Joey Bosa and the Chargers: A Toast to Stubbornness

The third overall pick has rare footing for a rookie, but it hasn’t translated into leverage over one of the NFL’s hard-line franchises
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If you think Joey Bosa’s standoff with the Chargers has gone three weeks past ridiculous, you’re closer to correct than anyone involved in the negotiations.

Maybe a winner will eventually be declared. Maybe Bosa will get all of his $17 million signing bonus in 2016. Maybe the Chargers will prevent that from happening, pair that notch on their belt with offset language, and walk away with their all-important contract precedents still intact.

Either way, let’s call this “showdown” what it is: Kind of dumb.

Bosa, the third overall pick in this year’s draft, has already missed out on his first training camp, and he’ll almost certainly lose regular-season snaps over it, even if his holdout ends within the hour. If it goes into Week 1, he’ll lose money there, too—and it’s not like there’s a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. If his holdout turns nuclear and he sits out the entire season, it’s hard to imagine him being taken as high in next year’s draft (and it’d also delay his path to a second, likely more lucrative contract).

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As for the team, it’s been 18 years since the Chargers have drafted a rookie this high—and jeopardizing that kind of asset isn’t good business, no matter how you slice it. At the very least, the club’s public salvos mean fence-mending will be in order if Bosa winds up signing. And if he turns out to be as good as projected, Bosa likely won’t cut the Chargers any breaks when it’s time to negotiate his second deal.

This whole thing is a champagne toast to stubbornness by everyone involved.

This is the first time this kind of standoff has caused a rookie to miss preseason games since the new CBA was ratified in 2011. It’s also the first time in recent memory— dating back to the old CBA—that one of these fights caused a player to miss time in the spring. And it’s the first time I can remember such a squabble becoming so public.

The team’s side of the story has been out there plainly for everyone to see. The initial signing bonus payment plan offered would have marked a two-year high for NFL rookies; Bosa would have stood to make more money in this calendar year than any other player in his draft class except for Carson Wentz; and Bosa would have received a higher percentage of his bonus in his first calendar year than any Charger rookie has under the current CBA.

Bosa’s position: he wants the entirety of his $17 milllion signing bonus paid in 2016, not spread into 2017. Agents argue that the payment schedule is important for tax purposes, as well paying expenses such as agent fees or a mortgage out. Bosa’s camp showed willingness to allow offset language into his deal, which would free the team of some financial obligations should they cut him and another team sign him (he’d have to be a massive bust for that to come into play).

Privately, the Chargers argue that the Rams and Jaguars—clubs that have been habitually near the top of the draft order of late—are the only teams left sacrificing offset language; that half the NFL’s teams insist on offsets and deferrals; and that teams average 30% deferral past the current calendar year on this kind of bonus money, while they’re asking Bosa to defer only 15%.

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This bleep-storm blossomed after Ezekiel Elliott, Bosa’s former Ohio State teammate, was selected fourth overall by the Cowboys. One spot behind Bosa, Dallas got Elliott on a deal that included offset language and deferred 39% of the bonus payment to 2017. By comparison, the last three fourth-overall picks (Lane Johnson, Sammy Watkins and Amari Cooper) all got their money by October of their draft years.

The current CBA leaves almost no room for actual give-and-take negotiating, and these are simply the remaining battlegrounds. Teams want to establish standard operating procedures on contracts that extend to veteran deals. Conversely, too many players get bullied in these circumstances, with clubs shaming them into terms they don’t want by making it seem they’re letting teammates down by taking a stand. (I’ve heard people questioning Bosa’s love of football, which is about as dumb as it gets.)

Bosa has rare footing for a rookie; he’s the son of a former first-round pick, the nephew of another, and comes from a financially stable background. His agent, CAA’s Brian Ayrault, has skin in the game for obvious reasons. The team’s history of hard-line negotiations counts here, too, as does public perception, with a vote on a new stadium coming in November.

Under the current CBA, and under similar conditions, 190 first-round picks have signed without this kind of standoff.

So there’s no reason why the 191st should be this hard.

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