Jason Whitlock of ESPN pretty much sums up everything I feel on this topic but I'll elaborate a little. I know for a fact that there are a lot of sports fans that are tired of players holding out for more money. Ever since Lomas Brown was a yearly hold out for the Lions, I have been sick of all of the holdouts too. Just the other day, a guy at the gym I work out at was complaining about Terrell Owens holding out. I found out real fast that this guy didn't understand the contract situation in the NFL. He was floored when I told him about voided contracts. In fairness to T.O., he's got a reasonable gripe.
In the NFL, a team and a player sign a contract. However, only the player has to honor it. If a player gets hurt, the team can void the contract. If the player doesn't perform at a certain level, the team can void the contract. On the flip side, if the player improves so much as to become the most dominant player at his position, he's still bound by his contract. If the owners were bound by the contract as well, I would have no problem with this. A contract is a mutual binding agreement by two sides. If one side doesn't have to honor it and the other side does, then it really doesn't fit the definition of a contract.
If this is the way the NFL is going to run things, then players like T.O. and Hines Ward will hold out. Hines Ward is the 38th highest paid wide receiver in the league. He's probably the 6th best wide receiver in the league. If Ward suffers a career ending injury this year, not only will the Steelers void his contract, but his compensation while he was healthy would've been far beneath his value. The argument here should never be about "feeding my family" as so many athletes try to make it out to be. They make more money in one year than the average person makes in ten years. However, this is about fairness. If I were T.O., I would be doing the exact same thing. The Eagles want me to go out and make them millions of dollars by being the best wide receiver in the league yet they want to under pay me based on my abilities and have the option of voiding my contract whenever they please. There's no question I'd be trying to get everything I could while I was healthy.
If T.O. goes out and busts his tail for the Eagles this year and suffers a career ending knee injury, he won't ever be able to earn money as an athlete again. In an environment like this, the player needs to make as much money as possible. Career ending injuries are real possibilities in the NFL. The next time you get peeved at a high profile athlete for holding out for more money, find out what the motivations are first. Don't get me wrong, some guys are just ridiculous. If the athlete is from the NFL, then he might have a legitimate gripe. If it's someone like Manny Ramirez demanding to be traded after signing a $20 million per year guaranteed contract with the Boston Red Sox, then blast away. If it's Sergei Federov trying to hog-tie the Red Wings with outrageous salary demands then, by all means, give him the business. If it's Latrell Spreewell complaining loudly that his $14.6 million dollar salary isn't enough to "feed his family" then fume away. Most holdouts are probably bogus. However, all holdouts are not created equally.
One final note. Agents in the NFL are savvy businessmen. If their client suffers a career ending knee injury, their cash flow from that player is over. Agents, like players, want their money now while the player is healthy. A player might give in to peer pressure like Javon Walker did in Green Bay, but an agent will never give in. Drew Rosenhaus will keep holding guys out who are underpaid. The situation is a mess and the problem will get ugly very soon. This is why I think Jason Whitlock has the right idea with performance based salaries.