At a time when the start of Chiefs training camp is so close one can taste it, the chatter has picked up considerably about the contract status of quarterback Alex Smith and outside linebacker Justin Houston.
And, it figures to get only louder in the next week as the first full-team practice of training camp is scheduled for next Thursday afternoon in St. Joseph. The players, the fans and the Chiefs want these contract extensions and/or new contracts done, signed and put into the fulfillment/payout box in the Hunt Family vault.
In the NFL more often than not the big-money deals need a deadline for completion. Right now, there is no deadline for either deal to be done between the players and Chiefs over the next six months. Both Smith and Houston are under contract for the 2014 season and there is not much either player can do to challenge that fact. They could stage a holdout, but that is not an option they should consider for several different reasons.
There’s been no indication that Smith will not show; he was active in all parts of the off-season program. On Wednesday, every media outlet except the Tool & Dye Times was reporting that Houston was “expected” to report next week for camp, but that he “wasn’t happy” about the lack of a new deal. There were no names attached to these “scoops” but it would be unusual at this point in the drama for Houston sources to start talking, even behind closed doors and only identified as “sources close to the situation.”
But it’s just common sense that Houston will show next Wednesday.
The labor agreement between the league and players calls for a $30,000 fine for every day that a player under contract does not show up in training camp. A week-long holdout would start the ticker at $210,000.Β Houston lost $69,000-plus with his fine for missing mandatory mini-camp and his failure to achieve a workout bonus.
Houston’s agent is Joel Segal, a veteran negotiator that over the years has been generally a dealmaker. Segal represented Eric Fisher last year as the NFL Draft’s No. 1 choice. He previously had Glenn Dorsey, the Chiefs first-round choice in 2008. In most seasons he’s had one or two, sometimes three clients wearing red and gold.
But remember back to the 2011 training camp, a year where the league season was delayed by the owners’ lockout of the players. Once a labor deal was finally worked out, the rookies signed quickly and got to camp.
Not so with Houston, as he missed the first week of camp because Segal was not happy with some of the language in the contract the Chiefs offered the linebacker. The team’s first practice was on July 29th year, but Houston’s first practice wasn’t until August 5th.
So reporting late isn’t something Houston hasn’t already done and for reasons that were pretty sketchy. Obviously, that could go down again.
But Houston is not a free agent, and if he wants to hold out from camp it’s going to cost him that $30,000 fine per day, plus he could find his chances for free agency in 2015 compromised. That’s really the only immediate deadline in this scenario β Houston must report no later than 30 days before the league’s first regular-season game on Thursday, September 4th. If he does not report by August 5th he loses the right to rack up another season of NFL experience and another step towards free agent status.
Common sense says he will report and he’ll play this season.
For the Chiefs, the cards play out this way with Smith and Houston β they must negotiate a new contract with one or the other in 2014. That would allow them a fallback position where they could use the franchise tag on the unsigned player for the 2015 season. They can’t franchise both players and it’s hard to see how they can sign both in 2014.
No matter how it plays out, it’s going to be expensive. This year, the quarterback franchise player tender was $16.2 million, and at linebacker it was $11.455 million. Both of those numbers will increase in 2015; they always do.
If deals are not done by the time the regular season begins, the leverage starts sliding towards Smith and Houston. Yes, they can suffer an injury; that’s true on any NFL game-day. But the better they perform in the 2014 season, the price to re-sign moves higher.