to compare Graham to San Diego star tight end Antonio Gates, another former basketball player who turned to football: “I was in San Diego when Antonio Gates got there and we weren’t sure he was going to make the team. You could see the ability, but it wasn’t until the light bulb came on when we all said, ‘Wow, look at this.’ This guy [Graham] is so much further ahead than Gates because at least he had one year of college [football]. Look at him, he’s 6-foot-6, 260 and runs like a deer.”

Having mentioned Woody Johnson, it’s worth pointing out a rather silly quote from the Jets owner last week. Johnson claimed recently that there’s no connection between PSL sales and player contracts. “There’s no link,” Johnson told the New York Daily News after the team reduced the price of approximately 18,000 PSLs. “The PSL funds are dedicated to the construction of the building and don’t really have anything to do with the players at all. They’re dedicated to the building. So if we have more or less PSL cash, it doesn’t enable us or disenable us to sign a player.” OK, literally Johnson is probably correct. PSL money is designated to go to construction costs. However, if PSL sales don’t cover the costs, what do you think the ripple effect will be? Perhaps less money for players? Maybe, just maybe?

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Jun 25, 2010