FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Sam Darnold contract dispute enters its fourth day, and you get the feeling it may last longer than anybody anticipated. It could jeopardize his ability to compete for the New York Jets' starting quarterback job.
The Jets and Darnold's camp aren't fighting over money, per se, as the overall value of the contract is determined by the rookie wage scale (four years, $30 million, fully guaranteed). No, the two sides are haggling over contract language that, from a 10,000-foot view, might seem really small and insignificant. In reality, they've created a line in the sand, holding up what should've been a slam-dunk negotiation.
While the inclusion of an offset clause remains an issue, the major sticking point appears to be default language pertaining to the guaranteed money. Under the Jets' proposal, Darnold's entire guarantee would void if he's fined and/or suspended by the NFL for disciplinary reasons on or off the field (i.e. a violation for substance abuse or performance-enhancing drugs or improper conduct).
It's worded differently in the contracts signed by fellow rookie quarterbacks Baker Mayfield (No. 1 overall) and Josh Allen (No. 7). In their cases, the guarantee voids with a suspension, not a fine. Over the past 10 drafts, only one top-three pick had voidables tied to league fines: Solomon Thomas, who was selected third overall last year by the San Francisco 49ers.
Darnold, who was drafted third overall, has nothing in his history that suggests he'd violate a league rule, jeopardizing his millions, but his agent, Jimmy Sexton, evidently is looking to protect his client's interests. At the same time, it's hard to imagine the Jets voiding the guarantee for a ticky-tack fine by the league.
The Jets appear entrenched in their position. Every player on the roster has a voidable tied to suspensions and fines -- even those players represented by CAA, which counts Sexton among its stable of high-powered agents. From the Jets' perspective, their offer to Darnold is consistent with every other contract on the team. They don't want to create a precedent that could impact future negotiations. Leaguewide, they’re in the minority when it comes to the fine/suspension voidable.
Of course, Darnold is their highest draft pick under the current collective bargaining agreement, which went into effect in 2011. Should the Jets make an exception for Darnold because he's such a high pick? Because he's a quarterback?
The Jets are taking a business-as-usual approach, while the Darnold camp looks at the current landscape (Mayfield and Allen) and wants what they got.
There's also the issue of offset language, which allows a team to recoup monies it owes a player if he's released and signs with another team. The Jets have always done contracts that include offsets. Their position is bolstered by the fact that Mayfield and Allen agreed to offsets. In fact, Allen is represented by CAA, although Sexton didn't negotiate his deal.
What happened to the good, old days, when teams and agents fought over money?
Darnold has missed three practices. The Jets have seven practices before the preseason opener, including the Green & White scrimmage on Saturday night. If he misses a few more, his ability to participate in the first preseason game will be compromised -- and then you're talking about a costly contract dispute.