When training camp begins today, Donald Penn needs to stage a holdout.
He needs it for his pride. For his meager bargaining position. He may even need it for his sanity.
Yet having said that, Penn needs to be back in the locker room with his teammates by the end of next week. Because if he holds out any longer, he will run the risk of losing more than he is hoping to gain.
No matter how righteous his indignation, Penn cannot win this war. Oh, he may get some concessions. He may get a few more dollars than the previous offer. But if he lets it play out too long, he will jeopardize all that he has worked to achieve.
And I'm assuming Penn understands that.
If there is a lesson to be learned from previous Buccaneer holdouts, it's that the Glazers don't fool around. They let Errict Rhett hold out for half a season in 1996, and neither his career nor his bank account was ever the same.
They let Keenan McCardell hold out and forfeit half his paychecks for 2004 and then dealt him to San Diego without a raise.
You could point out that Derrick Brooks staged a successful holdout in 2001, but he had advantages no one else could claim. For instance, he was Derrick Brooks.
The point is Penn, 27, cannot allow anger or pride to cloud his thinking. A holdout that extends beyond reasonable can cost him money. It can cost him his place on the team. It can cost him a good chunk of his career.
Honestly, I don't blame Penn for being unhappy with his contract situation. And though he still stands to make more money this season than a school full of teachers, I'm betting you'd feel the same way if you were in his situation.
You see, Penn has been waiting for a fat, multiyear contract his entire career. He was undrafted out of Utah State, so there was no get-rich-quick deal as an NFL rookie. He worked his way off a Minnesota practice roster and into Tampa Bay's starting lineup.
And then just when he should have been an unrestricted free agent with all the bargaining power that entails, NFL owners and players failed to reach a new labor agreement, which negated unrestricted free agency for players with Penn's amount of service time.
So, yeah, Penn has every right to be ticked off.
Instead of the potential of a multiyear deal with lots of guaranteed money up front, Penn was a restricted free agent and was given a take-it-or-leave-it one-year tender of $3.168 million. Again, that's a lot of Wendy's value meals.
But by NFL left tackle standards, it's a fairly cheap salary.
Not that I'm blaming the Bucs. They are operating within the system, so why should they offer more money and more years? Not when they don't know what the labor situation will be in 2011 and not when they're dealing with a player who has had some weight issues.
Handing out extra money because it's the "fair" thing to do would be the equivalent of a player refusing his paycheck when his performance falls below par.
In other words, it ain't happening.
Still, it has to hurt Penn when he sees what other left tackles are making. San Francisco's Joe Staley made $13.5 million last season. Carolina's Jordan Gross made $10 million. Jets tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson just signed a six-year, $60 million deal with $34.8 million guaranteed.
Now you might say Penn does not deserve to be paid like an elite left tackle, and you're absolutely right. He is not one of the top 10 in the league. He's also not one of the bottom 10. He's stuck squarely in the middle, maybe a little better in the eyes of some and a little worse in the eyes of others. But even run-of-the-mill left tackles can stack their paychecks up to the ceiling. Detroit's Jeff Backus is nobody's idea of a Pro Bowl lineman yet has been making around $6 million a year for quite some time.
The reality is Penn can be annoyed, but he can't do anything about it this year. As a restricted free agent, he simply does not have the leverage.
Look at it this way:
Marcus McNeill is a more highly regarded left tackle in San Diego. His team is a legitimate Super Bowl contender. And he's protecting Philip Rivers' backside. Yet the Chargers offered him the same $3.168 million tender.
McNeill is threatening to hold out past midseason, and the Chargers have already said they are planning to go forward without him. That's not going to do San Diego much good in the standings, and it won't help McNeill get a new contract.
The same goes for Penn.
He should have been an unrestricted free agent this season, but the rules got pulled out from under him. Pouting and missing time is not going to make him more attractive. The only way Penn is going to hit it rich is if he plays his butt off in 2010.
Then he can hit free agency and become a rich man.
Just a year later than he wanted.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.