With rookie pay scales and sky rocketing salary caps irking productive stars more and more in recent years, players have become more willing to withhold their services in search of more lucrative extensions dripping with guaranteed money. There have been several notable holdouts this NFL offseason, but perhaps none of them are as worthy of a long term investment as the Saints’ Michael Thomas.
The Falcons’ Julio Jones has said he won’t play this preseason. The star wide receiver still has two years left on the $71.25 Million contract he signed back in 2015. At the time, the contract seemed more than fair, but as the salary cap has risen and wide receivers have become more valued, Jones seeks an upgrade to his $9.5 Million current pay rate.
Jones certainly has made his case for a raise, but three important factors could be giving the Falcons’ front office pause. One, Jones is already 30 years old. Two, he has a long injury history. Even though he has only missed three games in the past five years, Jones has battled serious foot, ankle, and hip issues that probably won’t improve as he’s only getting older. Three, despite averaging over 100 yards per game and more than 1,400 yards per year over the past five years, the one place Jones hasn’t dominated is in the end zone.
One of the knocks on Michael Thomas was that he only scored 23 touchdowns in his first three seasons, which averages out to 7.6 touchdowns per season. Jones, on the other hand, has scored 31 touchdowns over the past five seasons, which averages out to 6.2 touchdowns per season.
Jones does hold the edge over Thomas when it comes to yards per season, yards per catch, and 1st downs. In my opinion, Jones is the only wide receiver on the market who is comparable in both size and style of play. It was smart for the Saints to ink Thomas before the Falcons had the chance to reset the market for that position.
The other two receivers that could have raised Thomas’ asking price with deals of their own were the Cowboys’ Amari Cooper and the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill. Cooper’s sample size with the Cowboys following a mid season trade from the Raiders isn’t enough to command a a record setting contract at the position.
The Cowboys seem intent on seeing if Cooper is worth the $14 Million fifth year option before investing between $16-19 Million a year on the somewhat spotty performer. Yet, if he continues to perform like he did over the last nine games of 2018, he could position himself for a much bigger payday.
Hill is probably the fastest player in the entire NFL. If he wasn’t so blatantly a terrible person with serious anger management and domestic violence problems, he would have already eclipsed the $100 Million contract mark.
No matter how talented a player is, personal integrity and game day availability do matter in this league. Thomas has shown that he’s a consummate professional whose worst infraction was incurring a kickoff penalty following his cellphone touchdown celebration against the Rams last year. I’d give Thomas a thousand contracts before I’d give Hill one.
Cooper and Hill aren’t holding out, though, as neither really holds a mandate to do so. The other two notable hold outs aren’t wide receivers at all, but running backs. Unfortunately for these backs, their position had been devalued for years before the Rams unnecessarily raised the bar from Devonta Freeman’s $8 Million per year to Todd Gurley’s $14 Million per year. As of today, the three highest paid running backs (Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson) have not been worth the investment.
I get the sense general managers are not going to want to pay more than $10 Million per year despite the salary cap increasing. The Chargers’ Melvin Gordon is refusing to play on his $5.6 Million fifth year option while the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliot is holding out in Cabo with two years and about $12 Million left on his rookie scale contract.
Both of these dudes are tripping in my opinion. Often injured, Gordon has only played 16 games or eclipsed 1,000 yards once in four years, and didn’t average over 3.9 yards per carry until 2018. He’s good, but by no means irreplaceable.
Elliot, on the other hand, is far more valuable during the season, but is such a headache off the field, Jerry Jones has publicly stated the fact that no NFL team has won the Super Bowl with a rushing champion since the 1998 Broncos with Terrell Davis.
Plus, Elliot was drafted fourth overall and stands to make at least $24 Million without a contract extension. It’s players like Thomas and Alvin Kamara, who were drafted in the second, third, or later rounds, but have become stars who deserve early extensions that pay them a more fair rate.
Elliot can live off the interest in his bank account even if he never signs another contract. I don’t feel bad for him at all, and, quite honestly, I find it puzzling that a player with so many question marks off the field would choose to holdout with little professional or analytical leverage to do so.
So far, Elliot has been accused of abusing his girlfriend on multiple occasions, pulling a woman’s shirt down without her consent at a St. Patty’s Day party, fighting at a bar, and rear ending another car on the way to football practice.
The Cowboys are now being sued by the driver of the other vehicle for $20 Million and being accused of covering up for Elliot’s traffic accident. The suspensions and legal bills are starting to outweigh the 2017 and 2018 rushing champion’s value to his team.
It’s obvious that Michael Thomas has proven he is the youngest, most durable, hardest working, and most professional of any of these high quality players who deserve higher salaries. Mickey Loomis was smart to give Thomas this contract before the salary cap rises and other less deserving players reset the contract market.