By Joe Leo
Published: October 10th, 2018
Le’Veon Bell announced in Week 3 that he will end his holdout and join the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 7 on their bye week, following a contract dispute over Bell’s long-term future with the Steelers. This comes on the heels of Earl Thomas’ season-ending leg injury in Arizona. Thomas wrote an article for the Players Tribune in early August giving insight on his holdout and his demands. Thomas argued that the reason he cannot give his all on every play is because he has no financial guarantee that his team, the Seattle Seahawks, would take care of him or have him be a part of the team’s future. Following the injury, Thomas voiced his displeasure by flashing the bird to his own sideline as he was being carted off.
Both Bell and Thomas have been two of the loudest voices in the fight to get guaranteed contracts for the entire NFL. However, ending these holdouts only gives the NFL more negotiating power when it comes time to sit down and make a deal. Ending the holdouts empowers the NFL and reinforces the players’ need to show up for work, showing that the players don’t truly have a choice in the matter.
Due to the hard salary cap, players can only get a certain percentage of the money in a contract, with the rest of the announced contract number being incentives. Also, if a player doesn’t play games, they don’t get that game’s check and lose out on getting said money, which doesn’t happen in any of the other major sports.
Thanks to the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) study conducted by Boston University last year, the concern for player safety on and off the football field, during and following a player’s career, has become more vital to the people who suit up and play on Sundays. This only furthers the need for guaranteed money for players who have shown serious physical and mental ailments in the years following their playing careers on the football field.
These holdouts opened the door for the guaranteed money conversation that is a runaway train charging down the tracks. Even with the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) ending in 2021, the dialogue has already started on guaranteed contracts. When the CBA ends and the NFL and NFLPA sit down to iron out the new bargaining agreement, guaranteed money will be the single issue that will take the longest to reach a compromise. Having these holdouts end doesn’t allow current players to make an effort to balance the power dynamic. This will have to wait until the labor talks. The only way the players will make the game of football better for future generations is not by breaking records or winning Super Bowls but by standing up to the owners and getting these contracts.
This dispute over contracts parallels the empowerment movement that NBA players have faced over the past few years. When LeBron James switched teams, he made a self-empowerment career move and went from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat. James got eviscerated for going against the grain of how NBA players went about their business. Instead of the rest of the NBA looking at James from afar, they joined in on the self-empowerment movement and took control of their careers. Not only has James’ decision changed the landscape of the NBA but it has also changed the way that front offices go about contracts in general.
In order for NFL players to get their wishes and not have to worry about playing through injuries and damaging their bodies for the rest of their lives, when it comes time to come to a new CBA, the players must stand their ground and not budge on this subject. The best thing the players can do is drag labor talks out and miss games. If the owners’ wallets are being affected, they will have to reach the demands of their players and show them the respect that should already have been in place. If there is no football for a half of season, or even a full season, it will only make the game of football better.
With the spotlight put on the league by President Trump last season, the NFL has been subjected to controversy that is unprecedented and impossible to ignore. President Trump changed the conversation around football, and it will be for the betterment of the game if the players stand tall with their demands. For many football fans across the country, all they want is to return to a point where all we are talking about on Sunday is the game itself and forgetting the extracurricular activities. In order for that to happen, like martyrs before them, these players must do what is right for themselves and the future generations of football players. This is also a cry out to the owners who are looking for ways to better the product on the field. If you don’t lowball players and give them the money they rightfully deserve, more players will be like Earl Thomas and give their all on every play without question.
The framework for a better NFL is attainable. It’s just a matter of time to see if it will actually become a reality or if it will continue to be a pipedream. This dispute will dictate the future of football forever, and that is guaranteed.