Bobby Wagner, Julio Jones, and Yannick Ngakoue probably won’t be at training camp until they get contract extensions.
When NFL training camps opened in July 2018, many of the league’s biggest names steered clear. Le’Veon Bell, Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, and Earl Thomas all refused to show up due to qualms with their contracts.
Bell never reported, opting instead to sit out an entire season after the Steelers franchised him in back-to-back years.
Donald’s holdout ended with a record-breaking contract from the Rams. And Mack’s ended when he was traded from the Raiders to the Bears and subsequently given the blockbuster deal he wanted too.
Thomas reluctantly showed up without a new contract from the Seahawks and wasn’t shy about voicing his displeasure — most notably when he suffered a broken leg early in the 2018 season that ended his time in Seattle.
There probably won’t be the same level of star power on the list of holdouts this summer. But skipping training camp is a common, and usually effective, tactic. At least a few will give it a try.
Here are 10 NFL players who may be training camp absentees in 2019, ranked from likeliest to least likely to hold out:
4 players with a holdout on the way
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Texans
The No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft may not be the unstoppable sack machine that many expected him to be, but Clowney has emerged as a perennial Pro Bowler. He’s valuable enough that the Texans gave him a franchise tag that guarantees him $15.967 million in 2019.
That’s a good pay day for Clowney. The problem is that it lacks long-term security and is below market value for the position.
Clowney got things started by sitting out offseason workouts, but the only date that matters is July 15. That’s the deadline for franchised players to sign an extension.
If no deal gets done by mid-July, a training camp holdout would be a bit of an exercise in futility for Clowney. It’d be a (perfectly justifiable) protest of the tag, but — barring a trade — wouldn’t yield a new contract.
Although there haven’t been many updates on the progress of negotiations, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle said in April that there was “no deal in sight.” It doesn’t help either that the Texans fired general manager Brian Gaine in June and bungled their attempts to replace him. That left interim general manager Chris Olsen and coach Bill O’Brien about a month to work on a deal with Clowney.
Until Clowney signs his franchise tender, the Texans won’t be able to fine him for missing training camp practices. If no deal gets done in July, it’d be logical to assume Clowney takes a while to show up in August.
Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jaguars
Jacksonville appears to have prioritized an extension for Ngakoue ahead of a deal for cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
That makes sense, considering both were drafted in 2016 but Ramsey was the first-round pick. That means he had a fifth-year option on his contract that keeps him locked up through the 2020 season. Ngakoue is entering the last year of his rookie deal, so his contract situation is a more immediate hurdle for the Jaguars to clear.
Ngakoue sat out offseason workouts earlier this year for that reason.
In three seasons with the Jaguars, Ngakoue has 29.5 sacks and one trip to the Pro Bowl. That kind of production should put him in the same tier as Demarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark, Trey Flowers, and Dee Ford — each of whom got a pricy five-year deal in 2019 that averaged between $17.1 and $21 million.
So far, it doesn’t look like there’s been much progress made between the Jaguars and Ngakoue.
A training camp holdout looks like it’s on the way, and he may be the player on this list who’s likeliest to drag his contract dispute into September.
Bobby Wagner, LB, Seahawks
As far as holdouts go, Wagner’s hunt for a new contract has been as amicable as possible. The linebacker chose against practicing in OTAs, but still showed up at the facility and participated without going on the field.
“He handled it beautifully,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters, via 247Sports. “Bobby’s an incredible player in this program. Everything that he does, his presence is obvious. He’s been around for everything. He’s been involved with everything and he’s handled it exactly the way he should under these circumstances.”
Things may get a little more contentious when it gets closer to the season, though. Wagner is arguably the best linebacker in the NFL, but now he has serious leverage for a pay raise thanks to C.J. Mosley. The Jets gave Mosley a five-year contract that averages $17 million per year — waaaaay more than Luke Kuechly’s $12.36 million average that previously reigned as the top salary for an inside linebacker.
Wagner is entering the final year of his contract and remains an integral part of the Seahawks. The defense has undergone a transformation in the wake of the Legion of Boom’s demise, and Wagner’s been the player who has held the unit together through the transition.
But it’s going to be a tough negotiation, thanks in no small part to Mosley’s outlier of a contract. Wagner probably won’t show up until the deal is done.
Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
The Falcons placated Jones last year when he opted to skip out on the beginning of training camp. While the star receiver didn’t get the huge contract he was aiming for, the Falcons shifted money around on the deal to give him more money in 2018.
“We have come to an agreement with Julio, and we will re-address everything in 2019,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement at the time.
Well now it’s well into 2019 and the contract still hasn’t been re-addressed. There was a report in April that a deal was close to finished, but nothing came of that. Jones then sat out OTAs, setting the table for a training camp holdout.
After five straight Pro Bowl seasons with at least 1,400 receiving yards each, Jones isn’t going to come cheap. He’ll probably want a contract that eclipses the $18 million per year that was awarded to Odell Beckham Jr. last year.
There’s not much reason to believe the Falcons won’t pay up. Jones won’t be at camp until they do.
3 players more likely than not to holdout
Chris Jones, DT, Chiefs
Kansas City did some high-stakes tinkering with its pass rush during the offseason, shipping Dee Ford to the 49ers and filling his role by trading for Frank Clark. But the real centerpiece of the Chiefs’ defense is Jones, who had 15.5 sacks in 2018.
With his contract expiring after the 2019 season, Jones skipped offseason practices this spring. The Chiefs responded to the absence by playing hardball.
The good news for the Chiefs is that Jones has a reason to show up shortly after training camp opens. If he’s not in camp by Aug. 6, he’d be set to reach restricted free agency next year rather than unrestricted free agency.
Camp opens for the Chiefs on July 24, so Jones will be rolling the dice if he isn’t there within the first couple weeks. That makes a holdout much less likely to happen, but not impossible. Aaron Donald faced the same situation in 2018 and blew through the deadline in pursuit of a new contract.
He still didn’t show up until the Rams gave him a record-breaking deal on the last day of August. It wouldn’t be that surprising if Jones followed in Donald’s footsteps.
Darius Slay, CB, Lions
On the list of underpaid players coming up on the end of their contracts, Slay is in a different situation. He signed an extension in 2016 and still has two years left with base salaries of $12.55 million and $10 million on the way.
Since signing that deal, Slay has been to the Pro Bowl two times while several other cornerbacks got more lucrative contracts. He’s also gone through the guaranteed portions of the deal.
Now Slay’s angling for another contract that pays him like the elite cornerback that he is and gives him some security. And that could mean missing some of training camp.
“Will I be there?” Slay said of training camp on a podcast in June, via the Detroit Free Press. “We’ll see. Time will tell.”
With two years left on his deal, Detroit doesn’t need to do Slay any favors and restructure it. But the Lions are also sitting pretty with over $23 million in cap space and can afford to kick one of their best players a little more. Slay can edge them toward the latter with a holdout.
Robbie Gould, K, 49ers
There aren’t many examples of kickers holding out, but Gould has made it clear that San Francisco isn’t a place he wants to be. He requested a trade in April and told the 49ers that he won’t negotiate a long-term deal ahead of the July 15 deadline for an extension.
The 49ers didn’t take long to deny the trade request:
That curt response shut down rumors, but it didn’t quell Gould’s discontent. He’d still prefer to play close to home in Chicago, where he was for the first 11 seasons of his NFL career. (The Bears could certainly use the help after a brutal year of kicking.)
Kickers are often cogs that are easy to replace, but Gould has some leverage after leading the NFL in field goal percentage in 2019 by nailing 33 of his 34 tries. It’s why the 49ers don’t want to part with Gould and gave him the franchise tag in the first place. The team will probably keep him around even if he holds out.
The question is how long Gould is willing to stay away from San Francisco while he hunts for a trade.
3 players who may hold out, but will probably be in camp
Duke Johnson, RB, Browns
Like Gould, Johnson is on the hunt for a new uniform more than a new contract. The Browns running back says his goal is “to be somewhere [where he’s] wanted.”
The Browns — like the 49ers — also haven’t been very receptive of the request:
Johnson is currently set to be Nick Chubb’s backup in Cleveland, and his touches will likely decline when an eight-game suspension for Kareem Hunt is up. Johnson finished the 2018 season with just 40 rushing attempts, despite averaging 5.0 yards per carry. He contributed a little more in the pass game with 47 receptions, but that was down from 74 receptions in 2017.
While he showed up for minicamp, Johnson could opt to sit out in August in his attempt to find a bigger role elsewhere.
Trent Williams, OT, Washington
Williams is the same boat as Slay.
He signed a huge extension in 2015, the guaranteed money has been paid, and his contract is down to its final two years. Now Williams wants more.
He’s not in a bad spot with $11 million and $12.5 million in base salary for the next two years. But many offensive tackles have shifted the market in the last few years and Williams — who turns 31 in July — is running out of time to get another blockbuster deal.
Williams explained his absence from offseason practices in a meeting with team president Bruce Allen.
“I’ve talked to Trent a few times,” Allen told NBC Sports. ”He’s explained some things to me and I’ll leave it at that.”
Part of Williams’ complaint is reportedly due to frustration with the Washington medical staff. Williams had a growth on his head surgically removed, and coach Jay Gruden told reporters that the offensive tackle “wished the diagnosis had come a little sooner” from team doctors.
While Williams has been to seven consecutive Pro Bowls, he hasn’t completed a 16-game season since 2013. Most recently, he missed three games in 2018 due to thumb and rib injuries, and six games in 2017 due to a knee injury. Washington struggled to deal with the absence, and now has rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins to protect.
Still, the team probably won’t be keen to giving Williams another extension when he has two years left on the last one.
Michael Thomas, WR, Saints
Not many people are expecting Thomas to hold out. Mostly because he’s been adamant all offseason that it’s not his style.
“I’m a football player first — I like being at work.” Thomas told ESPN in May. “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.”
So don’t expect a standoff anything close to Le’Veon Bell’s with the Steelers.
But Thomas is due to make a laughably low $1.148 million for the 2019 season. He’s emerged as one of the NFL’s most elite receivers, and is headed into the last year of his rookie contract.
No player has more receptions than Thomas in the last three seasons and he wants a mega deal that reflects that level of production. He, too, will want to eclipse Beckham’s $18 million per year. Thomas might also be interested in waiting to see how the contract situation of Jones is resolved in Atlanta.
For now, there’s still plenty of negotiating to do:
In the time since Thomas spoke to reporters in May, his teammate Cameron Jordan got a three-year, $52.5 million extension. Thomas is likely to get his deal relatively soon, and he probably won’t sit out of training camp practices to force the issue. But it’d certainly make sense if he wanted to establish a sense of urgency before the 2019 regular season begins.