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Rethinking the ethics of holdouts


Whenever a player under contract holds out, plenty of fans argue that the player is doing something wrong. In comparison to the men who have acquired the wealth and power to own NFL teams, perhaps the player is doing something right.

After years of believing that players must honor the contracts to which they’ve applied their names, I’m ready to adopt/borrow/steal a theory Ross Tucker offered up last week on PFT Live. (Ross also has reduced his thoughts on the subject to writing in his latest column for Providing that link makes me feel somewhat less guilty about adopting/borrowing/stealing his idea.)

A holdout, while technically a violation of the player’s contract, represents a shrewd and aggressive business move -- as long as the player is good enough to get the team’s attention via his absence. The only real leverage a player ever has comes from withholding services, and the fact that a player is under contract doesn’t require him to provide those services.

If he chooses to breach that contract, the team has remedies, from fines to bonus forfeiture to other rights under the labor deal and the individual player contract. But the team ultimately can’t force the player to do the one thing the team wants the player to do most: show up and play.

Twice in the past two years, an aggressive holdout from a high-profile player under contract got the player paid handsomely. In 2011, Titans running back Chris Johnson did it. The year before, it was Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis.

This year, it could be Revis all over again. And Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew. And possibly plenty of young players who believe that the league’s ability to avoid paying a bunch of money to unproven rookies under the new CBA means that the players who prove themselves should be financially rewarded.

Taking a stand to get what they want is no different than what the folks who have acquired the wealth to own football teams (or their parents, or their grandparents) have done plenty of times. Otherwise, they (or their parents, or their grandparents) never would have acquired that kind of wealth.

So Godspeed, MJD, Darrelle Revis, and anyone else who ever chooses to stay away in order to get more of what the owners already have. As long as you’re willing to face the potential consequences of holding out, we say, “Giddyup.”