On Friday night, not long after the NFL and NFL Players Association finalized their agreement for pro football in a pandemic, Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif exercised his right to opt out of the 2020 season. Who else will join him?
Some think that, eventually, the numbers will be low, perhaps in the single digits. The stipend that players receive is essentially an advance, not free money. Some players could take it, get cut next year, and potentially owe the money back to the team. (We’re waiting for the final language on that point, but all indications are that, for example, an undrafted free agent who is likely to not make the 53-man roster can’t simply pocket $150,000 and move on to something else with no future obligation to the team.)
The opt out amounts to a one-year break in a player’s career, with the player’s career picking up where it left off in 2021. With eight days left to make the decision, some players could still try to use a potential opt out as leverage for a better contract.
Ultimately, that could be the strategy deployed by Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. Something strange is happening there, given the constant contradictions from Saturday as to whether he did or didn’t tell the team he’ll show up for the start of training camp.
Under the opt-out rules, Cook could report for camp, make it known to the team that he’s considering opting out, and then see whether that message gets the Vikings to sweeten whatever offers they’ve previously made. If they don’t, he’ll then have to decide whether to launch what would be an irrevocable one-year holdout.
It’s definitely a two-edged sword. Cook would gain nothing if he holds out; next year, he’d still be entering the final year of his rookie deal, at the same $1.331 million he’s due to earn this season. But the Vikings would lose his services for a full year, at a time when the Vikings are trying to build on what they accomplished in 2019.
Regardless of motivation, all players have a limited window to walk away for 2020. Surely, some who have misgivings about playing during the current climate would have those concerns addressed if the team were to offer them greater compensation for the enhanced risks they’ll be assuming this year. Maybe, in the end, some of them will simply decide to press pause for 12 months — and maybe some teams will consider addressing their concerns with a financial bump that may get them to embrace the total range of risks presented by what will be one of the strangest seasons in league history.