On the 93.7 Fan Morning Show, former Steelers offensive lineman Trai Essex talked about players holding out or not fully participating in camp drills due to contract disputes.
“Absolutely zero ill will. It’s a business and we understand that as players and especially with guys who, you know, work their tail off to get in shape and they’re doing what they think is best from a business perspective and us as players, we understand that,” Essex said.
Essex was a rookie who Pittsburgh had just drafted in the third round when Hines Ward held out of training camp in 2005. Ward’s holdout lasted 15 days and was on the heels of back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Once he reported to Latrobe and Saint Vincent College, Ward and the Steelers eventually agreed on an extension, and later that year he became the leading receiver in franchise history and won the Super Bowl MVP award.
It’s not all that surprising that players don’t harbor any resentment toward their teammates for holding out to get the most money possible. While every situation is different, in the end, most NFL players want to maximize their career earnings as much as possible. Having any sort of hostility to players trying to do so would only cause issues in the locker room and really wouldn’t make a ton of sense.
Even Ramon Foster, who spoke out during Le’Veon Bell’s holdout back in 2018, clarified that he wasn’t upset about Bell wanting more money and that it was more that he felt that year was his best chance to win a ring. It just doesn’t make sense for guys in the same locker room to be upset about their teammates chasing as much money as possible. In the case of Bell, that holdout lasted the whole season, which could cause some animosity as it directly impacts wins and losses. In training camp though, holdouts ultimately don’t mean a ton.
While Johnson could benefit from building early chemistry with Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett, two quarterbacks new to the roster, him not fully participating in team drills really isn’t that big of a deal. If Johnson plays in the regular season, which he likely will new contract or not, he’ll be an impact player for the Steelers. Missing some time during training camp won’t change that.
As Essex said, at the end of the day, the NFL is a business on the player side and the team side. Both sides want to get us much as they can, and in the case of a player, they want to get the most money possible. No one should fault Johnson for his hold-in, and as Essex said, it’s extremely unlikely anyone on the team does.