FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — When Sam Darnold jogged onto the practice field Monday afternoon, his Jets teammates interrupted their stretching to begin a slow clap, followed by whoops and cheers and hugs.
Coach Todd Bowles had a simple message for his prized young quarterback: “You’re late.”
Late to practice, late to training camp. Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick in April’s draft, ended a short contractual holdout that had kept him away for almost a week. The stalemate was resolved in time for him to rejoin his teammates at Monday’s practice just before drills began.
Darnold was one of two first-round picks who still had not signed with his team, along with Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith, the eighth overall selection. N.F.L. rookie holdouts became much less common after the league implemented a rookie wage scale in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement to establish strict salary guidelines tied to draft position.
Since then, holdouts have typically revolved around language and structure. Darnold’s deal is worth $30.25 million over four years, including $20 million in guaranteed money, which is right in line with the overall value of the deal for last year’s No. 2 overall pick, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. But Darnold’s representatives reportedly wanted some of the offsetting clauses and forfeiture language removed.
That this would happen to the Jets — immediately embroiling their future franchise quarterback in a contractual skirmish — seemed only natural. But the atmosphere here Monday was actually rosy, and General Manager Mike Maccagnan insisted there was no acrimony between the two sides throughout the negotiations. (The Jets declined to make Darnold available for interviews.)
“It’s a process,” Maccagnan said. “You try to execute a deal in a timely fashion. Sometimes it doesn’t happen as quickly as you’d like.”
With so much at stake, and such little guaranteed money in contracts relative to other sports, player holdouts continue to haunt N.F.L. summers, agitating fans and front offices alike. Los Angeles Rams’ defensive end Aaron Donald held out for more money last season until he reported on the day before the team’s first game. He won the N.F.L.’s defensive player of the year award. Now he is holding out again.
The Jets had to navigate a memorable impasse in 2010, when the star cornerback Darrelle Revis demanded a new contract and remained off the field until he got one in early September.
There is also the case of the Chargers’ Joey Bosa, who refused to sign his rookie contract as the No. 3 pick in 2016 because of offset language as well. But the dispute spilled out publicly and got increasingly nasty as Bosa held out well into August before finally agreeing to a deal.
Darnold has taken a different approach during his holdout and maintained an upbeat persona, writing on Instagram a week ago “#BackinNYC New York’s gonna to be good to me, and I’m gonna be good to New York #stoked”.
He will still need to outperform the veteran Josh McCown and the former Pro Bowl selection Teddy Bridgewater to be the starter this season. Bowles said Darnold is No. 3 on the depth chart, but there is still plenty of time for that to change before Week 1.
“The competition has been underway,” Bowles said. “It just didn’t start today. It started Thursday when we reported for camp. He’s got some work to catch up and do.”
Darnold’s rustiness showed Monday during team drills when he stepped behind center.
“It looked like the first day of camp,” Bowles said.
He only ran plays he had learned earlier in the spring, because he had not been able to learn new ones that the team had installed. But Bowles said his absence won’t be held against him now that he is back in the fold.
“You obviously want everyone here on time,” Bowles said. “But it’s a business. We understand the ramifications of missing three practices. But he’s got time to catch up. He’s got to put his head down because everybody has a head start.”
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