Now that the deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign long-term deals this offseason having come and gone without any of the three tagged backs agreeing to multi-year pacts, it is widely expected that at least two of those players (Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs) will hold out of training camp for at least some period of time. With that in mind, we thought this would be a good time to take a look at some of the recent history of running back holdouts, and how those plans worked out for the player and team in question.
In the table below, we compiled a list of recent holdouts, along with how many games they missed due to their holdout, how they performed during the ensuing season, and what type of contract they landed. Most of these names and contract situations should look pretty familiar.
|Melvin Gordon||2019||4||162||612||8||3.8||No Deal||No Deal||No Deal|
|Maurice Jones-Drew**||2012||0||86||414||1||4.8||No Deal||No Deal||No Deal|
*Free-agent contract after sitting out entire season
**Injured during ensuing season
+Guarantee figures weren't publicly reported
For the most part, the players in question ended up reporting to the team in time for the beginning of the regular season, if not at least some of training camp. Of the 12 holdouts, only three missed any games at all.
Just one (Le'Veon Bell) missed a significant portion of the season, but his situation might be the most relevant because he was the only one of the 12 players who was actually on the franchise tag at the time. So, he actually couldn't sign a long-term deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers, just like Barkley and Jacobs cannot sign long-term deals with the Giants and Raiders at the moment. The teams are allowed to agree with the players on a one-year deal for a different amount than the value of the franchise tag, but they can only agree to a one-year deal. So, the idea of them being given a contract commensurate with their wishes such that they report to camp with no problem is probably off the table.
As you can see, some of the holdouts suffered immediate drop-offs in their play, while others sustained injuries. A handful (Kamara, Elliott, Dillon, Faulk, Smith) played essentially at the levels they had previously reached in their careers, while a pair (Johnson and Jackson) ran for 1,000-plus yards but were not nearly as explosive or efficient as in the past.
Of course, teams don't just care about how a player does in the year following his holdout. They care about the rest of their careers. And that's where it gets pretty ugly.
|Player||Rush Before||Yds Before||TD Before||YPC Before||Rush After||Yds After||TD After||YPC After|
Of the 12 players who held out, all of them except Kamara had at least 750 career rushing attempts prior to trying to leverage their way into a new deal. Just six of them lasted long enough in the league to reach 750 post-holdout carries. (Kamara could still get there.)
Of the group, six of them saw their yards per carry average drop by at least half a yard post-holdout, while only two players saw their per-carry average rise at all (Melvin Gordon and Marshall Faulk) and just one (Faulk) saw it jump by more than half a yard per tote. Taking all this together, the only teams that could reasonably claim to have gotten a good deal out of paying their star backs are the Rams (Faulk), Bengals (Dillon), and Cowboys (Smith). Notably, those are also the only players whose teams eventually won a Super Bowl, though it took until Dillon signed with the Patriots a few years after his holdout for him to get his.
We know all this, and so do teams, and so do players. And it's a large part of why running back contracts have come crashing down in recent seasons. There is no possibility of Barkley or Jacobs getting the deal they want this offseason, and it seems unlikely that they, or Pollard, or even Jonathan Taylor will break the bank next offseason, either, given the way the league is valuing backs these days. There's no real remedy for this at the moment, and there probably isn't one on the horizon unless there is a marked shift in the way players at the position are used.