Usually when the phrase "rites of spring" are attached to sports baseball is the subject. A less rosy scene associated with the phrase, however, is the one where a NFL player refuses to take part in a team's offseason workout program because they are unhappy with their contract. It's playing out right now between Thomas Jones and the Jets.
Jones has missed the first two days of the Jets program and, according to Rich Cimini of the Daily News, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, approached the Jets about a renegotiation at the draft combine. Jones is set to make a base salary of $900,000 this season, with a $100,000 workout bonus that he's jeopardizing right now. He's due to receive $5.9 million in 2010, but none of the money is guaranteed.
Now, $900,000 sounds like an awfully low salary for a guy who lead the AFC in rushing in 2008. But Jones made $13.1 million over his first two years with the Jets, which makes an average annual value of more than $4.5 million. That's a lot more reasonable, especially when you consider that he was mediocre in 2007. In fact, it says a lot more about an upgraded offensive line and fullback than it does of Jones.
You know when Jones should have raised his concern about only making a possible $1 million in 2009? Before he signed the contract. He's also going to be 31 when the season starts, a perilous age for NFL running backs. He and Rosenhaus should have considered before agreeing to a contract that front-loaded the majority of the money, and placed more than a quarter of its total value in unguaranteed money due after he's on the wrong side of 30.
If any Jets running back is in line for a new contract, it is Leon Washington who will be playing out the final year of his rookie deal in 2009. Jones has zero leverage. His workout bonus is on the line right now, he'll be fined if he skips mandatory workouts later this offseason and he'll be the one who has to pay back part of his signing bonus if he refuses to report to camp. The Jets gain nothing, and lose valuable cap space, if they cut him now. If he wants to sit out, they can replace him with Washington, a veteran free agent and a draft pick.
Might their running game suffer? Sure, but it might be less productive this year than last anyway.