Bo Scaife decided he’d rather field passes than phone calls from quarterback Vince Young.
Dissatisfied with his contract situation, the sixth-year tight end skipped most of the Tennessee Titans’ offseason workout program and organized team activities until late May.
“It was just something I felt inside; I was ready to come back,” Scaife said. “I missed four or five OTAs, and I got tired of VY calling me and telling me about practice. I just wanted to come back and get a little taste.”
Even if that meant he had to swallow a little pride.
Scaife was not the Titans’ only or highest-profile absence this spring. Running back Chris Johnson and linebacker Stephen Tulloch both took similar stands. Johnson and Tulloch remained defiant and skipped the entire offseason program, yet with less than a month to go before training camp, neither received a new deal.
“[Players holding out is] definitely a part of the business, and I think it’s growing more and more each year, team by team,” he said. “We play hard, we work hard, and guys expect to be compensated, but it doesn’t always work out like that. [Holding out is] just a strategy to help.”
The Titans put the franchise tag on Scaife in 2009, which netted him a $4.46 million salary last season (the average of the five highest-paid players at his position). He signed a one-year tender for $4.9 million for this season, but openly stated that he wanted the security of a long-term contract.
“I think when you’ve got numbers and you put up stats and you help your team win, the bargaining chips look a little bit better than if you didn’t produce,” he said. “I think production is everything.”
Scaife was Tennessee’s leading receiver in 2008 with a career-high 58 receptions. He had another 45 catches last fall. In five NFL seasons he has missed just four games because of injury and has averaged more than 40 receptions. The team has had a losing record only once during his tenure.
Regardless of statistics, there is still the connotation of selfishness with the term “holdout.” Though fans may be disappointed, Scaife said there is an understanding among players who can empathize with contract displeasure.
“I’m sure there are mixed thoughts on it, but I would hope that everyone would be supportive,” he said. “Especially because they could come across a similar situation themselves.”
Switching gears from business mode to preparation for the season has been easy for Scaife and never caused concern among coaches.
“We don’t worry about Bo. Bo is a football player,” offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger said. “The only issue with Bo getting in here, it’s timing — Bo getting in the right spots so Vince and all those guys know where he’s at. But the great thing about Bo is he has a great feel for football. He’s a smart, smart football player.”
Even though players can find themselves pitted against management in contract disputes, Scaife said there are distinctions between the front office, the coaching staff and the team.
“There’s never any resentment or disappointment down here [in the locker room] with my teammates,” Scaife said. “Being out there on the field is my job, it’s what I love to do. Obviously you play for that security, but that’s dealt with upstairs, you know? Downstairs in the locker room with the coaches and players, it’s all family.”
That means regular phone conversations when one member of the family is elsewhere.