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The Wisdom of Fading Holdouts in the Modern NFL

  The concept of NFL players holding out is not novel, but in the modern era of fantasy football, it has taken on additional meaning as consumers of the NFL have increasingly narrowed their interest from teams to individual players. When a player holds out of training camp, concern about their production for the upcoming season is often dismissed, perhaps using an anecdotal argument such as “remember how the Emmitt Smith situation worked out.” In the summer of 1993, Dallas had just come off its first championship of the post-Tom Landry era, and Smith held out because he was making peanuts compared to Troy Aikman. Jerry Jones refused to budge and the hold out went into the season. After starting 0-2, Jones caved to Smith’s demands, and in Week 3 Smith ended his holdout; at that point, no team had ever won the Super Bowl after starting the season 0-2. Smith went on to win league MVP and his second consecutive rushing title (1,486 yards in 14 games) while leading Dallas to the league’s best record.  He then won Super Bowl MVP as Dallas won its second consecutive title.


In the 24 years since that season, there have been several holdouts. A legitimate question is how have subsequent holdouts for top players impacted their fantasy value? This study examines players since the negotiation of the most recent collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in 2011 who held out of training camp and/or mandatory minicamp (or attended minicamp but then publicly threatened to hold out within a week of the start of training camp). It compares their performance to their previous year’s performance during the fantasy football season (NFL weeks 1-16). The data compiled utilize point per reception (PPR) scoring1 based on My Fantasy League data. Given the financial consequences of training camp holdouts (usually a five-figure fine per day), such holdouts have become rarer, especially since the new CBA introduced a rookie pay scale. There are a total of 11 players who meet the inclusion criteria.
  1. no penalties for interceptions or fumbles, four points per passing touchdown, six points per rushing/receiving touchdown, one point per 25 yards passing, one point per 10 yards rushing/receiving, no points for kickoff or punt return touchdowns  (back)

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  1. Great article! I was worried about Bell myself. Looking at the RBs you identified it looks like they lost both volume AND efficiency.

  2. Of course this year would be the year I get the number 2 overall. I'd like the pick much better with the option of Elliot and Bell not holding out.

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