The offseason workout schedule ended last week with mandatory minicamp, the last team practices until training camp in mid-July. As always, there were certain stars missing OTAs and minicamp due to a desire for a new contract. While NFL holdouts missing minicamp only have to pay up to $84,000 (which for them is pocket change), teams can fine $30,000 for each day of missed training camp.
Furthermore, when a star misses training camp and preseason games, he typically does not return in game shape. He frequently is not very productive the first few games of the season, potentially costing his teams a win or two. Because of this, teams have to decide if they want to reward their holdouts with contracts before training camp or if they want to risk players missing training camp.
Here is a list of those that should get a new contract and those who should not.
Should: Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
After franchise-tagging Le’veon Bell for the second straight season, Pittsburgh needs to sign him to a long-term contract immediately. In 2017, Bell skipped all of training camp and preseason and came back out of football shape.
In the first five games, Bell was very unproductive in general, not just for his standards. He averaged 3.64 yards per carry, and the Steelers only averaged 19.2 points per game. The rest of the season when Bell was back to normal, they averaged 27.9 points and went 9-1. Those first five games cost Pittsburgh the No. 1 seed and possibly a Super Bowl berth.
The Steelers need to simply cough up whatever money Bell will accept and sign him to a long-term deal. Sure, running backs historically do not last as long as other positions. But Bell is essentially both a running back and a receiver and probably their most valuable player moving forward.
Should NOT: Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
While OBJ showed up at minicamp and has not held out to this point, he has expressed his desire to sign an extension and become one of the highest-paid players in the game. In a vaccum, Beckham’s talent makes it a no-brainer for the Giants to sign him long-term.
However, Beckham is coming off two ankle injuries, one during the preseason that forced him out through the season opener and one in October that caused him to miss the rest of the 2017 season. In addition, OBJ has some off-the-field concerns. For example, a week before a playoff game two years ago, OBJ, with other Giants receivers, decided to separately fly to Miami and party rather than leaving their last game with the rest of the team. He came back and put up a dud in his one and only playoff game with three drops.
Because of Beckham’s injuries and off-the-field concerns, the Giants should wait until after the 2018 season to sign him long-term. Worst-case scenario, they can franchise tag him next year and work out an extension afterwards.
Should: David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Of all the NFL holdouts, David Johnson’s contract is the easiest decision. Two seasons ago, Johnson had a fantastic season, with over 2,100 total yards from scrimmage. Hoping for a repeat performance last year, he suffered a wrist injury in the first week that set him out for the whole season.
While teams are usually hesitant on handing out long-term deals to players coming off injury, Johnson is an exception. He sustained an injury to his wrist, rather than somewhere like his knee, and has been fully healed since December.
Entering his fourth NFL season, Johnson is only set to make $1.9 million. Not only is he right to hold out until he gets a contract near his value, but this is also the last year of his contract. Arizona surely wants to keep him for the long term, considering he is at least a top-three running back in the league. Johnson should, and most likely will, get paid because a long-term contract is mutually beneficial.
Should NOT: Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
Earl Thomas was one of the cornerstones of the Seahawks’ last half decade of success, but his contract situation is not in the best place for the team right now. Seattle is in the middle of a reboot, and their division became much stronger this offseason. With the Rams, Cardinals and 49ers all bringing in young talent, Seattle could reasonably finish last in the division.
Very soon, the Seahawks will have to pay Russell Wilson like the top-five quarterback that he is, meaning they cannot be spending big money at other positions. Seattle previously cut core pieces, including Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett, to clear up space for cheap, young talent.
The team should apply this same philosophy to Earl Thomas’ situation, especially because they like Tedric Thompson, his current backup. Instead of extending Thomas, they should trade him to a team like the Cowboys for young players or draft picks.
Should: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams
Aaron Donald can do it all as a defensive tackle. In addition to his ability to plug holes in the run game, he had 91 pressures last season. This was most in the league, even more than all edge rushers such as Von Miller. The Rams DT was the first interior lineman to win Defensive Player of the Year since current Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, who won it 18 years ago.
Donald, a once in a generation interior lineman, is currently set to make $6.9 million this season, around the likes of Star Lotulelei and Allen Bailey. While those players are solid linemen in their own right, Donald’s value is much higher than his current salary. He is still the centerpiece of the Rams’ newly stacked defense. He is on the last year of his rookie deal, and restructuring his contract would be beneficial to both parties.
Should NOT: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Yes, Julio Jones is one of the best players in the league. And yes, his $12.9 million salary is less than receivers well below his value like Jarvis Landry and Sammy Watkins. But the Falcons do not have anything to risk because Jones has three years remaining on his contract. It is not like they are being cheap with Jones either, considering at the time he signed his deal, it made him the highest paid receiver in the NFL.
Although he expressed he wants his money, Jones has never showed a tendency to put himself before the team. Chances are, he will return in time for the season opener, and missing training camp won’t seriously hurt his game.
Unfortunately for Jones, the Falcons have all the leverage in this situation and no need to change his contract.
Featured image by USA Today
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