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New Rule Unfair to DeSean Jackson, Camp Holdouts

Aug 7, 2011, 11:41 PM EDT

DeSean Jackson has landed in Philadelphia, but will the superstar wide receiver get a fair shake in contract negotiations with the Birds?

As you can see, CSN caught up with the Pro Bowl wide receiver and returner at the airport on Sunday night, making some kind of fashion statement as he prepares to join the rest of the squad in Lehigh for his fourth Eagles training camp. Of course, it’s little surprise DeSean Jackson finally showed, given that he is being coerced and actually had little choice in the matter.

If Jackson didn’t get into camp by August 9, a rule change in the new collective bargaining agreement would prevent him from earning a year of service, which basically means instead of becoming a free agent in 2012, he would continue to have one year remaining on his contract. In short, number ten has much more to lose than $30,000 per day in fines. He could lose an opportunity to receive the very thing he’s been fighting for–a new contract.

This is a major departure from old NFL rules. Players previously had until Week 10 of the regular season to report, and while they would lose more than half a season’s worth of paychecks, would still accrue that all-important service year. In 2010, both Vincent Jackson of the Chargers and Logan Mankins of the Patriots held out until the bitter end to protest their respective clubs’ unwillingness to offer a long term contract.

I think we can all agree that the old rule was more than a little lopsided. A player theoretically could hold out deep into the fall, and be in uniform for fewer than half his team’s games, but get credit for having played a full NFL season.

However, the new rule is even more lopsided than the last one, and far more unfair. Jackson could lose the right to gain a service year before the Eagles have ever played so much as a preseason game. That takes the teeth right out of any holdout, especially in this case where the player is scheduled to become a free agent in March.

This may be all well and good to fans, as we have something of a distaste for professional athletes who hold out and ask for more money. As unpleasant as it is though, holding out of training camp is one of the only forms of leverage a football player has during a contract dispute. Now the act is rendered virtually meaningless.

And make no mistake, DeSean Jackson DESERVES a new contract. The diminutive one is scheduled to make little more than $600,000 in base salary. Even with his prorated signing bonus, the total sum of his current deal pays him less than a million dollars in 2011. For a player of his caliber, Jackson is getting flat out ripped off compared to the rest of the league.

We’ve heard the tired arguments fans trot out there. No, you probably will not earn “only” a million dollars this year, but unless other professionals in your field make millions, that’s irrelevant. And yes, Jackson signed a contract, but as a second round pick, he had little room to negotiate the compensation for his rookie deal. Plus, let’s not overlook the fact that NFL teams routinely don’t honor their end of the pact, so why should a player?

Jackson is the person taking all the risk here. Players need to make as much money as they can when they are in the prime of their career, because before you or they know it, it’s over.

Ultimately, I believe the Eagles will reach an agreement with DeSean before this is all said and done, perhaps once they finish a new contract for Michael Vick, but the August 9 deadline to report is still troublesome. What if Jackson sustains a serious injury during a preseason game, or even during practice? Will the front office still sign him to a long term extension?

I doubt it.

Because the risk for injury exists in those meaningless situations, a player should be able to hold out at least until the first week of the regular season. It’s a long enough period of time that it’s a valid concern for the club, but punctual enough that it meets the most obvious criteria for earning a year of NFL service–that being the athlete was available for a full slate of 16 games.

As for Jackson’s situation, he was absolutely right to hold out. He was already underpaid last season, he’s in the final year of his contract, and he has more than proven himself a valuable asset on the football field. If I were him, there would be no way I would risk injury until that check was in the mail.

But it’s not up to him anymore. The league has taken it out his hands, and all he can hope is the Eagles do the right thing.

Before it’s too late.


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