There’s been plenty of storylines floating around the NFL dating back before the preseason. One thing unites a lot of the chatter as players have made waves with the “new NFL” by using social media to their advantage. Several players have gotten their wishes, while others are still in the process of doing so. Personally, I’m all for players getting paid in relation to what they put on the field, but some of these pleas seem to be a bit much.
I think this can be traced back to the whole Le’Veon Bell situation last season. Unless you lived under a rock or completely avoided the internet during the latter part of 2018, you know that Bell “successfully” held himself out of last season. Before doing so, he was regarded as one of the best backs in the NFL and should still be put in the top 10-15 this season. I say that even though he missed a full season and has yet to really “wow” anyone since joining the New York Jets.
Regardless, Bell made a statement by saying he wouldn’t play for less than he thought he was worth. Little did the rest of the league know that his actions would have an even bigger impact throughout the offseason and early portions of the 2019 season.
Most of these guys can be classified as “divas” because they’re the ones making these issues bigger than they need to be. Look no further than the whole Antonio Brown fiasco. He did all the “right” things to be released from the Steelers, never really jelled with the Raiders, and finally ended up where he wanted. While his drama is over for the moment (looking past the allegations brought up earlier this month), Brown finally got what he wanted, even if it meant taking a slight pay cut.
Seeing star players succeed trickles down to other guys who think,
“Why not me? I’m good enough to get paid more than I currently am, and if he can do it, so can I.”
One example is Taco Charlton, former Defensive End for the Dallas Cowboys. Despite being drafted during the first round in 2018, Charlton didn’t seem to have the opportunities to live up to the teams’ expectations. When he was on the field, he produced, including a pair of sacks this preseason. That wasn’t enough to win him a full-on starting job, and he used social media to convey his thoughts.
It worked, with the Cowboys officially making Charlton a free agent as of September 18.
Another notable name following the route of Bell, but also claiming it’s not the same type of situation, is Melvin Gordon. Not having Gordon in the backfield certainly takes away some explosive play for the L.A. Chargers, but he made his holdout decision known in July. Gordon has a case by being one of the best backs in the league since being drafted. Currently, in the last year of his rookie contract, Gordon was putting up numbers that were deserving of more than $6 million. To put that into comparison, some of the best RB’s make north of double that amount.
The Dallas Cowboys had another, more prominent, name desiring a raise going into this season as well. Seeing Gordon decide to hold out, Ezekiel Elliott did the same as he too was entering the final year of his rookie contract. The week of their first game against the New York Giants, Jerry Jones made Elliott a contract extension/salary increase. Elliott is set to make $90 million over a six-year span, making him the highest-paid back in the league.
That doesn’t mean Gordon’s holdout will come to an end anytime soon as long as Tom Telesco (Chargers GM) isn’t willing to make an offer. For a short spree, it seemed like the Chargers were going to compromise and let Gordon look elsewhere as a prospected free agent, but then that option was shut down as well. The latest development is Gordon saying “he’s going to play somewhere in 2019.”
The other big star that’s taken on even more of a spotlight regarding this overarching issue is Jalen Ramsey. There’s no disputing his elite play in the secondary, but he too has had issues with his current team (Jacksonville Jaguars). He got into a spat with his coaches and has issues with the teams’ front office. He followed the trend of using social media to voice a trade, then deleted his post.
A recent press conference led to more questions regarding why Ramsey wants out, while he stated he did want to play for them during Week Three. His last game in a Jags uniform could very well be tonight when they play the Tennessee Titans. I’d expect the Jags are going to try and milk everything they can out of Ramsey’s stardom when looking at trade destinations.
An opportunity exists to fill their voids
Where there are guys looking for more, there are always guys who are willing to step up to the task of proving themselves. Those guys who are often blue-collar players and have the opportunity to fill those missing voids. That is where I will finish off this article.
When looking at the Bell situation, the next guy in line was James Conner. He alone is an amazing story and to even make it to the NFL is something else entirely. A devoted, powerful athlete, Conner knew what he had the opportunity to do in his own backyard. What he did in Bell’s absence was nothing short of incredible, proving the Steelers could be just as good, if not better, without their proven star. Last season, Conner rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and scored a dozen times. He also tallied nearly 500 receiving yards, averaging nine yards per catch.
The Cowboys were readying rookie Tony Pollard to take over in Elliott’s absence. Luckily, they didn’t need to rely on him fully with Elliott returning in time, though Pollard did make some positive impressions during the preseason. Through three games, Pollard ran for 84 yards, including a long of 20 yards, and one touchdown. He’s still a proven back-up and will have his time to shine whether it be this season, or in the future.
Even while Brown was still a Steeler, JuJu Smith Schuster proved he could also be an elite wideout. If the defensive coverage was focused more on Brown, Smith Schuster had the chance to go off. It wasn’t likely they could both be guarded, and that’s what really made the Steelers dangerous. Now with Brown gone, Smith Schuster is quite capable of picking up those targets and delivering. He hauled in over 1,400 yards last season (more than Brown) and scored seven times (second to Brown’s 15).
Lastly, there’s the Chargers situation with Gordon. They too proved that, while they aren’t as good without him, the Chargers can still run their gameplan sans Gordon. In his stead is Austin Ekeler, who has really taken over the role as their starting back. Entering this season, Ekeler had accrued 1,497 all-purpose yards and scored 11 times over the span of two years. So far, in 2019, Ekeler has 287 yards but has scored four times already. Through two weeks. Needless to say, he can handle the workload.
While the stars certainly have a case for higher salaries, there’s been young, and at times, more raw talent to pick up the pieces if needed. Will these younger guys follow the same path and request higher salaries down the road? Probably. Regardless, it seems like this could be a new norm in the NFL whether we as fans like it or not.
One thing I want to clarify. I understand one of the big talking points in regards to players and salaries is how much they lay their life on the line. We’ve seen so many injuries to crucial names within the sport. Even with rule changes and whatnot, a majority of injuries can’t really be prevented with how devoted these guys are. There’s already a minuscule number who even make it to the NFL, and most of those guys know what they’re signing up for. Is the sport of football dangerous and sometimes life-threatening? Yes, but most players around the league know that and choose to continue playing. There are other avenues the labor union, or lack thereof, could go in terms of helping players out, such as those dealing with CTE. I digress, but I know that’s a “counter-argument” and wanted to address upfront that I’m not necessarily overlooking that. It just doesn’t quite factor into this issue in regards to requesting trades or desiring higher salaries.