Mark My Words: NFL RB Holdouts

NFL running back holdouts have been happening for many years, it feels like over the last few years they have picked up in regularity. First, let’s define what a holdout is: “a person or organization who resists something or refuses to accept an offer.” In this article, we will be discussing Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott and Chargers RB Melvin Gordon.

History has shown that superstar running backs aren’t afraid to holdout. 

Famous holdouts include: Emmitt Smith in 1993 when he held out of the training camp and the first 2 weeks of the NFL season. This was coming off a Super Bowl victory. Dallas lost those first 2 games and in turn signed Emmitt to the biggest contract given to a running back. Dallas ended up winning the Super Bowl that year making this holdout beneficial for both parties.

Bo Jackson held out in 1986. This holdout was a bit different as he held out as a rookie because he was unhappy about losing his final year of eligibility for baseball at Auburn. He blamed Tampa Bay, the team who took him number one, for losing that eligibility. Bo played baseball that year and then was drafted the next year by the Oakland Raiders. I would say Bo won out on this one as Tampa lost out on a full year of a number one pick and never got him back.

The final one I want to touch on is Le’veon Bell as it happened last year and seems to be the benchmark for these other running backs. Now Le’veon is a little different in the fact that he was not under contract at the time of his holdout. Bell had been franchised tagged by the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second year in a row. Bell either had to sign his franchise tender or sit out the full season. Because Bell was under the franchise tag rules he could not be fined by the team for not reporting (this is important for later on). Bell decided to sit the year out and losing out on 14 million dollars for that season. Bell did get to become a free agent in 2019 and did sign a contract with the New York Jets. Now this contract has less overall money but more guaranteed money then what was reported the Steelers offered. We will find out which side won in this deal as we will see the Steelers without Bell and Bell without a top offense around him.

Due to Le’Veon Bell’s contract dispute in 2018, two superstar running backs have decided to follow suit. 

The two running backs in 2019 who are currently holding out from their teams , with about 9 days away from the opening game on Thursday September 5th, are Melvin Gordon and Ezekiel Elliott; they both have informed their teams that they won’t be returning unless they receive new contracts. 

Let’s start with Melvin, he is in his 5th year option on his original rookie contract. He is looking for the stability of a new contract with the added years. Now the difference between Gordon and Bell is that Gordon is under contract and can be fined up to $40,000 for each day he misses from the beginning of training camp. Also, if Melvin doesn’t report by mid November his season will not count and his current contract will roll over to next year which means he will still have the same contact he currently has now.

Ezekial Elliott is a bit different because he is under contract for another 2 years. Now the same rules apply to Elliott; he can be fined everyday he misses for the same amount. Now I say can be because the teams have the discretion to decide to wave those fines. Also, Elliott holding out may be following the same model Emmitt Smith did in 1993, because he believes this team needs him and a lot of people believe they are super bowl contenders. 

I’m of the belief that everyone should make as much as they possibly can in their lives. In these scenarios, I think both players are going about contract extensions incorrectly. They are hurting their teammates who are out there competing everyday. Both players have a contract and I believe have no leverage as running back is a replaceable position in the NFL. I don’t think either running back will sit out the whole season. I predict Zeke will be back by week 1 and Melvin will be back mid season. Zeke has an offer on the table which my personal belief is that he will sign. Melvin will return with no contract so he can get his year of eligibility in and become a free agent next year. Melvin could also be traded but I don’t expect any team to trade assets for a guy holding out. 


Mark Angst