Who can stand a lengthy holdout when a team’s season is about to start and either some star player or exciting rookie refuses to sign on the dotted line because they think they’re worth more than what the franchise thinks? This may be one of the most infuriating aspects of professional sports. Nearly every fanbase has experienced this at one point or another and it can drive you absolutely insane.
As a Dolphins fan, there are stark reminders of Ronnie Brown holding out for a long period of time before his rookie season. While only 3 weeks, Brown’s holdout came on the heels of a season where the Dolphins were relegated to throwing any random street hobo on the field to play running back after Ricky Williams suddenly retired for whatever mystical reasons. This put the Dolphins in a tough position with their #2 overall pick (oh hey Aaron Rodgers we could have drafted!!!) and forced them to give a rookie running back a 5-year deal for $35 million and $20 million in guarantees.
In the case of a rookie, there can be a little understanding given they are just entering the league, the franchise and that fanbase so there’s always a level of distrust but it can be even more maddening when it deals with a franchise player that has been the bedrock of your team for years. This happens a lot with North American professional sports as the player attempts to ascertain their value with how they think of it, how much they feel will be adequate to care for their family and what their relative value is compared to other players in the league. Conversely, the franchise must ascertain the value of the player over a replacement player or against similar players in the league.
It can get tricky and sometimes negotiations can reach a point where neither player nor franchise can come to an agreement. Hopefully that never happens to your franchise. Here are 15 of the longest holdouts in professional sports history:
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15 JaMarcus Russell
The former #1 overall pick took six weeks to finally sign on the dotted line thus delaying his development that could have happened during training camp and preseason. Russell finally took the field in Week 12 but the holdout developmental delay was only a harbinger to come, as Russell would never live up to his expectations. Considered one of the NFL’s all-time busts JaMarcus was finally released by the Raiders in 2007.
14 Alexei Yashin
Yashin’s tumultuous tenure with the Ottawa Senators culminated in a contract dispute after the 98-99 season where he refused to honor the final year of his contract unless he received a substantial raise. This was the 3rd time in 5 years with the Senators that Yashin felt he was undervalued and he refused to report to the team despite the start of the 1999 season. The Senators – with full support of the NHL – suspended Yashin for the entirety of the season.
Yashin honored that final year of his contract the following season then was sent to the New York Islanders on draft night before the 2001 season.
13 Emmitt Smith
Smith held out for 2 weeks into the 1993 NFL season believing his talents were so important to the team that they would not be able to survive without him. Smith was right as the Cowboys lost the first 2 games of the season and nearly caused Charles Haley to put a hole in the ‘Boys’ locker room by throwing his helmet against the wall in frustration. Four days later, Emmitt Smith signed for the highest contract for a running back at the time and still led the NFL in rushing with just a 14-game season.
12 Bo Jackson
Jackson opted to sign with the Kansas City Royals rather than play football for the crappy Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team that had drafted him #1 overall in the 1986 draft. As protest, Bo knew to just sit out the entire season as it would forfeit the Bucs’ draft rights and allow him to re-enter the 1987 draft. The Raiders selected Bo in the 7th round and were able to draft one of the greatest pure athletic talents in the history of the NFL with a draft pick usually reserved for practice squad guys that never make it.
11 J.D. Drew
Drew notched the only 30-30 season in NCAA history at the time and the Florida State star made it very clear before the amateur draft that his asking price was a $10 million dollar draft bonus for his rights. The Phillies took him #2 overall with no intention of giving Drew that kind of money. After considerable legal hassles, Drew did not play that year and re-entered the 1998 draft where he was selected 5th overall by the Cardinals. The Cardinals didn’t give Drew the $10 million he coveted but they came close with a total contract worth $8.5 million.
10 John Riggins
Riggins was bold. After the Redskins refused to pay him an extra $150k to play, Riggins retired to his farm in Kansas and sat out the 1980 season. Once the Redskins hired Joe Gibbs, the newly-minted coach made his way out to the farm and tried to convince the bruising back to re-join the team. Riggins re-joined the 1981 ‘Skins team and famously told the training camp media “I’m bored, I’m broke, I’m back”. The Redskins proceeded to play in the next two Super Bowls with Riggins and that formidable Big Hoss offensive line in front of him.
9 Pavel Bure
Money wasn’t an issue for the Russian right wing player and it took until January of the 1999 season for Vancouver to trade the disgruntled player out of Vancouver to Florida. This inaugural season with the Panthers would not last long, however, as Bure would sustain an ACL tear on March 3rd and would miss the rest of the 1999 season. Don’t feel too bad for Bure as he would soon date fellow South Florida resident, Anna Kournikova, for some time.
8 Steve Larmer
Larmer had quite the iron man streak going when in 1993 he felt unhappy about the money he was making. Larmer jeopardized his 884 games played streak (80 behind record-holder Dough Jarvis) when the season came around by threatening to hold out – and then he did. Larmer hated playing for and in Chicago so much that he ended that streak on Opening Night 1993. The holdout lasted 4 more weeks then the Blackhawks traded Larmer to the Rangers.
7 Tristan Thompson
Things nearly got very ugly for the 2015 defending Eastern Conference champs when the power forward refused to come back to the team unless he received a better deal. Thompson wanted a max deal for his services but the two sides finally reached an agreement just before the season started to pay Thompson $82 million over 5 years, a pretty astronomical number for a guy that averaged 8 points and 8 rebounds and isn’t named LeBron James.
6 Alex Rodriguez
In seeking a $2.5 million signing bonus straight out of high school, the #2 overall amateur draft pick threatened to not sign with whatever team drafted him if him and his agent (the notorious Scott Boras) did not get what they demanded. The Mariners drafted him #2 and – true to word – Rodriguez came within an 11th hour save between the two sides that gave him a $1 million signing bonus instead. Had the two sides not agreed, Rodriguez came within days of beginning classes at the University of Miami where he would have had to stay for 3 years until he was eligible to be drafted again.
5 Darrelle Revis
This is perhaps the most media-covered inclusion on our list given its coverage on HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’ series the summer it occurred. Revis, at the peak of his Revis Island powers, is featured on the show while the Jets go through training camp without him. We got an exclusive peek on a week to week basis of Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum and Head Coach Rex Ryan going over the logistics of the contract. At last, Revis re-signed with the Jets just before the season opener and avoiding more malaise being brought upon that unfortunate franchise.
4 Mark Messier
The Rangers benefited from another hold out in 1991 when Oilers centre told management that he wouldn’t report until he was traded out of Edmonton despite having two years left on his current deal. Oilers GM Glen Sather capitulated just days into the season and Messier was off to Broadway, despite not getting a new deal in New York until some time later.
3 Kam Chancellor
The All-Pro safety for the Seahawks held out until the 3rd week of the 2015 NFL season at a point when the defending NFC Champs were already down 0-2 to start things off. The Seahawks rebounded to win in Week 3 but have subsequently struggled this season. Though Chancellor did not get a new contract upon his return, one can only imagine that the team will shore this up before next season to avoid any hiccups entering 2016.
2 Larry Johnson
The Chiefs running back threatened to hold out prior to the 2007 season and – just as with Darrell Revis – it was all there for fans to see on HBO’s Hard Knocks. Johnson held out for 25 days and a few preseason games prior to finally running onto the practice field in dramatic fashion during a Hard Knocks episode. This excitement would be short-lived as Johnson would suffer a foot injury in Week 9 that would end his season.
1 Joey Galloway
Galloway’s holdout lasted 101 days – through training camp and 8 weeks of the 1999 season. Galloway, who wanted #1 receiver type money due to his previous production, ended his holdout with the wide receiver returning to the Mike Holmgren’s Seahawks without a new deal. Galloway would never return to that form that would command the kind of raise he wanted as he posted just 1 touchdown that entire ’99 season.
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