Mike Triplett from ESPN recently wrote an article highlighting the fact that the Saints can’t keep avoiding long term extensions for their best wide receiver, Michael Thomas and defensive lineman, Cam Jordan.
The main takeaway after reading Thomas and Jordan’s comments about possible extensions was that neither of these players are holdout risks, and both are incredibly mature and professional, especially for stars under 30 years old.
The Saints should count their salary cap blessings since two of their most important players remain committed to their team and their craft despite being underpaid for their performance. Jordan is the 21st highest paid edge defender in the league while Thomas is the 96th highest paid wide receiver. Both can make arguments they are top five performers at each of their positions.
It’s clear, however, that neither player approaches the business side of the game the same way players like Aaron Donald and Le’Veon Bell have in the recent past. Donald held out rather than playing under the fifth year option picked up on his rookie scale contract. Thomas is entering his final year of his rookie contract, yet continues to participate even when it’s optional.
Bell held out because he refused to play on a second consecutive franchise tag worth $3 million more than Jordan’s annual salary. Jordan also continues to participate in most team activities and even took it upon himself to attend Von Miller’s annual pass rushing summit so he could continue to hone his craft.
Jordan expressed a heartening perspective not many professional football players have the ability-or luxury-to share. “When it comes down to it, I feel like to miss out on training camp two years out is just no point. I feel like the Saints and I have a phenomenal (rapport), so why would I want to damage that?”
“For me it’s not even about money; it’s about solidifying a legacy. It’s about pushing and furthering what I’m doing. And I love our team to the fact that I want to continue doing what we’ve been doing.”
Jordan understands the bigger picture and he has clearly thought a lot about what makes him happy and what’s important to him professionally. When asked about his contract status, he stressed that even though he would like to be paid more, he doesn’t need top five money in order to feel appreciated by his organization.
“All that can take care of itself. Honestly, I just want to be a Saints lifer. I want to go after this record by Rickey [Jackson],” Jordan continued. “I would love to say, ‘Hey, I want a megadeal.’ I don’t really. I just want to be secure in my job. Now to be sure, do I need to be updated? No doubt.”
“But do I want to be like, ‘Hey, I want to break Aaron Donald bank or go after Khalil Mack money even though I have better than Khalil Mack numbers in most categories?’ No. For me it’s all about just being around my team, making sure that my family and my team is gonna be my family and my team for as long as I can play.”
It’s equally refreshing listening to Thomas defend why he chose to participate in the optional offseason training activities and refrain from holding out his services in hopes of securing an extension beyond his rookie deal.
“I’m a football player first -- I like being at work. So it wasn’t really hard to make a decision [to attend OTAs],” Thomas told ESPN. ”I feel pretty certain that everything will get taken care of and handled professionally. This is how I approach the game and how I show up to work the same way, and everything else will take care of itself.”
Of course, Mickey Loomis should extend both of these players sooner than later, but let’s play devil’s advocate for just a moment. Cam Jordan’s contract runs through 2020, which secures his Pro Bowl level services for the Saints for at least two more seasons for well under fair market rate.
Sure, Cam Jordan is underpaid based on his performance compared to his contract, but he’s still the third highest paid player on his team. And, in the grand scheme of life, Jordan seems to understand he is blessed to make such a healthy income doing what he loves.
Perhaps his father, who graduated from the Ivy League Brown University and played 11 seasons for the Minnesota Vikings, instilled financial literacy in him from a young age. Perhaps Jordan, coming from an upper middle class family, never had to struggle financially like so many other NFL players did during their youths.
Jordan graduated from one of the world’s best and most liberal universities, UC Berkeley. Perhaps he studied more than football and developed a healthy philosophy for happiness in life. Perhaps his privilege and life experiences have convinced him that making $70 million in 10 years with ONLY one significant pay raise isn’t too shabby after all.
Let’s say Jordan’s demeanor and outlook pull a full 180 and next year he does want to hold out. Why would Loomis risk signing Jordan to a long term extension with the impending threat of a league wide player lockout following the 2020 season?
It wouldn’t be surprising if Jordan has already taken this unique circumstance into consideration while weighing his leverage in contract extension talks. He can see in black and white that the league could be turned financially upside down following his current contract expiration date.
Thomas, on the other hand, has a contract expiring a full year before the impending lockout. He’s going to have to paid next year, if not sooner. But credit Thomas for showing up to work to do the job he signed a contract to do. I’m getting really sick of sports writers (Mike Triplett, cough cough) insisting these players have every right to hold out.
These players signed contracts. If they didn’t like the contract, they shouldn’t have signed it. If these players don’t like the rookie wage scale, they should blame every NFL player in the league in 2011 (besides the Steelers who refused to sign the current CBA) and the NFLPA for allowing such an unfair wage system to be negotiated on their behalf.
Following the 2020 season, NFL players will have their first chance in ten years to renegotiate the terms of their collective bargaining agreement. If Thomas thinks the rookie wage system is unfair, he’s welcome to join his fellow members of the shield by standing up against the way too rich and way too powerful owners they play for.
It’s clear, however, that Thomas has chosen to model his approach to the game more in the likeness of his teammate Jordan than of his uncle Keyshawn Johnson. As a #1 overall pick in the 1996 draft, Johnson initiated a 24 day holdout before signing his initial 6 year $15 million deal with the Jets. Four years later, with two years left on that contract, Johnson threatened to holdout of Jets camp before the franchise traded him in a blockbuster deal to the Bucs.
The more I think about it. The Saints should be incredibly proud of the high character people they are choosing to draft. That’s not to say players who exercise holdouts aren’t high character.
But it takes a certain ego to go down that road, and the Saints appear to be drafting quality players without the ego that typically comes along with it. They are drafting football players who love to play, practice, and prepare like professionals no matter their contract situation.
Thomas and Jordan are some of the best football players in the league, and, eventually, they are going to make a lot of money doing it. But don’t ever call them divas. They are a dying breed in a league chock full of them.