Adam Levitan

Training Camp Lowdown

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Holdout History

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Holdouts and the NFL go together like tea and crumpets.

You really can't blame the players for that. If I’m Maurice Jones-Drew and I see DeAngelo Williams get a five-year, $43 million contract in 2011, I’m not going to be happy. If I see Nuggets C JaVale McGee sign a four-year, $44 million deal, I’m going to be downright livid.

Football players know that the window of opportunity to cash in on their unique talents is tiny. Oftentimes, their only method of leverage is a holdout. This is not a new phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination. As we go back through the history of the league, we find some of the greatest players ever staging holdouts.

For our purposes, the key is to figure out how those holdouts affect seasons once these players report. Should Jones-Drew and Mike Wallace be downgraded on draft boards? Here’s a look at how seven fantasy-relevant players fared following their holdouts. I’ll draw some conclusions at the end.

Year of holdout: 2011
Background: Following the lockout, Johnson dug in and tried to get his rookie deal ripped up. The Titans didn’t end up caving until September 1, just 10 days before Week 1. He arrived in Nashville needing to learn new offensive coordinator Chris Palmer’s offense and simultaneously get in shape. CJ2K was expected to make good on the six-year, $55.26 million contract he signed.

How he fared: Johnson’s season was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. Although most fantasy owners stuck with him as a top-three pick, he topped 100 yards just four times and was held to 34 rushing yards or less six times. He never appeared to be in tip-top shape and his effort was fairly questioned.

2010 stats: 100.56 total yards per game, 4.31 YPC, 12 total touchdowns, 16 games played
2011 stats: 91.56 total yards per game, 3.99 YPC, 4 total touchdowns, 16 games played

Editor's Note: To see exact projections for Chris Johnson's 2012 season, full running back rankings, exclusive columns and much more, check out the Draft Guide!

Year of holdout: 2010
Background: Much like Mike Wallace, Jackson was a restricted free agent heading into the 2010 season. And just like the Steelers, the Chargers chose to play hardball. They tendered him for one year at $3.268 million and V-Jax was seeking a five-year deal worth $50 million. Jackson chose to sit out the first 10 games of the season, showing up for the final six games. That allowed him to accrue the season toward unrestricted free agency.

How he fared: The Chargers coaching staff didn’t hold any grudges. They were fully prepared to use him in a major role in his first game after reporting, Week 12. However, Jackson strained a calf three plays into that Week 12 game and ended up missing Week 13 completely. He appeared somewhat limited in Week 14. Then in Week 15, he went off for 112 yards and three touchdowns.

2009 stats: 4.53 catches per game, 77.8 yards per game, 9 touchdowns, 15 games played
2010 stats: 2.80 catches per game, 49.6 yards per game, 3 touchdowns, 5 games played

Year of holdout: 2005
Background: Ward racked up four straight 1000-yard seasons between 2001-2004, establishing himself as one of the game’s best all-around wideouts. He actually considered holding out ahead of the 2004 season, but didn’t go through with it until 2005 -- when he was set to earn $1.67 million in the final year of his deal.

The details of the Steelers’ stance with Ward were unsurprisingly similar to the one they have taken with Mike Wallace. While Ward was holding out, the organization refused to even negotiate -- even though team leaders such as Jerome Bettis publicly pleaded for Ward to get a deal. Ward finally reported to camp on August 16, three weeks before Week 1. On September 5, he got a four-year, $25.83 million deal.  

How he fared: Ward was already well-versed in the Steelers’ offense and stepped right in as the No. 1 receiver. He didn’t reach 1,000 yards, but did score 11 regular-season touchdowns and was named MVP of Super Bowl XL. Note that Wallace hasn’t been on the field to learn a new scheme under new coordinator Todd Haley.

2004 stats: 5.00 catches per game, 62.7 yards per game, 4 touchdowns, 16 games played
2005 stats: 4.60 catches per game, 65.0 yards per game, 11 touchdowns, 15 games played

Year of holdout: 1999
Background: During the first four years of his career, Galloway was unquestionably the league’s best deep threat. He never averaged less than 14.6 yards per catch and racked up 36 touchdowns. As the 1999 season approached, he dug his heels in while reportedly seeking Antonio Freeman kind of money. Galloway not only skipped all of training camp, but also the first eight games of the season. He came back to the team with his tail between his legs in early November, without a contract.

How he fared: Galloway said he was ready to help the team right away after reporting, but Mike Holmgren and the 6-2 Seahawks didn’t see it that way. The ugly holdout left a bitter taste in the organization’s mouth and the wideout never got on track, drawing the start in just four games. In fact, Galloway’s entire career spiraled downward after the holdout. Those first four years proved to be his best.

1998 stats: 4.06 catches per game, 65.4 yards per game, 10 touchdowns, 16 games played
1999 stats: 2.75 catches per game, 41.8 yards per game, 1 touchdown, 8 games played

Year of holdout: 1999
Background: At age 29, Pickens reportedly decided that he didn’t want to play for the Bengals anymore. So he staged an extended holdout, staying at home until the Thursday before Week 1. He surprisingly got a five-year, $23 million deal just a couple days later. Starting in 2000, many Bengals contracts included a “loyalty clause,” also known as the “Carl Pickens clause.” It stated that a Bengals player criticized the organization, coaches or teammates, he could be subject to a fine.

How he fared: Pickens predictably got off to a slow start following that 41-day holdout. He didn’t catch his first touchdown until Week 5 and failed to gain any momentum. After the 1999 season, he was traded away and was out of the league after the 2000 season.

1998 stats: 5.12 catches per game, 63.9 yards per game, 5 touchdowns, 16 games played
1999 stats: 3.56 catches per game, 46.0 yards per game, 6 touchdowns, 16 games played

Year of holdout: 1993
Background: In 1992, Emmitt Smith was a first-team All-Pro and led the Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory while making $465,000. That wasn’t go to fly in 1993, as Smith waged a war against Jerry Jones. Once the Cowboys started 0-2 with a rookie running back, Jones caved and made Smith the highest-paid runner in the history of the NFL. The Cowboys won 12 of their next 14 games.

How he fared: In his first two games, Smith was predictably eased in as he garnered 21 total carries. Then the chains came off. When the dust settled, Smith was the league’s MVP and the Cowboys won the Super Bowl for the second straight year.

1992 stats: 128.0 total yards per game, 4.6 YPC, 19 total touchdowns, 16 games played
1993 stats: 135.7 total yards per game, 5.3 YPC, 10 total touchdowns, 14 games played

Year of holdout: 1992
Background: Rice was already well on his way to GOAT (greatest of all-time) status when he challenged the Niners’ front office for a new contract. Between 1986 and 1991, he averaged 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns per season. He wanted to be paid like an elite wide receiver after making just $1.75 million in 1991. After a 37-day holdout, Rice finally got his deal.

How he fared: The first six weeks of the season were really slow by Rice’s standards. He was held under 73 yards in each game and had just two touchdowns. Then the explosion came and all was forgiven as the Niners ended up winning their final eight games of the season. Rice posted 654 yards and six scores during that span.

1991 stats: 5.00 catches per game, 75.3 yards per game, 14 touchdowns, 16 games played
1992 stats: 5.25 catches per game, 75.0 yards per game, 10 touchdowns, 16 games played

1. Out of the seven players, four had significantly worse than expected seasons in the year of their holdout. There could be multiple reasons for this:

A) Conditioning: Chris Johnson admitted that he wasn’t in tip-top shape as he finally reported to camp in 2011. Carl Pickens wasn’t ready to play football. Even Jerry Rice, a legendary workaholic, started the season off slow. It proves that there’s simply no substitute for the rigors of training camp.

B) Money talks: For some guys, money means more than the game. So once they get paid, it’s a license to mail it in -- thus leading to a dip in production.

C) Injuries: Somewhat surprisingly, only Vincent Jackson was affected by the kind of muscle/soft tissue problems one would expect after a long time out.

D) Scheme changes: Chris Johnson entered the season with a new offensive coordinator, perhaps contributing to his demise. Both Maurice Jones-Drew and Mike Wallace will be asked to learn new schemes as well if/when they report.

2. The three players that sustained their previous levels of productions were Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Hines Ward. The first two are among the greatest players ever and Ward has borderline Hall of Fame credentials as well.

3. The length of the holdout matters. Jerry Rice and Hines Ward reported weeks before Week 1. All the others didn’t start practicing until right at Week 1 or into the season. Only Emmitt Smith was able to overcome that, and even he was only given 21 total carries in his first two games.

These are all factors to watch as we monitor Maurice Jones-Drew and Mike Wallace. As seen above, there’s now added risk with selecting them. Buyer beware. 

Adam Levitan is in his seventh season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.
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