For years, NFL players who wanted a new contract this time of year faced a decision.
They could show up to training camp in the hopes that their benevolence would work in their favor. Or they could hold out and hope whatever fine money they racked up would be waived when a resolution was reached.
The playbook appears to be changing. Or at least expanding.
The NFL's new collective bargaining agreement carries much stiffer penalties for holdouts than the last one did. That might be why some players seeking new deals are now holding in -- i.e., showing up to camp but refusing to practice until their contract situation is resolved. By doing so, they avoid fines and the risk of injury.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner took that approach two years ago (before the new CBA was in place) as he finalized his extension with the Seattle Seahawks. Strong safety Jamal Adams and left tackle Duane Brown are doing it now. But whereas Wagner's deal was finished after missing only a couple practices, Adams and Brown remain unsigned more than two weeks into camp.
Here's a closer look at those three situations with predictions on how they'll play out.
Current contract: Brown, 35, is entering the last year of the three-year, $34.5 million extension he signed in the summer of 2018. It's scheduled to pay him $10 million in base salary, up to $1 million in per-game roster bonuses and up to $500,000 in incentives.
What Brown wants: The $11.5 million average of his 2018 extension has fallen to 16th among left tackles, according to Spotrac, and it's half of what the San Francisco 49ers' Trent Williams and Green Bay Packers' David Bakhtiari are making on their top-of-the-market deals. Brown is presumably looking for a raise that bumps him back up in positional pecking order as well as some security beyond 2021. He can make a case based on how well he has continued to play into his mid 30s. Brown didn't miss a game last season and ranked second in ESPN's pass block win rate as an offensive tackle behind Andrew Whitworth of the Los Angeles Rams, who's 39 years old. Brown ranks fifth in PBWR since 2018. Whitworth is first, so there's at least some current precedent for a left tackle sustaining a high level of play into his late 30s.
Prediction: Let's read between the lines here. If the Seahawks were interested in extending Brown once they get Adams' deal done, they could have told him that they'll take care of him next. The fact Brown is unhappy -- as ESPN's Adam Schefter reported -- seems to suggest he doesn't like what he has heard from the team about his chances of getting a new deal this year. Perhaps the Seahawks are wary of committing to Brown beyond 2021 given that he's about to turn 36, has dealt with knee issues and has had to have his workload in practice heavily managed. In that case, they might view him as being at a point in his career when they'd prefer to go year to year. The guess here is that they don't extend Brown this year and hope he's not so focused on getting a new deal that he's willing to miss games without one. If he is, things could get messy. The Seahawks wouldn't just have a standoff on their hands with their Pro Bowl left tackle -- they'd also have more issues with their previously disgruntled quarterback.
Current contract: Adams has one year left on the rookie deal he signed as the sixth overall pick by the New York Jets in 2017. The Jets exercised Adams' fifth-year option for 2021 before trading him to the Seahawks last summer. That option year carries a $9.86 million salary.
What Adams wants: There hasn't been any question that an Adams extension would make him the NFL's highest-paid safety, a distinction currently held by Justin Simmons of the Denver Broncos at $15.25 million per season. The real question? By how much does Adams want to top that mark? He set the NFL's single-season sack record for a defensive back last season with 9.5 in 12 games. Because he isn't used like a traditional safety, he's likely arguing his pay shouldn't be constrained by the market at that position. The sense here is if Adams was content with "merely" being the league's top-paid safety, this deal would be done by now.
Prediction: This deal will get done, whether it's this week or closer to the start of the season. It's worth noting Adams' agent, Kevin Conner, also negotiated Tre'Davious White's extension with the Buffalo Bills, which was not completed until a week before last year's opener. So it shouldn't come as a total surprise these negotiations have also dragged into training camp. Adams' extension should carry an annual average that easily tops Simmons' $15.25 million and beats his $35 million in guarantees, assuming the Seahawks also give him a four-year extension (which is usually their preferred length for second deals). They likely want to keep Adams' average below that of Bobby Wagner at $18 million, as to not have him making more than their defensive captain and perennial All-Pro. So the guess here is that Adams' extension will come in at around $17 million per year. And he won't practice until he signs it.
Current contract: As a first-round draft pick, T.J. Watt initially signed a four-year, fully guaranteed $9.2M rookie deal in 2017. His $10M fifth-year option, also fully guaranteed, was exercised by the Steelers a year ago. He's now in the final year of his rookie contract.
What Watt wants: Watt's new contract could -- and probably should -- reset the market for outside linebackers/edge rushers. After leading the league in sacks a year ago and finishing as the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year, Watt, 26, should command a total contract that outpaces Joey Bosa's five-year, $135M extension and Myles Garrett's five-year, $125M extension with $100M in guarantees. Since he was drafted in 2017, Watt has racked up 49.5 sacks, 17 forced fumbles and four interceptions en route to three Pro Bowl nods and two All-Pro selections. As one of the NFL's most formidable pass-rushers with production well above that of Garrett and Bosa and a cornerstone in the Steelers' defense, Watt's new contract should reach an annual compensation of $30M/year.
Prediction: Steelers team owner and president Art Rooney II has been mum about completing Watt's deal, and coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday the negotiations will run their course. The Steelers have a long-standing policy of not negotiating contracts during the season, giving them a month to ink Watt to a long-term deal. A year ago, the organization locked up Cameron Heyward through 2025 a week before the season opened. The Steelers will get it done with Watt, especially considering they're flush with cap space beginning in 2022. After losing Bud Dupree in free agency, Watt is the unquestioned leader of the pass rush -- and the defense as a whole -- and keeping him around for the long haul is the team's No. 1 priority before the season opener against the Buffalo Bills. Until the pen hits the paper, though, Watt will continue to show up at practice, work in some individual drills and do the rest of his conditioning off to the side. -- Brooke Pryor