clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Which NFL players are holding out for training camp, and why?

New, comment

Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, and Julio Jones are a few of the players angling for new contracts this summer.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL news cycle grinds slowly in the summer, and nothing causes more hand-wringing than stars skipping practices.

Player asks for more money, player skips practice, radio personality calls them selfish, player does or doesn’t get paid, player reports to camp, everyone forgets about the holdout, player has another good season.

Rinse and repeat.

There’s a handful of high-profile names skipping practices in 2018, all with the goal of receiving lucrative new contracts. For some, it’ll happen soon. Others are just setting the stage for negotiations in 2019.

Here’s a look at the biggest names holding out for more money this offseason:

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers

The rift between Bell and the Steelers isn’t anything new. The running back missed all of training camp and preseason in 2017 after he received the franchise tag and couldn’t come to terms on a long-term deal in the summer.

In January, Bell said he’d “definitely consider” retirement if Pittsburgh gave him the franchise tag again. Two months later, he got the tag again.

So it should come as a surprise to no one that he isn’t planning on showing up at team practices any time soon.

Current deal: The franchise tag can be pretty lucrative, especially when a player gets it in consecutive offseasons. Bell is due to make $14.544 million for the 2018 season.

The July deadline for franchised platers was essentially the Steelers’ last chance to keep Bell on a long-term deal and one didn’t get done.

What he’s looking for: Bell hasn’t just been one of the best rushers in the NFL over the past four seasons, he’s also been one of the Steelers’ most productive receivers. In July 2017, he said he wants to be paid like Pittsburgh’s top rusher and No. 2 receiver.

More recently, Bell told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that he’s not going to sign a contract that averages less than $14.5 million per year.

That’d be a huge amount for a running back. Devonta Freeman of the Falcons has the second-highest average salary at the position behind Bell, but gets just $8.25 million per year.

What’s the latest: Pittsburgh had until July 16 to reach a long-term deal with Bell. Since no contract agreement was reached, Bell will play the 2018 season on his one-year, $14.544 million franchise tag deal.

Bell won’t be signing a new contract until 2019 and it will almost definitely be with a new team on the open market. That means his current holdout isn’t about getting a new contract.

He was in the same exact situation a year ago and didn’t show up to the Steelers’ facility until the beginning of September, skipping all of preseason. He’ll likely do the same this year, possibly even waiting longer to make his return to the football field. Maybe even much, much longer.

Days before the beginning of the regular season, Bell’s agent Adisa Bakari suggested that his client could sit out a significant portion of the year to avoid overuse from a Steelers team that has no reason not to run the wheels off Bell.

Bakari did say that Bell still “intends to make this the best statistical season of his career.”

Players who aren’t holding out anymore

Earl Thomas, S, Seahawks

It’s over: Thomas didn’t get what he wanted and the Seahawks spurned trade offers, so he begrudgingly announced days before Week 1 that he’d report to the team. In an Instagram post, Thomas said “the disrespect has been well noted and will not be forgotten.”

After starting all 96 possible games through the first six seasons of his career with the Seahawks, Thomas missed five games in 2016 due to a hamstring problem and broken leg, and another two games in 2017. He even floated the idea of retiring when he broke his leg.

Thomas is still just 29, but his recent health problems and talk of potentially hanging up his cleats may raise concerns about his long-term future. But when healthy, he’s arguably the best free safety in the NFL.

Current deal: The four-year, $40 million extension Thomas signed in 2014 made him the highest-paid safety in the NFL. He’ll make $8.5 million in base salary in 2018, and has a $1.9 deferred signing bonus on the way.

But Thomas is set to become a free agent in 2019, and five safeties have received deals that average more than $10 million in the four years since he signed his extension.

What he’s looking for: Thomas will have to convince Seattle he still has high-level play ahead of him, which shouldn’t be too difficult considering he’s still under 30. He’ll likely ask for something close to Eric Berry’s $13 million per year average.

“I want to remain a Seahawk for the rest of my career but I also believe that based on my production over the last eight years that I’ve earned the right to have this taken care of as soon as possible,” Thomas tweeted earlier in June. ”I want to have certainty in regards to the upcoming years of my career.”

Shortly after camp opened, Thomas penned an op-ed for The Players’ Tribune that explained his decision to hold out and made his demands crystal clear:

I’m asking the Seahawks to do one of two things:

Offer me an extension.

Or trade me to a team that wants me to be part of their future.

What’s the latest: In the months before the holdout for Thomas officially began, the Seahawks traded Michael Bennett to the Eagles, cut ties with Richard Sherman, and cut Cliff Avril. Thomas’ partner in the back end of the secondary, Kam Chancellor, announced in July that he isn’t cleared to return to football after a neck injury that appears to have been career ending.

There’s too much talent on the Seattle defense to really call it a rebuild, but there’s clearly a generational shift happening. The Legion of Boom era is over, and Thomas was reportedly shopped by the Seahawks for a second-round pick, although the Cowboys rejected the deal.

It would seem that Thomas isn’t in the team’s long-term plans, although Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters in June that the team will be in contact with the safety‘s reps over the next six weeks. That apparently didn’t happen or didn’t get very far if it did:

The storm between Thomas and the Seahawks has been brewing for a long time, and if it doesn’t end with a new contract it could get uglier. He’s prepared to sit out as long as needed.

Khalil Mack, DE, Raiders

It’s over: The Raiders ended Mack’s holdout by trading him to the Chicago Bears in a blockbuster deal. Mack got he wanted too with a record-breaking, six-year, $141 million deal.

Oakland reshaped its roster in a big way four years ago when Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, and Gabe Jackson were picked by the Raiders in the first three rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft. But for Mack, that meant waiting until the 2018 offseason to get a new contract.

Jackson signed a five-year, $56 million extension in June 2017 less than a week after Carr got a five-year, $125 million extension. That left the Raiders without much room to add money to Mack’s deal.

Now it’s Mack’s turn and he’s sitting out until the deal is figured out.

Current deal: Like Aaron Donald, Mack played out the first four years of his rookie contract and is set to play in 2018 on a fifth-year option. That means he’s due to receive a sizable $13.846 million before hitting free agency in 2019.

What he’s looking for: In the last three years, Mack has three trips to the Pro Bowl and 36.5 sacks. Only Chandler Jones has more sacks over that span.

Still just 27, Mack will also be looking to receive more than Miller’s $19.02-million average and become the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. Mack and Donald are likely to get similar amounts, and that’s going to pricy after Donald received a six-year, $135 million deal at the end of August.

What’s the latest: Mack is reportedly looking for a huge amount of his next contract to be guaranteed, according to NFL Network’s Steve Wyche.

“He’s expecting to get paid significant money,” Wyche said. “When we’re talking significant money, we’re talking guarantees in excess of $65 million, so he’s in that quarterback contract range when it comes to guarantees.”

Wyche thought the contract would will get done in June — the same time deals for Jackson and Carr got done — and Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said earlier in the summer that he anticipated an extension getting signed soon.

But training camp opened and there was still no deal in place. In another interesting development in the saga, it was reported that Mack and head coach Jon Gruden haven’t even spoken during the offseason. Gruden disputed that and said he spoke with Mack when he first got the job.

Either way, discussions about a new deal haven’t been held in quite some time:

With so little contact between Mack and the Raiders, trade rumors have begun to pop up as it seems there’s no progress being made.

There’s no sign that a deal is close to getting done and now the Raiders have the option to fine Mack more than $1.6 million for his holdout.

According to Yahoo, the holdout is now expected to cost Mack regular season time, further fueling speculation that a trade may be the only outcome left.

Aaron Donald, DT, Rams

It’s over: On Aug. 31, one day after the Rams wrapped up their preseason schedule, the team dished out a record-breaking, six-year, $135 million deal to Donald that makes him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL.

Current deal: Donald is still on the rookie deal he received after he was picked No. 13 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Rams picked up his fifth-year option last year, which means he’s due to make a respectable $6.892 million in 2018 — easily the highest salary of his career.

But he received $10,136,500 in the first four years of his career and has played like someone who deserves the biggest contract of any defensive player in the NFL.

What he’s looking for: At age 27, and as destructive as any defensive lineman, Donald will likely be the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL soon. That mark currently belongs to Von Miller, who signed a 6-year, $114.1 million deal in 2016.

Donald is likely looking for a contract that eclipses $20 million per year, and has no reason to accept anything less. If the Rams don’t give it to him this offseason, they’ll be forced to give him the franchise tag or let him walk, where another team will jump at the chance to fork over a huge deal.

What’s the latest: The Rams and Donald seemed to be on good terms earlier in the summer and NFL Network’s Steve Wyche said there was a “lot of positive conversation” regarding a new deal.

However, no deal got done before camp opened and one report said Donald has no plans of playing on his current contract, which means his holdout could drag on, even into the season.

Donald had until Aug. 7 to report to camp or else he’d lose an accrued season toward free agency, but that didn’t stop him from sitting out. That means he’ll be a restricted free agent next year, giving the Rams more leverage.

Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport says nobody involved is putting much thought into that date, and the team would likely franchise him next year in any event.

Rams head coach Sean McVay said the team doesn’t expect him to show up until a contract resolution is met, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a contentious situation.

“He and I have had good dialogue. I spoke to him last week,” McVay said in May, via TheRams.com. “Kind of like we’ve talked about, this feels a lot different than last year. Certainly any time you have something where the team comes together, to have a player that’s as important as he is here, you would prefer that. But it is voluntary. We understand that and we have a lot of respect for kinda what’s going on.”

A new deal for Donald seems more a matter of ”when” than ”if,” even after teammate Todd Gurley got a new deal.

“We’re simultaneously working to make Aaron a Ram a long time — that’s the goal,” GM Les Snead said.

Reports in the middle of August continued to suggest that a deal for Donald should be finished soon. Near the end of August, Pro Football Talk reported the Rams and Donald were closing in on an extension with about $22 million per year and as much as $80 million guaranteed.

Julio Jones, WR, Falcons

It’s over: On July 26, the Falcons and Jones came to an agreement on a revised contract that bumps his 2018 salary up:

Jones then reported to camp with the team.

Current deal: Jones signed a five-year deal worth $71.25 million in 2015. At the time, it made him the second-highest paid receiver in the NFL behind only Calvin Johnson.

Johnson has since retired, but eight receivers have signed contracts that average more than the $14.25 million Jones gets. Leading the way is Antonio Brown, who gets an average of $17 million per year.

Jones still has three years left on his contract. His deal isn’t set to expire until 2021 — just after his 32nd birthday.

Why he was looking for a new deal: The list of players who make more than Jones includes Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams, and Sammy Watkins. None of those players have topped 1,400 receiving yards in a season — something Jones has now done four years in a row. Adams hasn’t even cracked 1,000 yards in a season yet.

The Falcons also had the freedom to move on from Jones after getting through the first couple years of a front-loaded contract. It would cost the team just $2.4 million in dead money if he was released after the 2018 season, and he could be cleared from the books entirely after 2019.

That seems unlikely considering Jones is still one of the best receivers in the NFL, but more long-term security is likely the target for Jones.

What happened: Atlanta’s dominant receiver has had reason to hold out in the past, but didn’t. So it was new territory for Jones, who didn’t get a brand-new deal.

There was a mini freakout for some Falcons fans, but the team insisted there’s nothing to worry about. On Tuesday, July 24, it was reported that Jones would miss training camp, but be ready to play when the season started.

According to ESPN, the Falcons informed the receiver he wouldn’t be getting a contract extension this offseason. The team has said that they would renegotiate Jones’ deal after the season. In the meantime, he was seeking a contract adjustment that would push some of the money from later years into this season, which is what happened.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in June that the team had productive and constructive talks with Jones.

“We have been in contact with Julio and his representation,” the statement reads. ”We will not discuss those conversations publicly except to say we feel they have been productive and constructive. We understand the concerns and thoughts from their perspective.”

By all accounts Jones was resolved to miss training camp and the preseason without a new deal or adjusted contract. And while fans may have been a little nervous about it, there was no reason to be.

David Johnson, RB, Cardinals

Johnson led the NFL with 2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns in 2016. But his impact was also felt in 2017 when a wrist injury kept him out of the lineup for 15 games.

Without Johnson, the Cardinals were No. 28 in the NFL in rushing touchdowns and No. 31 in yards per carry. The 26-year-old running back was brutally missed and now he’s asking the Cardinals to make sure they’re not without him in the future.

Current deal: Johnson is entering the final year of the four-year, $2,919,373 contract he signed as a third-round rookie in 2015. Unlike the first-round picks on this list of holdouts, there is no fifth-year option on his contract, and Johnson is due to become a free agent in 2019.

What he’s looking for: The standoff between Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers makes it difficult to gauge how much any running back should get right now. A deal for $14.5 million is so much higher than the rest of the market that it would have reshaped all future negotiations if Bell finally got that number.

But he didn’t and that means Johnson could be the one to reset the market for now. The Cardinals running back will provide an interesting standard for what an elite running back is worth.

His next contract will undoubtedly eclipse the five-year, $41.25 million extension that Devonta Freeman received in 2017. By how much is the question.

What’s the latest: If Johnson doesn’t get a contract this offseason, the Cardinals always have the option to use the franchise tag in 2019. But the team has made it clear they want to get something done.

“I don’t think there is any question David is one of our core players and someone we look forward to having a long-term future with,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said in June.

“(It’s) no different from in the past, when we’ve rewarded players like Pat Peterson, Chandler Jones, Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, just to name a few. There’s no doubt in my mind moving forward that we will keep a positive outlook and again, look forward to rewarding him just like we have players in the past.”

According to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, a deal for Johnson will probably get done before the 2018 season begins. While it hasn’t happened yet, Johnson reported for the beginning of training camp on July 23 after missing minicamp earlier in the offseason. His holdout is already over.

Taylor Lewan, OT, Titans

It’s over: Lewan got the biggest deal for an offensive lineman ever: a five-year, $80 million extension. His average salary of $16 million is also tops at his position. The 2014 first-round pick took over as a starter during his rookie year and has become a stalwart on the left side of Tennessee’s offensive line. He earned trips to the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons,

Former deal: The Titans picked up the fifth-year option on Lewan’s rookie contract, so he’s due to make $9.341 million in 2018.

Why he was looking for a new deal: The New York Giants set the market in March when they signed Nate Solder to a four-year, $62 million deal. Solder is three years older than Lewan and has never made the Pro Bowl, so there’s no reason Lewan shouldn’t have become the new highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL.

Wha happened: Lewan ended his holdout and report to training camp before he got his new deal:

Titans general manager Jon Robinson said in a statement in June that the team has had “several constructive conversations” regarding Lewan’s contract.

The Titans are among the league leaders in cap space, so unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for the team to invest in their left tackle for the future.