NFL’s obsession with ending holdouts could backfire on some teams

The latest labor deal makes it harder than ever for players under contract to hold out. As a result, this year’s ritual of players reporting to training camp has included, so far, not a single player under contract holding out.

Here’s the question: With unhappy players unwilling based on the terms of the current labor deal to draw a line in the stand and stay away, could the presence of men who aren’t happy with their current circumstances and who feel like they have no options backfire on one or more teams?

In Miami, Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard showed up when he clearly had no interest in doing so; he has since made a public trade demand. Other players who want new contracts or changes of scenery have reported. Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore showed up. Cardinals pass rusher Chandler Jones showed up. Seahawks safety Jamal Adams showed up. Packers receiver Davante Adams showed up. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson showed up. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who supposedly didn’t care about the financial consequences of staying away, caved in and showed up.

The latest CBA increased daily fines for holding out of training camp while under contract to $50,000 per day. For players not operating under their rookie contracts, the fines no longer can be waived.

That has undoubtedly prompted some players who would have stayed away to show up. Which means that unhappy players who’d rather not be present believe they have to be there.

The term “hold in” will become more popular moving forward. It’s been a very real dynamic in the NFL for years. Players sometimes show up and, for example, have a nagging hamstring strain that keeps them from practicing. Coaches don’t like it, but what can they do? Pick a fight with someone who’s already ready to rumble?

The league’s decision to make it harder to hold out increases the chances of another Terrell Owens situation, where a player who wants a new contract and/or a trade but who doesn’t hold out shows up and creates a three-ring circus that morphs into a major distraction. Again, if you take away (as a practical matter) the ability of a disgruntled player to simply stay home, that player will look for another way to get what he wants. In some situations, it will be much better to have that guy not in the building, not around teammates, not interacting with coaches and others from management, not making things potentially worse before they can get better.

Given the number of unhappy players who showed up for 2021 training camp, it makes sense to pay close attention to how things unfold for each of the players who, in past years, would have been more inclined to stay away. The greater the unhappy players who don’t hold out, the greater the chance that there will be at least one situation that implodes.