Alejandro Villanueva said he’ll lean on the advice of his agent for his next move. That move, barring a contract extension coming in the next week, whether or not to hold out of training camp in hopes of a long-term deal. It’s an understandable decision. An agent is supposed to look at for you, do whatever is in your best interest. And I am just a blogger writing this article with Poptart crumbs on my shirt.
But my goodness, fingers and toes crossed his agent tells Villanueva to show up to camp on time. It’s the smart move. The only smart move.
Make no mistake. Generally speaking, I’m all for siding with the player. Searching for a new deal, it’s the one time they should be greedy. Get all the money you can. Because in this league, one where contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, you may only get one shot to cash in.
That said, there’s a smart way to do it. And a dumb one. Guess which one holding out is?
Perhaps in other cities, holding out would be the smart play. Weaker front offices, ones that don’t have the principles and a clear, consistent philosophy, willing to cave to the player’s leverage. Not Pittsburgh. Holding out accomplishes nothing.
Just ask Hines Ward.
Many forget that in 2005, Ward held out for over two weeks, angling for a new – and to be clear, justified – contract. But the Steelers didn’t budge, keeping to their view of only going back to the negotiation table if Ward ended his holdout. Pressure from the public and teammates, Joey Porter said they “couldn’t win without him,” got Ward to cave on August 15th.
September 5th, right before the season opened up, Ward and the team came to terms on a five year, $27.5 million deal. It made him a top five receiver and the $9 million signing bonus he received – at the time – was the most in team history. A record deal.
Ward’s agent at the time, by the way, was the late Eugene Parker, universally known as one of the toughest agents to work with. Think Drew Rosenhaus on steroids. And Ward/Parker still buckled to the Steelers. There was no other option.
The Steelers are still a business, and by nature, look to “win” every deal. But few teams reward acts of good faith like they do. Work with them and they’ll work with you. Hold out? The Steelers aren’t budging an inch. It will only delay the process and make it more difficult for a deal to get done.
Beyond the contract, holding out doesn’t seem beneficial for Villanueva either. He was very open about how difficult it was being rotated in camp last year, the “competition” as framed by the team between he and Ryan Harris.
Here’s what he said back in March.
“I don’t think the team knew if I was going to be a starter. It was tough to deal with. Seeing the first team take reps without me. Second-guessing myself.”
This time around, he knows he’s the starter, but holding out means someone else – aka 2016 fourth round pick Jerald Hawkins – is taking all of Villanueva’s reps. He’s not around his team, his guys, hitting the beginning stages of a Super Bowl journey.
There’s no question Villanueva deserves a big payday. He’s been selfless both in football and more importantly, in his life. He’s done things the right way.
Holding out isn’t “wrong.”
But in Pittsburgh, it’s ineffective.