Is Santonio Holmes Slowly Rehabbing to Prepare for Free Agency?


Rich Cimini of ESPN NY had this tidbit in his Sunday Notes

If you’re betting on Santonio Holmes‘ return, the smart money says he will miss the entire preseason as he continues to rehab his surgically repaired foot. So when will he come back? Holmes is such a mercurial personality that people close to the organization don’t know what to believe. Is his Lisfranc injury still healing or is he milking the injury to protect his self interests? Holmes, with a $10.75 million cap number in 2014, knows he will be released after the season. That makes this a contract year for him.

Cimini goes on to talk about some of the other opinions regarding Holmes of those close to the organization and some other thoughts on the subject. It’s certainly an interesting topic for discussion.

santonio holmesAs Cimini notes Holmes is scheduled to count for $10.75 million against the 2014 salary cap and knows he will be released. The dead money associated with releasing him is just $2.5 million so the move is a foregone conclusion.That fact brings many questions about Holmes motivation for and dedication to the 2013 NFL season.

Holmes, probably the most disappointing Jets signing of at least the last five years, would have been released this past year had he not had $7.5 million of his base salary fully guaranteed. Holmes was originally scheduled to earn $11 million in 2013, but with $3.5 million not guaranteed as well as offset provisions for the guarantee he had no choice but to accept a pay cut from the Jets.

If Holmes is in fact milking the injury and anticipates playing football in 2014 the decision to slow down his rehab would be a bad one, in my opinion. Holmes will be three years removed in 2014 from having a good season and his reputation, already poor around the NFL, took even more damage since signing his extension with the Jets. Holmes battled with teammates in 2011 and was in an altercation with his teammates in the huddle of the final game of the 2011 season, in which the Jets still had an outside chance at the playoffs. For many this is the last football memory of Holmes.

Holmes will be 30 in 2014 and if he was to sit the season out because he wanted to have his body in its best shape for free agency it would almost be the equivalent of three seasons in which he was retired from the NFL.  That is not a good combination for what will essentially be looked at as a football comeback. Holmes needs to rehab his image and also prove that he can play the game at a reasonable level to get a mid tier contract. He can not do that on the sidelines.

Playing with the Jets this season would give him a chance to rehab that image by being a good soldier on a rebuilding team that at some point will likely be starting a rookie QB. With 16 teams in the NFL starting young players Holmes needs teams to believe that he can be an aide to the young QB in the NFL to expand the list of teams willing to take a chance on him. Right now the memory of him destroying Mark Sanchez is fresh in the minds of many and those young quarterbacked teams would never consider such a personality. The Jets also have limited talent at Wide Receiver which would give him an opportunity to pad his football stats showing him to be more productive that he might be in a more talented environment. There have been many players far more talented than Holmes that could not get jobs because of the baggage that they bring on and off the field.

Attempting to protect himself from the rigors of training camp, also a suggestion from sources in Cimini’s article, would be just as bad a decision. Missing out on practice time in training camp doesn’t give him the ability to build that relationship with Geno Smith or the coaching staff, which has been overhauled and is using a completely different offensive system that may require added concentration from Holmes. Being out there practicing gives him the best chance to hit the ground running and actually be a productive player in 2013. Dogging it to miss training camp is not going to lead to a good 2013 season and at that point teams may just pass entirely. If he can’t put up numbers in an offense with no weapons why even waste the roster spot for a tryout?

Now if Holmes is truly injured then it is in the best interest of both sides for Holmes to continue his current rehab pattern. The risk of re-injury to Holmes effects both parties. If Holmes was to get re-injured his career would essentially be over. If he was to land on IR again the Jets will likely be on the hook for injury payments under the CBA’s injury protection program. If he lands on IR and the injury does not allow him to pass a physical in 2014 the Jets would have to pay him $1.05 million in 2014 and an extra injury protection payment of $525,000 in 2015.

While those numbers do not count on the salary cap (the cap treatment for such payments does not begin until 2016) the last thing the Jets want to do is pay Holmes more money. At the end of this season the Jets will have paid Holmes $24 million dollars for the last three seasons. Thus far he has accounted for just  71 receptions and 926 yards. So the Jets would not want him out there either if his foot stands a significant risk of being re-injured.

I think in some of these situations players, specifically older ones, often over-estimate their worth if they head to free agency. When Steve Breaston was released earlier this year by the Arizona Cardinals there was genuine interest by the Pittsburgh Steelers. While we don’t know what figures were discussed Breaston and his team felt that it was better to go full steam ahead into free agency where he anticipated getting a job as a number 2 receiver for another team. Breaston did not get signed until just last week, playing for the minimum salary benefit with not guarantees. With the exception of the first time free agents often times that first offer if often the best one and 90% of the time that offer is not coming back.

While Holmes does not yet have an offer he runs the risk of falling into the same trap as Breaston and so many other if he thinks he can just waltz into another decent paying opportunity based on how he produced in 2009 and 2010 and claiming full health. The reality of the NFL is that teams won’t care.