Has Le'Veon Bell Changed the HoldOut?

By Steve Moore

Melvin Gordon; Ezekiel Elliott; Jadeveon Clowney; Trent Williams. 

We have a little over a fortnight until the regular season starts and we have four star players, all of whom could arguably be considered to be the best player on their teams, still holding out from training camp.

We have had big name players holding out in most years during training camp. In 2010, HBO had the opportunity to portray the entire Darrelle Revis holdout with Rex Ryan’s Jets on Hard Knocks, it surely doesn’t get much more box office than that. However, what is new is the fact that there are so many, with so little time remaining and in most cases, no obvious hope of reconciliation before real September football starts.

What has changed in 2019?

The answer is quite simple and it comes in the form of $35million coming out of East Rutherford, New Jersey.

That is the figure that Le’Veon Bell is guaranteed to get paid by the New York Jets, even if he blew out both ACL’s the next time he took the field. That is more than twice the guaranteed amount he was offered by the Steelers before he decided to take his holdout right through the 2018 season.

While we have seen holdouts last into the season before, so rarely have we seen players follow through with that threat as fully as Bell in the salary cap era. As a result, the entire NFL; be it players, owners or GM’s were waiting to see how it would play out.

Bell knew that the Steelers were running him into the ground. He was quoted as saying ‘I knew I couldn’t play 16 games with 400 or more touches’. That is not an exaggeration either; Bell averaged 24.9 touches per game in Pittsburgh. That translates to 398 touches per 16 games.

Bell wanted to save himself to give himself the ability to maximise himself in free-agency and it worked.


The Current Holdouts

Trent Williams

Firstly, in Washington, Trent Williams’ holdout is over more than just money. The left tackle is rumoured to be demanding a trade because he is unhappy about how the club’s doctors handled a situation over a tumour in his scalp that was removed this season. 

The tumour proved to be benign and Washington are backing their medical staff but whether or not you understand or agree with Williams’ concerns, this shows a shift in how players are willing to handle issues of their health.

Jadeveon Clowney

Meanwhile, in Texas, Jadeveon Clowney is the guy whom, in a lot of ways, shares the most similarities with the contract situation that Bell found himself in a year ago. Like Bell, Clowney is currently under a franchise tag. This means that like Bell, his team have no obligation to think about his long-term future when game planning in 2019.

It also means that like Bell, having not signed his tag, he can’t be fined for missing training camp and will only start losing money once he takes his holdout into the regular season and starts missing pay checks. That is where Clowney seems, from all reports, to be dealing with the situation differently to Bell. All reports seem to suggest that Clowney is more than willing to play on the franchise tag, something he will now have to do even if traded as the tag means that no long-term deal can be discussed with anyone after July 15.

The tag does do one more thing to Clowney and that is costing him money because of his position. As Clowney plays in a 3-4, he is marked down as a linebacker and not a defensive end. As a result, he is clubbed along with Kwon Alexander and Anthony Barr as opposed to DeMarcus Lawrence and Cameron Jordan. Just reading that sentence shows that the franchise tag rules are not fit for purpose without the fact that it is costing him almost $2 million on the year on the tag. 

Melvin Gordon & Ezekiel Elliott

The NFL now lives in a running-back by committee world and as a result we are seeing running-back contracts stagnate as the salary cap continues to rise. Building a roster with very little spent at running-back has proven a marker of success.

Great for those teams, but horrible for premium running-backs wallets. That is something Bell knew too. Back before his own holdout, he was quoted as saying the following:

“I just want to be valued where I’m at. If I am playing this game, I want to set standards for all the other running backs behind me, like Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon, guys like that. I’m a guy they can kind of look at. I feel I can do that. I’m in a position where I can do that, and I’m going to do it.”

Two of those players are the last two of our hold-outs while the first also signed a contract this off-season that made him just one of three running-backs (including Bell) who are going to make over $10 million in 2019. Over 20 wide-receivers are due to make at least that amount.

That is why we have Elliott and Gordon holding out. They are both following Bell and trying to ensure they get paid while they still can before their teams run them into the ground.
Elliott averages over 400 touches per 16-games, a Bell-esque number. Despite his almost unparalleled importance in the league, he is due to make just $3.8 million in 2019 and $9.1 milion in 2020 before hitting free agency. At that rate, by the time he can earn his due in 2021, he may well have been run into the ground by the Cowboys.

Gordon meanwhile, sits on an injury history that is well known as well as averaging 270 touches a year himself. Both have one big problem that Bell didn’t have though. If they holdout the entire year, they don’t get a year closer to free agency as their contract just roles over.

As they are still under contract and not playing under the franchise tag they need to report to get an accrued year on their contract. The only reason they even have until Week 10 to report is because they were first-round picks. What makes it worse for them is that their teams would be secretly delighted if they did not report until Week 10. Imagine getting a running back of the quality of one of these two arriving healthy with just 7-to-10 games remaining in your season. That would be heaven for an NFL team.

Despite these differences in situation, what Le’veon Bell has done has opened the floodgates. He has shown that you can miss a whole year and not crater your financial prospects and career on the back end. Yes he probably lost money overall compared to just playing out the year and entering free agency, but he avoided a years worth of hits and potential injury. What all four of the players we have discussed can do is point at Bell and show that holding out into the season is no longer the empty threat that it has seemed for so long.

The Genie is out of the bottle and, like Will Smith, it’s not going back in anytime soon.

Steve Moore

NFL Analyst


Image credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

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