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  Huizenga Sets Policy on Holdouts
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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“If you don't report, you're sitting out baby. We're not playing you.''

—H. Wayne Huizenga, Miami Dolphins owner


We had to know it was coming.


Remember how Wayne Huizenga lamented the team’s tardiness in concluding a contract with Ronnie Brown, and how the delay hurt Brown’s ability to fully contribute as a rookie?



Remember how Huizenga vowed to make sure that the 2006 first rounder (eventually Jason Allen) would be in camp, on time?


Remember how the Allen situation turned into another Brown-like holdout, wrecking his rookie year?


Remember the ridicule, the criticism, Huizenga took as a result?


Huizenga remembers. And he keeps score.


Huizenga normally gives his people wide latitude in running his businesses. He’s generally a “hands off” owner, electing not to directly involve himself unless circumstances warrant.


Given that the Dolphins have had consecutive years of first round holdouts, of missed expectations, Huizenga has now decided to get involved.


As such, the signing policy is now his call. Team president Bryan Wiedmeier and cap guru/legal counsel Matt Thomas would rather it wasn’t, because they are the ones who negotiate player contracts.


By Huizenga’s own admission, his involvement has “all the guys mad at me at my shop”. Unconcerned, he publicly reaffirmed his expectations at the recent NFL meetings in Phoenix.


Huizenga drew a line in the sand. An uncomfortable Wiedmeier, seated to his left, stewed.


If he ain't (in camp, on-time), he ain't playing this year, that's all there is to it,” declared Huizenga.


“The first pick, the second pick, the third pick, you can look at last year what everybody made and obviously its going to be a little bit more this year. So it's not about money. We made that mistake two years in a row and Ronnie (Brown) didn't come out and play right away and last year (was the same and) we can't have that. We're willing to write the check, but they have to get their asses in here and that's all there is to it.”


Tough talk for sure. Still, there is skepticism relative to Huizenga’s true willingness to keep a top draft pick out of games.


And how will “on-time” be defined? Is it Day 1, Practice 1 of camp? Is it the week before? Is there a grace period leading up to camp, after which the mandate applies?


Essentially, Huizenga is correct in his position. If the Dolphins agree to pay a draft pick what he is worth relative to when he is picked, and the contract term is of reasonable duration, the onus will fall to the agent to get his client to sign.


“It's about agents more than it is about money…that's what bothers me,” reflected Huizenga. “The agent wants to look good.”


True enough. But when the Dolphins back an agent into a corner to get a sixth year on a rookie contract, as they did with Allen and tried to do with Brown, a year that impacts when a player can become an unrestricted free agent, the Dolphins shouldn’t be surprised when they receive resistance.


In other words, the Dolphins are part of the problem.


In the agent world, a six year rookie deal is generally perceived as a bad contract because it keeps their client off the market for an extra year and, overall, could cover more than half of the expected duration of a players’ career. Agents will usually resist that proposition vehemently, unless there is a premium offered in exchange for that extra year.


And why shouldn’t they resist? Their client wins and they win. Only the Dolphins lose, and what does an agent care about that?


Huizenga understands this dynamic all too well. That’s why he has unilaterally decided to change the rules. He knows that continuing with the same tactics is likely to result in more costly holdouts.


Given that the Dolphins run a complex defensive system and are introducing a new offense, getting rookies signed and in camp should be an especially important consideration for them. Recent results, however, suggest that other considerations (e.g. financial) are weighing in as well.


Agents aren’t saints, of course; they play an important role in on-time delivery. Huizenga is talking to them as well when he explains the problem.


“(Rookies) get even three or four days behind, they can never catch up”, said Huizenga. “That’s not right. We’re paying these guys big signing bonuses, big dollars.”


“I don’t think we’re asking too much, If we’re going to give (rookies) all this money (they) need to show up for work on time.”


This will, of course, put added pressure on Wiedmeier and Thomas to negotiate to a deadline. But it will also create problems for agents as there is now a downside for tardiness.


Early on, expect agents to test the strength of Huizenga’s conviction to hold to a deadline.


Suppose the Dolphins draft Joe Thomas, the premier left tackle in this year’s draft and a critical team need. Would the Dolphins really sit him down all year if he showed up late to camp?


When the heat of the deal is intense, will Wiedmeier and Thomas stick to the mandate via good faith bargaining? Or, will the Dolphins look silly yet again with yet another holdout?


In the end, the Dolphins may have to make an example out of someone to show they are serious. At that point, with the damage done, the gloves can come off. For the unreasonable agent, this will cost his client money (prorated base and lost performance incentives), negotiating leverage, and playing time. For the Dolphins, they are simply forced to accept the reality of the situation as it would surely come to pass in any event...a wasted rookie season.


The point of Huizenga’s declaration is to avoid rookie holdouts without fear of consequence. That’s the right thing to do. The Dolphins need to start getting their rookies in camp and on-time, especially with a strategy of building through the draft.


“We're going to be one of the teams that kind of sets the tone”, promised Huizenga. “If you don't report, you're sitting out baby. We're not playing you.''



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