Joey Bosa isn't the one to blame in contract holdout with Chargers

ByJim Trotter via ESPN logo
Thursday, August 11, 2016

In theory, the NFL's current collective bargaining agreement was supposed to do away with those long contract impasses that kept rookies from attending the start of training camp. In theory, it was supposed to make life easier for teams and agents by slotting players' salaries based on where they were drafted. In theory, it was supposed to do away with the art of the deal, because there was nothing of significance to be negotiated.

In theory, otherwise known as famous last words.

The contract impasse between the San Diego Chargers and first-round pick Joey Bosa is so, well, San Diego Chargers. This is an organization that fed on contentious contract negotiations with high draft picks under the previous CBA.

Flash back to 2001, when running back LaDainian Tomlinson, taken fifth overall, missed 30 days of camp. Or 2002, when cornerback Quentin Jammer, selected fifth overall, sat out 50 days. Or 2004, when quarterback Philip Rivers, taken fourth overall, was out 25 days. Or 2005, when linebacker Shawne Merriman, the 12th pick, missed seven days.

That's four players and 112 missed days -- five players and 125 days if you count Bosa, whose 13-day impasse is the longest of any NFL player since the current CBA was adopted in 2011.

This should not be the case in Bosa's situation, of course. Both sides know -- and, for the most part, accept -- what the final dollars will be. The sticking point is contract structure.

The Chargers are demanding offset language, which allows them to recoup monies owed to Bosa if he were released and signed by another team, and partial deferment of the signing bonus into next year. The Bosa camp is agreeable to one or the other, but not both.

Caught in the middle are Chargers fans, who struggle with memories of a painful past when rookie standoffs were common. A holdout now is just not the same as it was even 10 years ago.

In 2001, the late John Butler and sidekick (and successor as general manager) A.J. Smith joined the Chargers from Buffalo and quickly announced that agents would play by their rules ... or else. In one negotiation after another, they held their ground and got deals to their liking, even if it hurt the team in the short term.

Now comes GM Tom Telesco. He's not as brash as his predecessors, but he wants you to know he's just as tough. Agents are going to play by the team's rules ... or else. Every contract the Chargers have done since 2011 has included offset language and deferred money, and they're not going to break precedence for Bosa, a defensive end/outside linebacker taken third overall.

At some point it's fair to ask, when is enough enough? Owners complained that rookies were making too much money under the previous CBA, so the league successfully fought for a rookie wage scale that dramatically slashed the guaranteed dollars when players entered the league. Instead of being content with that victory, however, owners now want to recoup monies if they cut the player and he signs elsewhere. In other words, they want the player to assume some of the financial risk for bad personnel decisions, an attitude that speaks to their arrogance and their sense of entitlement. What next, injured players returning game checks when they're unable to suit up? But owners demand such things because players allow them to get away with it.

That's why Bosa should point the finger of blame at his fellow players as well as at Chargers management. On multiple occasions the NFL Players Association has "strongly discouraged" agents from agreeing to contracts that include offset language, particularly in rookie deals, but each year the number of deals featuring that (and deferred money) increases.

For instance, none of the 12 players selected with the second, third or fourth picks in the 2012-15 drafts agreed to deals that included offsets and deferments. However, this year, the picks immediately before and after Bosa -- Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz at No. 2, and running back Ezekiel Elliott at No. 4 -- signed deals with both provisions. Not surprisingly, the Chargers are arguing that Bosa's contract should feature that same framework.

There is nothing in the CBA that says a player must agree to offsets or deferments, yet players are willingly doing such deals. Each time they do, it's more leverage and a bigger hammer for teams to swing in negotiations.

A part of me hopes that Bosa holds his ground, even though history says players almost always will blink first in a contract stare-down. It's tiresome listening to players complain about what they don't have when they consistently give away their leverage and show no willingness to stand collectively and fight for change. In theory, if they stood as one, they could regain some of the power they've surrendered. But you know what they say about "in theory."

Famous last words.

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