While the big news across the NFL is that the 2020 NFL Draft is just a week away, as noted on Wednesday Phase I of the NFL Offseason Program is set to start for most teams Monday. That is likely to lead to an increase in transactions for many teams, as front offices and coaching staffs look to bring players in before things kick off on Monday. However, one player who reportedly will not be in attendance at the voluntary workouts which start next week is running back Joe Mixon of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Mixon, a second round pick of the Bengals in the 2017 draft is set to earn just $1.21M this season, which is less than Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson, who is scheduled to make $2.133M despite being selected five rounds later in the draft. The reason for the disparity is that Carson qualified for the Proven Performance Escalator which resulted in an increase in his 2020 base salary, while as a second round pick Mixon was not eligible for the PPE. As he is not satisfied with his scheduled earnings in spite of having the fourth most rushing yards in the NFL over the past three years, Mixon is expected to undertake some sort of holdout if he is not given a contract extension.
Joe Mixon is willing to sit out until he gets a new deal from the Bengals. pic.twitter.com/1qQYBjPjNw— theScore (@theScore) April 15, 2020
Holdouts are nothing new to football, but the amount of leverage players hold in holdouts is now signficantly reduced thanks to the new CBA which was approved last month. Specifically, the time by which a player must report to training camp in order to earn an accrued season has been materially altered. Under the old CBA, players were required to report to training camp no less than 30 days prior to the first scheduled regular season game in order to be eligible to receive an accrued season.
For both the Seahawks and Bengals last season, those dates are very similar. The two teams faced off against each other on September 8, 2019 to open the season, so 30 days prior would have been August 9. The Bengals opened training camp on July 27, while the Seahawks reported to training camp on July 25. The two day difference is due to the fact that Seattle played its first preseason game on August 8, while Cincinnati played its first preseason game on August 10, and teams are allowed to open training camp two weeks prior to the first preseason game.
In any case, under the newly adopted CBA the date by which players must report in order to earn an accrued season has been changed. As noted, either Carson or Mixon could have waited until August 9 to report last year, while this year the requirement is much earlier. Specifically, from Article 8 of the 2020 CBA (bolding added is mine).
Section 1. Accrued Seasons Calculation : (a) For the purposes of calculating Accrued Seasons under this Agreement, a player shall receive one Accrued Season for each season during which he was on, or should have been on, full pay status for a total of six or more regular season games (which shall include any games encompassed in any injury settlement, injury grievance settlement or injury grievance award), but which, irrespective of the player’s pay status, shall not include games for which the player was on: (i) the Exempt Commissioner Permission List, (ii) the Reserve PUP List as a result of a nonfootball injury, or (iii) a Club’s Practice Squad.
(b) A player shall not receive an Accrued Season for any League Year in which the player is under contract to a Club and in which (i) he failed to report to the Club’s preseason training camp on that player’s mandatory reporting date; or (ii) the player thereafter failed to perform his contract services for the Club for a material period of time, unless he demonstrates to the Impartial Arbitrator extreme personal hardship causing such failure to report or perform, such as severe illness or death in the family. The determination of the Impartial Arbitrator shall be made within thirty days of the application by the player, and shall be based upon all information relating to such hardship submitted by such date. The determination of the Impartial Arbitrator shall be final and binding upon all parties.
Basically, under the new CBA, if a player doesn’t show up to training camp on time, they aren’t eligible to earn an accrued season. That’s huge for fourth year players entering the final year of their rookie contract because if that player does not earn an accrued season, at the end of the year they are a restricted free agent rather than an unrestricted free agent. That effectively means that if a fourth year player holds out, they are gifting the team a fifth year of team control.
As bad as that is, it gets even worse. Seahawks fans all remember the holdouts of Kam Chancellor, Marshawn Lynch and Earl Thomas in recent seasons. While Lynch’s holdout ended quickly, those of Thomas and Chancellor lasted right up until the regular season, which means they lasted more than a month. The CBA has changed the handling of long holdouts such as these by making the fines for missing training camp mandatory. In short, while the Seahawks reported waived the majority of fines for all three of Thomas, Chancellor and Lynch, that is no longer an option for teams under the new CBA.
Per Article 42, Sections 1(b)(vi)-(vii), training camp fines are now mandatory (bolding is mine):
(vi) Unexcused late reporting for or absence from preseason training camp by a player under contract except those signed as (1) an Unrestricted Free Agent pursuant to Article 9; or (2) a Drafted or Undrafted Rookie pursuant to Article 7—mandatory fine of $50,000 per day. For the avoidance of doubt, any such fines shall be mandatory, and shall not be reduced in amount or waived by the Club, in whole or in part, but must be paid by the player or deducted by the Club as provided in Section 5(b) of this Article. For purposes of this Subsection (vi) and Subsections (vii)-(ix) below, preseason training camp shall be defined as the period beginning with the mandatory reporting date for any player through the Sunday immediately preceding the first game of the NFL regular season.
(vii) Unexcused late reporting for or absence from preseason training camp by a player under contract signed as an Unrestricted Free Agent pursuant to Article 9—mandatory fine of $50,000 per day, plus one week’s Paragraph 5 Salary for each preseason game missed. For the avoidance of doubt, any such fines shall be mandatory, and shall not be reduced in amount or waived by the Club, in whole or in part, but must be paid by the player or deducted by the Club as provided in Section 5(b) of this Article.
So, in the case of a player like Thomas or Chancellor who holds out until September, the fines are mandatory and would have covered the 40 day period between reporting and the Sunday prior to the start of the regular season. At $50,000 per day, that’s $2,000,000 in fines that teams are no longer able to magically wipe away at their discretion, and which must either be paid out of pocket by the player or deducted from the player’s paycheck.
Also, while $2,000,000 is certainly a whole lot of fines that must be paid, it gets even worse for players. Specifically, NFL fines are paid out of after tax income. That makes $2,000,000 in fines far larger in actuality, as for most players it takes far more than $3,000,000 in earnings to make enough to cover the cost of the fines. If Mixon were to hold out into the regular season and accrue the maximum amount of fines, he’d be so indebted to the Bengals that he’d play the 2020 season for free and be a restricted free agent who would likely have the original round tender applied after the season. That would then result in Mixon effectively playing the 2021 season for free as well, as the original round tender for 2021 is likely to be less than $2.5M.
In short, while the 2011 CBA took away a lot of leverage for players to hold out, the 2020 CBA has effectively eliminated the small amount of leverage left for players. What that means for the Seahawks is that fourth year players like Carson and Shaquill Griffin have no leverage to hold out in hopes of receiving a new contract.