NFL 2015: Don’t blame holdouts, it’s the right move

Dec 28, 2014; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Washington Redskins in the second quarter at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 28, 2014; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Washington Redskins in the second quarter at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

If the moment of glory
Is over before it’s begun
If the dream is won
Though everything is lost
We will pay the price
But we will not count the cost

Bravado – Rush (1991)

This summer, there will be some holdouts across the 32 NFL training camps. These men could include Dez Bryant, Justin Houston and Demaryius Thomas, three superstars who are still on the franchise tag. While all are due to be paid more than $12 million guaranteed for their 2015 services, they would be correct to hold out if they don’t receive a long-term deal by the July 15 deadline.

When fans turn on the television and sit down with a few friends and a six-pack, they are not concerned about the safety of the men behind the facemasks. The notion of 30 years down the road is lost on all those involved, because it seems a lifetime away.

Unfortunately, some of these men won’t see 30 years down the road. They are living for the here and now, and could very well die early from it.

The NFL has been littered with broken men and shattered bodies since it began play in 1919. In recent years, this has come more into the light with the tragic suicides of men such as Dave Duerson and Junior Seau, who gave years to a  game they loved only to be crippled from a disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.

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Yes, making it through this season healthy would set up Houston, Thomas and Bryant in financial terms for the rest of their lives. It is a sum of money most Americans can’t dream of, let along put into their bank accounts. Because of this fact, a majority of fans will wring their hands and scream adjectives like “greedy” and “selfish” in conversations about these men.

In reality, a holdout through the first 10 weeks of the season could be the smart business move for all three, while skipping training camp is an easy choice. Provided they return before Week 11, they earn another year toward free agency. It would show the team applying the tag that it is a wasted exercise to do so again in 2016 unless they plan on giving a huge contract before the July 15 deadline. Also, it would cut down the risk of injury tremendously, with only six games to play instead of training camp, four exhibition contests and a full regular season.

Fans always seem to forget that these guys are human beings. If you felt you were worth $100,000 per year and your boss offered you $15,000, you would walk. You would lash out and go somewhere else, especially knowing that you have offers for miles.

Ultimately, these men only have a short NFL life-span before the game moves on and leaves them on the outside looking in. Some can happily become television personalities or move into business, or simply retire and travel for the rest of their time. However, some get left with unbearable physical and metal burdens.

Jim McMahon, who won the Super Bowl in 1985 as quarterback with the Chicago Bears, can’t remember many little notes on a daily basis. Former New York Jets receiver Al Toon, who has son Nick Toon playing for the New Orleans Saints, is devastated from his playing days. Here’s a quote from a New York Daily News article in 1993.

"“From a physical and aesthetic standpoint, you look at me and you don’t see bandages. You don’t see me limping,” said Toon, a Menchville High School graduate. “But my personality is not the same. I’ve noticed that; my wife has noticed that. I’ve talked to the neurologist, and he’s said it’s pretty typical. I get irritable and short-tempered. Loud sounds and bright lights can set me off just like that.”"

And another…

"“It’s different with the knee. You can go out and have surgery,” Toon said. “You may have a little arthritis. But you don’t get arthritis of the brain. It’s not just sore. You can’t function if you damage it too much. Everything else can be working perfectly, but if the brain is not working, it’s not worth it.”"

If Al Toon could have held out, saved his brain from a few hits and in the process made tens of millions, do you think he would have done it?

When former Denver Broncos linebacker Karl Mecklenburg goes to a hotel, he takes a picture of his room door so he can find it later on, just in case he forgets, per this CBS Sports piece by Par Kirwan. The stories like this are endless, and usually with a sad ending.

While Thomas, Houston and Bryant have not sustained known concussions in the NFL, the risk is ever-present. There are never signs and symptoms until it is often too late, with the process already having started. There is no point for any of these three to report to training camp at the very least. From there, each should make a decision about the first 10 regular-season games depending upon each individual’s financial status.

Hopefully these men think it over. Hopefully they count the cost.