With J.J. Watt’s contract situation resurfacing as the white elephant in Houston Texans team offices on Tuesday, it’s worth noting what is and isn’t at the disposal of maybe the NFL’s best — and most underpaid — defensive player.
That is, a holdout.
At least not until 2015.
By showing up to camp last month, Watt can’t leave the team for the rest of the league year. If he does, he would be subject to the NFL’s “five day letter” rule, wherein the team could send him a letter notifying he has five days to return to work. After five days, the Texans could place him on the reserve/left squad list, making Watt ineligible for the rest of the season, lose a year of service toward free agency and, possibly, signing bonus money.
It isn’t automatic. Teams can, but don’t have to, place absent players on that list, just like they can, but don’t have to, collect fine money accrued during holdouts permitted by the CBA.
But that would be a gamble for Watt, who stands to make nine figures in his next contract, and an unprecedented one.
This all, of course, begs the question: Why did Watt show up to Texans camp last month in the first place? He’s due $1.9 million in 2014 and $6.9 million in 2015 in his fifth-year player option, a paltry sum for a player of his caliber. With the Texans able to use the franchise tag on him at least three times after that, Watt is under team control until 2018, his age-30 season.
Meaning, the only way he’s getting a new contract is if owner Bob McNair preemptively offers him a deal at fair market value, or if Watt forces his hand by holding out. Given how McNair handled Andre Johnson’s standoff, giving him neither his $1 million workout bonus he forewent by not showing up for OTAs nor the opportunity to earn it back, it seems unlikely that McNair would do anything for Watt financially just because he’s been a good “company man.”
Meaning, it’s highly unlikely that Watt will get a new deal this year — and incredibly likely that he plays without one next year.
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