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:
3 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 theHouston 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.
5 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.