-- After he finally signed Monday,? Joey Bosa's holdout shouldn't wind up costing the San Diego Chargers more than bad publicity and money. Yes, by missing the reps that a young player needs in camp, Bosa has set himself up for a steeper learning curve than that of most rookies. But it turns out that talents of his caliber often get to play right away anyway.
Conventional wisdom says rookies who hold out miss precious developmental time and wind up being marginalized by coaches whom they haven't been around during the offseason. But from what we've seen in NFL history, that just isn't true.
Although the new collective bargaining agreement makes rookie holdouts far less frequent, we have plenty of examples of past highly drafted rookies skipping training camp while looking for more money. In the past, the NFL's top 10 draft picks used their leverage to force bad teams to pay them like the?best players at their positions. Sometimes you'd draft Peyton Manning, and it would work out; other times, you'd wind up paying Akili Smith tens of millions of dollars. As agents caucused to try to make their top-10 deals look more appealing, the holdout numbers only grew.
Here's a list of every holdout of longer than 20 days by a defender who was a top-10 pick since 1997. This uses Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value (AV) metric, which measures team contributions via playing time and conventional stats.
You can see that most teams on this list received instant boosts from their top defensive picks, regardless of the training camp days missed. Some of the players with lower first-year contributions even had injury excuses: Wadsworth had a calf injury to deal with, and Springs broke his right thumb and missed six games. This helped hold their AV down, despite their essentially being plug-and-play.
Ryan Sims and Quentin Jammer stand out as players who validate some of those conventional wisdoms about rookie holdouts. Jammer started only four games; Sims played in only six. Still, Sims was an overall washout -- not just a training-camp washout -- and Jammer provided good returns starting in his second season.
Players in this group also tended to fare pretty well over their first four seasons, minus a few notable exceptions. Jacksonville Jaguars lineman Derrick Harvey was an overdraft to begin with and didn't have a job after his first four years in the league. Wadsworth's career was decimated by injuries. Adam Jones would have contributed much more to the Tennessee Titans had he not been suspended for the entire 2007 season, though he has finally lived up to his potential with the Cincinnati Bengals in recent seasons.
Bosa's best doppelg?nger in the group above is Boulware, a pass-rushing outside linebacker who played for a big school and had less-than-ideal size for a defensive end. Like Bosa, Boulware had astonishing productivity. Boulware piled up 19 sacks in his final season at Florida State. We don't have combine stats before 2000, but it's likely that Boulware was empirically faster than Bosa, given Bosa's subpar showing in the 40-yard dash.
Anecdotally, Bosa's holdout shouldn't hurt him as much because he isn't a raw player. He's a football guy from a football family (his dad was also a first-round pick). He's definitely going to be smart enough to play in the league and develop the right sort of technique to win at the point of attack. He comes into the league fairly polished. Most of Bosa's flaws are found in his athletic ability. As our SackSEER projection system for pass-rushers pointed out, he just isn't very explosive.
The past has also taught us that most of the time, if a team is willing to invest in a player, that team is willing to play him early, despite his lack of training camp experience. What the Chargers did was extremely petty, and it led anonymous sources to wonder rightfully?if they've forever poisoned the well with Bosa. The Chargers were your cheap uncle who "left his cash in his other wallet" when it was time to chip in for the community tip.
But that shouldn't keep Bosa from playing up to his talent this season.