Jerry Jones plays the “Zeke’s under contract” card

Mike Florio
ProFootball Talk on NBC Sports

It’s popular in some circles when a player under contract holds out to simply complain that the player should honor his contract. The Cowboys, with all other strategies to date unsuccessful, seem to be moving in that direction with running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is signed through 2020.

“I’m optimistic that we can get Zeke’s deal done,” owner Jerry Jones said after Saturday night’s preseason game. “I don’t know that. I don’t know that. But sure, I don’t mean to be trite, but the whole premise is based on getting everybody under contract playing, so that’s what we’re trying to do here. Zeke’s under contract.”

Yes, Zeke’s under contract. Which is a careful, let’s-not-piss-Zeke-off-for-a-second-straight-Saturday way of saying that he should honor the contract.

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But here’s the point that always gets overlooked when someone says a player under contract should honor that contract: He has rights and responsibilities under two different contracts. And everything in his personal contract with the team is subject to the broader contract between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.

That contract gives Elliott, and every other player under contract in the league, the absolute right to not show up for training camp, with the downside being potential daily fines in the amount of $40,000. If a player is willing to risk owing those amounts for staying away (in most cases, the team doesn’t insist on payment), then the player can launch what essentially amounts to a one-man wildcat strike.

And if the NFL wanted the rights of the teams to be stronger in this regard, it could beef up those terms at the bargaining table. Ultimately, the NFL could create a system that makes it impossible for the player to hold out at all.

Of course, the NFL would have to persuade the NFLPA to agree to that change. And why would the NFLPA do that? Under the current rules, the player “under contract” can apply pressure by withholding services. It’s a powerful weapon for any and every player, even though it typically only works for the best ones.

Zeke is one of the best ones. And, yes, Zeke’s under contract. But he’s fully within his rights to refuse to work until he gets a contract better than the one he had no choice but to accept when drafted, since the terms are predetermined based on draft slot and, for the fifth-year option, position played. He’s now eligible for a different contract, and he’s able under the CBA to stay away in an effort to get one.

Try as some might to make Zeke or any other player “under contract” look bad for exercising the right to hold out, the CBA grants that right, clearly and unequivocally.

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