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The Joey Bosa situation is part of a decades-old pattern for the Chargers

There’s a lot of Chargers’ fans who are insisting that 1st round draft pick Joey Bosa end his holdout and acquiesce to the Chargers’ demands. Those fans are wrong.

Joey Bosa isn't the problem, folks
Joey Bosa isn't the problem, folks
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Boy, it's easy to tell other people how they should make deals.

I get it. I want Joey Bosa signed. I want Joey Bosa in camp. Joey Bosa makes the Chargers' defense better. A healthy and productive Joey Bosa is critical if the Chargers are to have a legitimate opportunity to reach the playoffs.

All that said...

None of those things compel Joey Bosa to make a deal which forces him to make concessions other players in his position don't have to (and aren't asked to) make.

In my view, this is on the Chargers, much more so than Bosa and his agents. I'll explain why...

NFL Precedent Already Exists

First and foremost, I'd be wrong not to reiterate Jamie Hoyle's excellent and widely-read post about why the Chargers are attempting to buck the established precedent of recent top-5 draft pick history in the NFL.

Read this (if you haven't already), then come back to this post when you're finished.

On the Joey Bosa holdout, I call bulls*t.

So we're clear, Joey Bosa is asking for something 75% of all players drafted within ±2 picks of Bosa's draft position since 2012 have received.

That's called an established precedent.

Why Bosa's Holdout Doesn't Equate to Your Employment Situation

At the risk of coming across as condescending... let's begin with the most likely differences:

  • You have the ability to choose between many different employers.
  • Your potential employers can spend whatever they like on employee compensation.
  • You are free to negotiate better terms with different employers at your convenience, even while you are already employed.
  • No specific employer controls your rights.
  • Your pay is not slotted into a specific range (although the job market generally provides a pay range and benefits for your position based on age, talent, skill, education, experience, etc.).
  • If you are employed, you have signed a contract or an employment agreement of some kind.
  • Your profession is highly unlikely to demand repeated bodily injury as an essential function of your employment.

Now, let's look at some of the key ways in which the NFL is different from your employment market.

  • There are only 32 potential employers.
  • A rigid salary cap binds each employer.
  • College draftees may only negotiate with the employer holding their draft rights.
  • College draftees are placed into a slotted salary range.
  • Signed players (or drafted players) may not negotiate with other teams without the express permission of the team with which they are currently signed (or controls their rights).
  • Football players absorb a tremendous amount of physical punishment, with an additional high risk of severe mental illness resulting from playing football.

Therefore, in the overwhelming majority of situations, I'm comfortable saying the following:

  • As a draft pick in the NFL, Joey Bosa has none of the rights that you currently enjoy.
  • Joey Bosa is not signed, and therefore is not yet an employee, meaning he has no obligation to the Chargers or anyone else with a vested interest in the Chargers.
  • Joey Bosa is no different from any other person who is attempting to maximize the value of his employment terms.

If your reasoning for Bosa needing to end his holdout boils down to some variation of the following hot takes: "If I held out from my job, I'd be fired" or "Bosa has no right to negotiate because he's an unproven rookie" or "Bosa needs to stop acting like a diva," I'd argue that you simply haven't examined the situation closely enough, don't understand the key ways in which the NFL differs from your world, or have been manipulated (via emotional attachment or employment requirements) into helping a billionaire punch down at a (potential) millionaire.

Here's an imperfect analogy:

Imagine you're a technical writer. Your current job market is pretty widespread, with hundred of options around the United States. Your salary range is anywhere from $50k - $70k, based on talent, education, experience, and skills. You can compare employers, and (if fortunate enough) pit employers against each other for higher pay and better benefits. You can engage in this activity from the moment you are legally able to work until you choose not to work anymore.

Now, imagine your profession in these terms. Once you've graduated (or been certified), your employment rights are controlled by one organization. To protect veterans in your industry, you cannot make more than $40k for your first 5 years - regardless of your talent, skills, education, and experience.

In fact, new employees in your industry may only negotiate terms on getting up to 4 weeks of paid vacation up front or health coverage without employee contributions. Your new employer says you can only get 2 weeks up front, with 2 weeks next year because we don't want to offer it, regardless of what everyone else does. Then your new employer says forget health coverage without employee contributions.

You point out to your employer that 75% of comparable new employees in this industry since 2012 get either 4 full weeks up front or health coverage without employee contributions. In response, your employer says, "We don't care what everyone else in the industry does. We don't to establish that precedent for ourselves. And since you can't negotiate with anyone else, or leverage us with anything but yourself, we're not giving you anything you want."

Making things worse, company veterans and former employees are calling you out publicly.

Even if another employer wanted you, they can't sign you because they've already used their allotment for their own controlled new employees.

To top it off, a bunch of folks from outside your industry, who fundamentally don't understand your industry, are telling to you to suck it up, sign the contract, and be grateful for the 2 weeks of vacation you do get.

This is called playing hardball, and it's something the Chargers have done ever since Alex Spanos purchased the franchise.

Hardball Negotiations Under Spanos' Ownership

The Chargers have had 28 1st round draft picks since Alex Spanos purchased the franchise in August of 1984. Of that group, the following 1st round rookies missed part or all of training camp due to contract disputes:

1985 #12: Jim Lachey.

1986 #8: Leslie O'Neal and #13: James FitzPatrick.

1987 #24: Rod Bernstine.

1989 #8: Burt Grossman.

1990 #5: Junior Seau.

1991 #9: Stanley Richard.

1998 #2: Ryan Leaf.

2001 #5: LaDainian Tomlinson.

2002 #5: Quentin Jammer.

2004 #4: Philip Rivers (via trade).

2005 #12: Shawne Merriman.

2008 #27: Antoine Cason.

2009 #16: Larry English.

2010 #12: Ryan Mathews.

2011 #18: Corey Liuget.

2016 #3: Joey Bosa.

The following 1st round rookies did not hold out, were signed before full training camp began, or missed fewer than one full day of full training camp (otherwise, Luis Castillo and Antonio Cromartie would shift to the 1st group).

1988 #15: Anthony Miller.

1992 #23: Chris Mims.

1993 #22: Darrien Gordon.

2003 #30: Sammy Davis.

2005 #28: Luis Castillo.

2006 #19: Antonio Cromartie.

2007 #30: Craig "Buster" Davis.

2012 #18: Melvin Ingram.

2013 #11: D.J. Fluker.

2014 #25: Jason Verrett.

2015 #15: Melvin Gordon.

It should also be noted the Chargers had no 1st round draft picks from 1994-2000, excepting 1998.

In summary, 17 of 28 1st round picks involved in a contract dispute (about 61%) which resulted in time missed from training camp.

We can see the Chargers (as an organization) have a history of not getting their 1st round picks into training camp on-time. It has afflicted every general manager since Alex Spanos purchased the team: Johnny Sanders, Steve Ortmayer, Bobby Beathard, John Butler, A.J. Smith, and now Tom Telesco. It dates back to long before Ed McGuire joined the team in 1998.

I want to be clear: This section is not intended to "pass judgment" about the players or the organization involved in the process. Rather, this section indicates simply that the organization plays hardball with their draft picks, as a matter of history and therefore, policy.

Furthermore, draft picks are not the only area of business where this same management group plays hardball. The team has a history of contentious dealings with its home city and fan base going back the mid-1980s. For those who've forgotten (or are unaware), here are some reminders:

  • The Qualcomm Stadium expansion agreement in 1995.
  • The renegotiation of the Qualcomm lease in 2003-04.
  • The 2015 Los Angeles relocation derby.

It seems a lot of Chargers' fans saying variations of "Bosa has no right to negotiate because he's an unproven rookie" or "Bosa needs to stop acting like a diva" have very conveniently forgotten what it felt like last year when the Chargers played hardball in their attempt to get to Los Angeles.

Comparing the Chargers handling of Bosa's negotiations to their attempts to get to Los Angeles isn't apples and oranges - both negotiations demonstrate how the organization uses, applies, and manufactures leverage during negotiations.

Again, I'm not saying playing hardball is wrong. I'm saying it's how the Spanos family handles their business.

But I find it amusing that many fans think it's OK to help a billionaire punch down at a millionaire, but those same fans think it's not OK when that same billionaire spends 11 months punching down at your community.

In Closing

In my modified version of Ian Fleming's famous quote: "Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern, four times is a problem, and five times is a habit."

So, in assessing blame for the Bosa holdout, who is more likely responsible for the current contract impasse?

The rookie attempting to work out his 1st professional contract?


The organization that has endured contract disputes with more than 60% of their 1st round draft picks and has had a contentious political relationship with its home community since current management assumed control of the franchise in August 1984?

The Spanos family plays hardball.

Whether it works for them is a question I leave to you.

In the meantime, stop helping a billionaire punch down.