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The Holdout Conundrum

It’s now June and the holdout rumors are flying! Will Ray Rice hold out? Matt Forte? Drew Brees? The likelihood is, and history tells us, that none of the above will holdout. The key date to determine who is holding out and who is not is July 16. It is on this date that most of these franchise players will likely find themselves in camp one way or another because they will lose their negotiating power. “Sign your one-year contract or don’t play” becomes their only choice. A few might choose to make a statement and not show up for a while, but it isn’t likely – especially considering that these guys will all be paid very well this year. What we really need to watch for is the guy who isn’t franchised but simply doesn’t like his contract. Honestly, I don’t see a long holdout happening this year with any major offensive players, so all this June hoopla may be much ado about nothing. But after July 16, if we start hearing about major players at the end of their contract who aren’t showing up to camp, it’s time to take notice!

So what do you do if you’re coming up on your draft and an offensive player is holding out? Well, if you are drafting in July you’re pretty much out of luck. I drafted Chris Johnson in late July last year assuming, like I always do in July, that there was no reason to worry about his holdout. Thank goodness that the rest of my drafts were in August so I could avoid him like the plague! What you should absolutely not do in July is worry about guys who were forced to sign a one-year franchise contract. These guys are now in a contract year again and will almost certainly play well. For my money, I’d assume that guys who are just unhappily holding out at the end of their contract should also not be a concern until at least August. In the past decade there have been only six offensive holdouts of note that went into September without suiting up. The odds are that your draft picks will be in uniform by the end of August and your fantasy life will be just fine.

In August, everything starts to change. The disputes between teams and their disgruntled players start to heat up. Coaches’ answers to the media questions go from, “We’re looking forward to getting Darrelle Revis into camp,” to, “We will be fine with the guys we have.” Players’ tweets go from sounding unhappy to downright hateful. By late August it leaves most of us wondering, “even if this guy signs, will his heart still be with the team?”

What I want to do is take a look at the significant holdouts that went into September from the last decade to see what we can learn as we prepare for this year’s fantasy football draft.

2011 – Carson Palmer. I only bring this up because Palmer technically qualifies. Palmer played pretty well for Oakland when he was finally traded. Considering that there wasn’t a soul in the world that thought Palmer would play at all last year, this was not something that had an impact on the 2011 fantasy football draft. Regardless, in 2011, Palmer threw for 1,217 fewer yards and 13 fewer touchdowns than in 2010.

2011 – Chris Johnson. Technically, Johnson signed with the Tennessee Titans on Aug. 31, but that still meant that he didn’t actually get into uniform until September. Despite claiming to have kept himself in football shape, Johnson turned out to be anything but, and his fantasy owners suffered greatly because of it. In 2011 Johnson rushed for 317 fewer yards and seven fewer touchdowns than in 2010.

2009 – Michael Crabtree. Crabtree was a rookie in 2009, so it’s hard to say what would have happened had he been in camp. What we do know about Crabtree is that he is a player of considerable skill who some are projecting to finally have a breakout season in 2012. In 2009, though, Crabtree only put up 625 yards and two touchdowns, meaning that a fantasy draft pick was pretty much wasted on him.

2007 – JaMarcus Russell. I think it’s safe to say at this point that Russell was a legitimate bust and no amount of training with his team would have prevented that. It’s also reasonable to say that, had he been in camp, he might have been the starter for the Oakland Raiders in 2007 and might have actually made a late-round flier into worthwhile pick. As it was, Russell only passed for 373 yards and two touchdowns.

2006 – Deion Branch. Branch was traded at the beginning of the season to the Seattle Seahawks when he wasn’t able to come to terms with the New England Patriots. Expected to have a breakout season anyway, everybody thought he’d help out the Seahawks offense quite a bit. Unfortunately for his fantasy owners, that’s not what happened. In 2006 Branch received 273 fewer yards and one fewer touchdown than in 2005.

2004 – Keenan McCardell. Probably the worst story of the bunch, McCardell and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers both proved to be moronic and neither side ever quite recovered. McCardell was traded to the San Diego Chargers in midseason. In 2004 McCardell, received a whopping 781 yards and seven touchdowns less than he did in 2003.

What all of this means to us as we head into 2012 is this – although holdouts don’t generally last into September, with each passing week in August we need to be moving this year’s holdouts down our draft lists. I can assure you that each and every one of these recent September holdouts, if they were drafted at all, were drafted far too early to be worth it. Don’t be the guy that spends too high a pick on a holdout! If you are drafting in early August you might want to take one, but only if you can get him at a lower value than you would if he were signed. If you are drafting in late August, though, just say, “no” to the holdouts. You might end up missing on the next guy who bucks the trend, but let’s face it: Emmitt Smiths come along about once every 30 years!

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