NAPA, Calif. — Suggestion: If you are on the side that says professional athletes are all greedy, ungrateful sorts who should never demand more money when under contract, best to stop reading nowor click to a new page.
(I’m sure the bosses love that one.)
It’s impossible for most of us common folks to understand the business side of an NFL player making $5.95 million holding out of training camp in search of more zeros on his paycheck, so to merely chalk it up to him being some thankless mercenary is both shortsighted and inaccurate.
It’s not personal, Sonny, is darn right.
Donald Penn is an All-Pro left tackle the Raiders desperately need to a protect their franchise quarterback, a fact known by both player and team to the extent Penn’s refusal to report to camp at the Napa Marriott just might be producing the most cordial of such distractions.
If there can be such a thing.
Definition of a holdout
Holdouts in the NFL are almost always defined by this: An elite player at his position feels he isn’t being compensated to the level of his perceived value. He wants more long-term security for playing a violent sport in which a person’s career can end with the next snap. He wants as much as he can get today in case it’s all over tomorrow, so he’s going to test a team’s resolve as long as he can and vice versa.
Penn is 34, entering the final year of his deal and ranks 22nd in salary for left tackles across the league, while 13 players at the position average more than $10 million annually.
He also plays on a line where three others make $8.9 million or more.
He also owns the one thing any player holding out needs: leverage.
Derek Carr recently signed a five-year, $125 million contract, and the Raiders witnessed first-hand last season how bad things can be when their quarterback broke his fibula in Week 16 and with it went an AFC West title.
Ironically, it was Penn who allowed the sack (his only one in 2016) that led to Carr’s injury, which doesn’t for a second diminish how much the team respects its left tackle.
“Donald’s my guy,” general manager Reggie McKenzie told reporters Monday. “I love him to death, you know? That’s not going to change. Would love to have him. I want him in camp. He has a deal. I want him in camp.”
It was the sort of indirect message teams often send those holding out, which is to say management is likely open to talking a raise, but not until the player exhibits enough good faith to show up.
The Raiders could be fining Penn $40,000 daily for his absence. So far, they haven’t taken a dime.
That’s how much they like and value him, and it’s never a good idea for a team to publicly embarrass or denounce a player holding out, anyway. At some point, he’s coming back to work and everyone needs to get along.
The NFL business model of paying far less guaranteed money than other sports has always favored the league and often led to these types of holdouts, making it one of the few times fans seems to side with billionaire owners.
But the Raiders also know there is a reason they were able to sign veteran lineman Marshall Newhouse to a two-year contract worth $1.75 million annually. The guy who has been moved to left tackle in camp is serviceable but not great, and I can’t imagine the team gave Carr his bonanza deal thinking Newhouse would ever be protecting his blind side.
In fact, would you really play Carr at Arizona on Aug. 12 — even for the traditional one series of work for a starting quarterback in a team’s exhibition opener — if Penn remains away from the Raiders?
There is a serious case not to.
It’s just business
Holdouts eventually end. Penn is in his 11th season and enough of a pro that he could report in time to see action in the final two preseason games and still be sharp enough when things begin for real at Tennessee on Sept. 10.
And when he does show up, the Raiders should meet him in the middle and increase his salary by at least a few million dollars for this year. It wouldn’t bind them to a 34-year-old tackle following this season but would reward a guy who absolutely outplayed his contract’s worth.
The Raiders believe themselves Super Bowl-good and there is salary cap room available to afford Penn some of the additional long-term security he is seeking. So pay him more.
“I know you’re going to ask me about Donald, but I’m going to focus on the guys that are here,” coach Jack Del Rio said following practice Tuesday.
You would think that could soon include an all-Pro left tackle.
Holdouts can be ugly, nasty, contentious spats.
This doesn’t appear anything like that.
Nothing personal. It’s just business, at a level and reality us common folks can’t grasp.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.