FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Jets and Sam Darnold's agent, Jimmy Sexton, are engaged in a stupid game of chicken with the rookie's contract negotiations that at this point isn't benefitting anyone. Both sides are digging in offer issues over clauses and contract language that almost certainly won't matter at all.
Meanwhile, the 21-year-old Darnold has now missed three days of Jets practice and six days of meetings, and there's still no sign that this holdout is ending. There is plenty of blame to go around to be sure. The two sides had three months to sort this out. And yes, Darnold understandably has entrusted Sexton to handle business for him, so it's hard to fault him for letting his agent do what he thinks is best.
But you know what? Sexton works for him. And it's time Darnold takes control and ends this mess before it's too late.
Why? Because he still has a chance to win the Jets' Week 1 starting job, but that chance dwindles the longer he stays away. What he misses by not being with his team far overshadows any upside there might be for holding out over some relatively small details of his rookie deal.
Remember, Darnold is getting a four-year, fully guaranteed contract worth about $30.5 million whether he signs next hour or next week. It will include about a $20 million signing bonus and a fifth-year option for the team.
So what's the holdup? According to multiple sources on both sides of the negotiations, here are the sticking points and how much (or little) they really mean:
This was believed to be the biggest hurdle, and one source says it still is. It's a cause celebre for agents and the NFL Players Association who want offsets to completely disappear. "Offsets" relate to what happens if a player is cut before the fourth year of his contract begins and then signs with another team. Teams want to deduct the amount of the player's salary with his new team from what they still owe him. Players want to "double dip", arguing that a guarantee is a guarantee.
The players are right and it's a ridiculous clause, but here's why it's a crazy place for a fight. The Jets aren't cutting Darnold -- their franchise quarterback and savior -- before the end of his contract, and if they do it means he's so terrible that he's not likely to get much from his next team. If he's lucky, he gets $1 million from a new team, which would then be deducted from what the Jets owe him.
Either way, he's getting $30.5 million no matter what. Is a chance to "double dip" for another million really worth all this?
The Jets want to include language in the deal that could void all or some of Darnold's guaranteed money if he's fined or suspended by the league, two sources confirmed, and as reported by ESPN on Sunday afternoon. It seems this is mostly about PED-type suspensions, violations of the NFL's conduct policy or any kind of conduct detrimental to the team -- not uniform or game-related fines.
An NFL source said the clause is pretty standard for the Jets -- not universal, but often given to first-rounders and big-money players. It is believed that safety Jamal Adams agreed to such language last year. While it appears to be somewhat unusual around the NFL to include fines in the language, it's not unheard of. Another source said 49ers DT Solomon Thomas, last year's third overall pick, agreed to that in his deal with the 49ers.
Does voiding a contract over a fine seem harsh? Sure. But if Darnold is really worried he'll lose his money because of PEDs or off-field issues, then there are bigger problems here for him and the Jets. Given everything the Jets know of him, it seems like quite a longshot this would be an issue. And if he were to inadvertently take something against the rules in an over-the-counter supplement or something like that? Does anyone think the Jets would simply void his deal? Not if he is as good as they think he's going to be.
Payment of bonus money
This appears to be the smallest hurdle, but not a lot is known about how far the sides are apart on this, if at all. But the $20 million signing bonus the Jets will owe him doesn't have to be paid in one check upon signing. Some of it can be deferred. And depending on how much the Jets want to push into 2019, that could be an issue too.
But it's still money he's going to receive, and likely in the first two years. It's hard to imagine this is a gap that can't be easily bridged.
So to sum up, this holdout is about details of what happens if Darnold gets cut before Year 4, what happens if he's fined or suspended for drugs or terrible behavior, and how long it takes him to get his $20 million. Honestly, it's really hard to imagine that Darnold, at age 21, with his whole NFL future ahead of him, and with $30 million coming is way, is really worked up about any of that.
It sounds much more like an agent taking a stand -- and in this case, an agent who has historically had a bad working relationship with the Jets. Sexton isn't necessarily wrong in his stance. Some of these clauses are ridiculous. And that's something the NFLPA should take up in its next collective bargaining sessions.
In the meantime, though, Darnold and his immediate future are caught in the middle, and it's time for him to get himself out. The most important parts of his contract are done and non-negotiable. He needs to tell his agent that enough is enough so he can get to training camp now and work on winning the Jets' starting job.
At least one person who knows Darnold said he's in the New York area and not thrilled he isn't on the practice field. If that's true, he should realize that he's the one person that controls his fate and he can end this impasse any time he wants.
That would be the right and smart thing to do.