Here is a link to my Thursday column about the holdout of Vernon Davis. The full text runs below:

SANTA CLARA — Let’s get the important stuff out of the way. Jim Harbaugh’s pants.

He spoke to the media Wednesday at high noon at the edge of the practice field, spoke while surrounded by cameras and microphones, answered questions about Anquan Boldin and other 49ers. While he spoke, I eyeballed his trousers.

You would have, too. As you know, his wife Sarah made fun of his shapeless, old-man pants in a recent ad, a very good ad. In the commercial, you see Harbaugh barbecuing. He’s wearing new stylish Dockers. His daughter points at him and asks Sarah who that man is — meaning he looks too cool to be droopy-drawers Dad.

Cut to Wednesday. I noticed something disturbing about Harbaugh’s pants.

“Are those the good pants you’re wearing today?” I asked accusingly.

“The good pants?” Harbaugh said.

“Yeah, the ones in the ad when you’re barbecuing and stuff. Are those those pants?”


I was shocked. I empathized with poor Sarah.

“How many pairs of those do you have, the good pants?” I asked.

“Ah, quite a few, quite a few new ones.” Harbaugh’s voice was bursting with pride.

“You ought to wear them down here some time. Snap up the image.”

“Huh?” Harbaugh said.

“Snap up the image.”

“I still kind of like the loose-fitting,” he said as he slid a hand inside his belt and pushed out the waist. He smiled, a man dooming himself to the old Dad look.

So, here’s what I want to know. Can the marriage survive the pants?

Now to serious matters. Call it the Matter of Vernon Davis who is boycotting minicamp, a required team activity. On Tuesday, Harbaugh had said he was disappointed in Davis’ decision to stay away. Harbaugh said that’s not the 49ers’ way.

Several reporters addressed Davis again on Wednesday. “You said you were disappointed and I’d like to know what the nature of the disappointment is,” I asked. “And if he stays away, I’m talking about Vernon, can it hurt the team?”

Harbaugh was thoughtful. “I was disappointed in the decision not to come to the minicamp,” he said. “Didn’t call anybody out. There was no call out.”

“I didn’t say you called him out.”

“I didn’t say you did. Some people did, though. I thought that was ridiculous. The second point is we’re going to keep the focus on what is going on here. Who is here and the players we’re coaching, that’s where the focus is going to be.”

When a reporter asked if Harbaugh, as a former player, understands how players feel about contracts, Harbaugh said, “The three, four, five follow-up questions, it gets to be badgering. It gets old. I covered it thoroughly yesterday; I don’t think there’s anything more to say.”

The badgering remark was — what? — cute. Harbaugh could have wiped out the three of us by breathing hard. It may have felt like badgering to him. And here’s the funny thing.

I agree with Harbaugh. What Davis is doing is not the 49ers’ way. Well, that may be overstating it. But Davis is not acting appropriately. Right guard Alex Boone, also a holdout, is not acting appropriately. But I am not writing about Boone. Davis is more important.

Here’s my problem with Davis. In my world, a contract is a contract. Contracts are binding. Both sides agree to them. In 2010, Davis signed a six-year, $42 million contract which made him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL. Despite his current unhappiness with his deal, he still is the third-highest-paid tight end. And his contract has two years to run. Come on.

Could he make more on the open market? Probably.

Is he underpaid based on his value to the Niners? Probably.

He should have understood this in 2010. Or his agent should have. It is not the 49ers’ fault his contract no longer appeals to him. And it is not the 49ers’ problem.

The 49ers have made Davis a wealthy man, wealthy beyond our wildest imaginings. Now, he wants to be even wealthier. Sorry, Vernon, no tears for you.

There’s something else. If Davis got hurt in a game at any point in his career, if he had to miss an entire season, the Niners still would have been on the hook to pay him. They couldn’t say, “We want out of the contract.” Davis should not say he wants out of a contract he signed with full understanding of its meaning. It is bad form verging on unseemly and immoral.

I’ll tell you something else. He is playing a game of chicken with the Niners and he will lose. He has no leverage. He has a few years left in his football life. No way will he give up one of those years. He will cave at some point. If he caves too late, say at the end of training camp, he will not be in game shape and he will hurt the team. Does he care?

He’s been talking about his holdout lately. Wrote a piece for SI.com. Yakked on a million radio stations. Told one station, “Every decision that I make is in the best interest of my brand.”

His brand?

Turns out he actually has a brand. You can buy stock in Vernon Davis. There was an IPO offering.

Oh, why didn’t I think of a brand when I was young? You, Dear Reader, could have bought shares of Lowell Cohn. I could have a second home in Maui just because you love me. I could be driving a Rolls. I could scarf down food at Chez Panisse every night. All because of my value to the world, now wasted forever.

Not Davis. He has a brand. He wants to cash in on his celebrity, such as it is. It must burn him up that Harbaugh really has a brand of sorts, is so marketable — Dad Pants and Dockers and all that.

Advice to Davis. You are not a brand. You are a football player. Be one.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.


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  1. Hoosgow

    Harbaugh and his wife probably got paid a lot for that commercial. Then he goes and says the others are more comfortable? I bet the dockers execs are wetting their pants and looking over the ad contract, not to mention yelling at 49ers boss.

    June 18th, 2014 9:32 pm

  2. Hoosgow

    If as you imply, the success of branding has to do with how well people like you, I can’t see how Vernon’s holdout is benefiting his brand. I for one find myself liking him a lot less. If I had stock in Vernon, I would dump it.

    June 18th, 2014 9:35 pm

  3. MRO

    Sorry, I’m nitpicking here Lowell: an “IPO offering” is redundant.

    June 18th, 2014 9:50 pm

  4. C. Nova

    I guess you missed Grant’s take on VD, in which he takes VD’s side and makes a very different case than you. Now that he read your piece has Grant cried uncle and said he is wrong? Or is he giving you dirty looks over dinner for your in-print take down of him and for your nasty dad pants?

    June 18th, 2014 11:56 pm

  5. Dr Feelgood

    As much as Vernon’s return would benefit the team, a contract renegotiation would set a dangerous precedent, opening the team to countless other holdouts handled by agents who smell the weakness.
    A re-do puts the team on a slippery slope. My belief is that Paraag Marathe will not cave in.

    June 19th, 2014 8:10 am

  6. Dennis

    I agree with you completely. You need to explain the facts of reality to your son. Vernon is too old to have any leverage.

    June 19th, 2014 8:10 am

  7. Streetglide

    Here’s what you need to know: the Niners are owned by the DeBartolos, a great Italian family from Youngstown Ohio, never mind the dentist York who married into the family. Stop by Notre Dame and look for the performing arts center named for Eddie’s mother. It’s big. You want to play hardball with this family you little football player? Please…

    You don’t corner those kind of folks. Vernon will wise up or be playing for the Jaguars. Either way, this will be his last season with the team.

    June 19th, 2014 8:52 am

  8. Brett

    I too do not understand how someone can hold out on a binding contract. If another team took him would they have to buy out his remaining years on his current contract?? I don’t get it. If it is all about money, which it is, I would dock his pay everyday he does not show. This must be a union thing.

    No tears for Vernon here either Lowell.

    June 19th, 2014 8:55 am

  9. Mighty joe

    Good article Lowell. I also note the disconnect between you and Grant. Perhaps you can talk some sense to the kid.

    As for Vernon, I don’t begrudge him wanting more money. This is a business first and foremost. I also understand why he’s doing this now. The cap crunch is here now that Kaep got paid; he just came off a terrific season; he’s getting older and his future may not be as bright as his present.

    To underline that last point, Grant over estimates his leverage by exaggerating Vernon’s importance. Vernon was never more important than last year because: Crab was out, Patton got hurt, Baalke missed badly on Jenkins. In short the wr position was reduced to Boldin (thank Baalke or Harbaugh? for that acquisition) and some guys. Last year the story line was Vernon will be asked to play wr. And in a sense, that came to pass. He became a much larger fraction of the passing offense.

    But let’s examine that in terms of the coming season. All those factors boosting Vernon’s “stock” have vanished. Baalke acquired another Boldin-esque wr in Stevie, drafted a guy who appears to be legit in Bruce, Crab and Patton are healthy. We don’t need Vernon to save us from a damaged, pathetic wr corp this year. Baalke doubled down on the position. Roman and Harbaugh are talking about a revamped offense. The obvious insinuation is that the 49ers are planning to join the 21st century. 3 wr’s on the field at the same time.

    And one other thing. Vernon was great last year. But let’s not forget that for all his “deep threat” ability which “stretches the field” we faced the most 8 man boxes of any team in the NFL last year. Opposing defenses begged us to go deep and effectively stifled our running attack. Vernon made them pay somewhat. But at no point did teams look at him and back away from the line. He attracted a lot of attention in coverage, it’s true. However, who else did we have for the opposition to blanket? You can double Vernon and Boldin and still have a guy to spy Kaepernick. If you only have 2 guys who are remotely dangerous then of course those two will attract defensive backs like cow patties do flies.

    This wr problem has been addressed with aplomb and now Vernon doesn’t look quite so essential.

    June 19th, 2014 9:12 am

  10. NeverWrong

    He’s dropped too many critical passes to have more leverage.

    June 19th, 2014 9:27 am

  11. Real Neal

    I don’t think he has outplayed the contract. 5 catches for 54 yards in last years playoff games, 2 catches for 16 yards against the Hawks. That is quite underwhelming.

    June 19th, 2014 10:40 am

  12. Steve the cat rescuer

    When he signed his contract, he was paid as the number one tight end in the league. Current contract valuation equals third best, yet depending on what statistics are considered, his rating falls between the fifth and tenth tight end in 2013. He wants his contract to reflect that he be paid as number one. Trade the greedy and overrated SOB to Jacksonville, Cleveland or Buffalo and get a virtually guaranteed high draft pick.

    June 19th, 2014 11:16 am

  13. sf9erfan

    You should post this article on your son’s fridge.

    June 19th, 2014 12:00 pm

  14. mike

    Real Neal – There are others who thought that CK’s performance last season also was “underwhelming,” to use your word. However, he got paid with time still remaining on his contract. The debate as to one year or two years remaining on a deal is incidental because players with two years left on their deals also are released outright by clubs and there is no public outcry about the injustice and the heartless organization not abiding by a contractual agreement. If you were a Google employee, for example, and under a multi-year deal, but came up with a code that was not covered by work product, but took it to Google executives, would you not attempt to sweeten your current contract or would you sit and wait until the current contract expired and negotiate without any leverage?

    June 19th, 2014 12:06 pm

  15. Joe Sanchez

    Great column Lowell…love the Harbaugh anecdote, sounds like he’s getting better with the press (but still has a way to go). As for VD’s brand…sitting out might get him some extra publicity in the short term, but come September all that’ll matter will be on-field results. And his “stock” will drop pretty quickly if he’s still holding out.

    June 19th, 2014 1:10 pm

  16. PhD

    The thing most surprising to me is that both VD and Boone should have more smarts than to think that the 49ers would allow a precedent of being ‘forced’ into redoing a contract. Really guys? Get your heads out of the sand and understand how your FO operates.

    June 19th, 2014 1:38 pm

  17. Dennis

    @ Mike

    Staying with your Google employee analogy, perhaps you can explain what Vernon Davis came up with that is not currently covered by his contract? If he did come up with something beyond what he already came up with he would certainly have a better case to present.

    June 19th, 2014 2:09 pm

  18. Chris Custer

    I agree 100% with Mr. Lowell Cohn’s article. Vernon Davis has to get real with himself (and a little less narcistic, perhaps). I knew no good would come from his off-seaon branding IPO offering. He is now South of 30 and is becoming less a facor in the offense than in previous years. With the gluttony of healthy wide receivers, he stands to get much fewer receptions and TDs than in previous years. I think he knows that when he tries to resign after his contract ends, he stands to make much less than he is now. Tough! A contract is a contract. Many are the millions the 49ers have already wasted on players who didn’t even play much, die to ineffectivness, injury or because others proved to be better at their positons. Case in point, Eric Wright had lots of promise, but cost the 49ers a year and a half salary while hardly performing at all. Vernon is already a liabiility, given he won’t be playing so much in the future.

    My advice to York and Baalke, do not negotiate with those who threaten to walk. Let them walk and then sue them for breech of contract.

    June 19th, 2014 2:28 pm

  19. Chris Custer

    As for Alex Boone, I will say that I sympathize with him to a point. He is not overly smart to begin with and thus hired two money grubbing agents who are both infamous for having their clients sit out games well into the season. Boone doesn’t know the mess he has put himself in. He’s simply not that important to the team, not with Looney and the two new high draft pick talents eager to step in. He too may end up in Jacksonville, where all good players go to die.

    June 19th, 2014 2:40 pm

  20. mike

    Dennis – Based upon his position’s statistics compared to CK’s position’s stats, VD actually had a much more productive and dynamic season and tied with a WR, Megatron, as the league leader in yards per catch at 16.9 for those who were starters or primary players at their positions. Also, for a variety of reasons he may has a less productive season this year because he has to rely on a play caller to call pass patterns where he is the primary receiver and he has to rely on a QB to be able to get him the ball. Also, if he is not featured as much in the RZ, not by his choice, his TD production could drop. All of those factors plus age eventually could lead to the club offering him less than top dollars as a TE. Strike while the iron is hot. Technically, VD has no initial control over his destiny as a pas catcher and TD maker, although he has to get open and then catch the ball. However, if his number is not called, what chance has he got? With Crabs out last year, VD got more chances. Now, with Crabs back, and in a contract year, plus other acquisitions by the club, who may take away from opportunities for VD, his productivity could diminish.

    June 19th, 2014 3:10 pm

  21. Dennis

    Mike- I don’t mean to belabor this but you made the case of the Google worker coming up with a code that was not covered by his contract. Doesn’t the code imply that he came up with something new that suggests future benefits to the company beyond what the employee is currently being paid for?

    How does that compare to the Vernon Davis situation? In your response it seems you are claiming that Vernon not be paid for what he might additionally add to the team in the future, like the Google employee, but should be paid additional for what he did last year. You correctly make the point that his numbers may diminish next year through no fault of his own. I agree but I also can make the case that he had great numbers last year also through no fault of his own but because Crabtree was hurt. So why pay him more for benefiting from some else’s absence?

    The bottom line is that Davis has a contract that pays him very well to perform. The contract was front loaded with bonus money that is already in his bank account and that needs to be protratedly applied to this year’s salary. He is fairly compensated for what he brings to the table and at this stage of his career he is not bringing anything new to the team that would be of additional benefit. He is not worth a cent more. In fact, after readying your response about how his numbers might go down, he might even be over paid.

    June 19th, 2014 4:28 pm

  22. mike

    Dennis – Unfortunately, VD’s productivity, based upon opportunities provided him by the coaching staff in the form of featured play calling and the ability of the QB to read coverages, deal with progressions and to throw an accurate, catchable ball are elements over which he has no control. Coaches can feature a player or on occasion have a tendency to minimize opportunities for a player. I often have seen wide receivers go one half of a game and be targeted only one or two times through no fault of their own. The structure of the game and the flow of the offense through various players often is in the hands of the OC and/or play caller. If VD’s number was or is called more frequently, how do you not know that his productivity might now be even more prodigious. It’s about touches. Remember, the only person ever to hold Michael Jordan under 20 points a game average for a season throughout his entire collegiate and professional career was his college coach. If you don’t call the plays where the ball gets into the guy’s hands, how then can you honestly say he is overpaod for what he has produced. What has he done with the opportunities he is given? 13 TDs and 16.9 yards is not bad for a TE playing with a QB who only is a 57% passer in a league where the majority of the highly touted starting QBs are completing in the mid- to high 60% ranges. Picture VD with a quality QB as in the Saints offense with Drew Brees or with the Broncos or even with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Did not CK have the fewest or close to the fewest passing attempts of any starting QB this past year? And, by virtue of that you want to penalize the starting TE and say he is not as productive in the passing game as he should be? I do think he can run better routes, but that is coaching, too. TEACH (Take Each Athlete and COACH HIM)!!!!!!!

    June 19th, 2014 6:39 pm

  23. Real Neal


    I have no problem in getting a extension with 1 yr left on a contract, VD should of waited one more yr before acting like a selfish, narcastic moron.

    June 19th, 2014 9:32 pm

  24. James Righthand


    There is no logical relationship between your nonsensical spew and your position that Vernon deserves more money, and when pressed, your true position is revealed. Clearly you doubt Kaepernick and Roman, and believe that if they are flawed, then somehow Vernon is a victim here. Perhaps you should rethink your position. Kaepernick is among the 3 best QBs to ever start 30 games or less, based purely on his reaching a Super Bowl and an NFCCG, and Roman’s offense is lauded all over the league for its multiple formations and innovative schemes.

    Vernon is a fantastic run blocker and his top speed is phenomenal, but his acceleration is average, his route running is subpar, and he has absolutely no lateral movement. He is paid above his stature among current TEs.

    1. Jimmy Graham
    2. Gronk
    3. Julius Thomas
    4. Vernon Davis

    Want to argue? Fine, put Vernon at #3. He still doesn’t deserve more than his current top-3 salary.

    June 19th, 2014 10:17 pm

  25. Johnc

    Now that Vernon Davis is a “Brand” does he talk about himself in the third person? We will find out the next time you ask him a question.

    June 19th, 2014 10:23 pm

  26. russell

    The “brand” thing pains me, the “under contract” part disturbs me, but I must say that an athlete rarely holds the leverage-hammer and needs to swing it for all it’s worth when he can. I personally wouldn’t pay VD more if I were the Niners, but if he can get it more then I say power to him. Sports is a lucrative, but more than that a ruthless, business. Please trust than a franchise will cut you in a heartbeat if you aren’t max value to them, so I am all for getting it while you can if you are the athlete. Look through the history of sport, very few of the greats can say they spent their time in one place, why is that?

    June 19th, 2014 10:32 pm

  27. russell

    My real point is this: in sports you are worth whatever you can get. Will the Niners suddenly be 4-12 if they were to cut VD? Heck no, right? But, will they pay him? Probably so. It is what it is, and while we would all love to have every player “honor their contract”, until the teams do the same then we need to just back up and enjoy the games.

    June 19th, 2014 10:37 pm

  28. Steve the cat rescuer

    I know what’s going on here – Mike bought stock in Davis and he’s trying to protect his investment.

    June 19th, 2014 11:06 pm

  29. Dennis


    Are you now making the case that all the receivers are under paid because Kaep isn’t an accurate passer and Roman doesn’t call enough passing plays? I think you can stop digging now. You are in deep enough.

    June 20th, 2014 7:31 am

  30. Brady

    I find it funny how people constantly harass you and Grant for taking the same stance on things, then immediately revert to “you should talk some sense into Grant” when you disagree.

    Anyway, great article. I couldn’t agree more.

    June 20th, 2014 11:19 am

  31. mike

    a. I have no stock in VD, and never would venture into such a business

    b. I have no fault for a player asking to renegotiate his deal because on the other hand a club will either cut or renegotiate VD’s deal when it deems that it fits with the club’s best interest.

    If a player has a very good season, why not strike while the iron is hot? Also, the Niners opened this can of worms by redoing CK’s deal before it expired, so who can blame other players or their agents for getting in line as well?

    VD is a business, albeit a single person corporation, but it is his responsibility to have his best career physical, mental and financial interests at heart. Can you fault a business for attempting to be profitable and to earn maximum dollars?

    A plumber or any type of independent contractor is going to charge the best rate he can get and compete in a capitalistic market, so why should not VD do the same?

    The Niners are charging more for their seats in the new stadium and displacing previous generations of season ticket holders from their seats because they now are placing PSL on those very seats.

    Talk about capitalistic! The Niners are selling every inch of space in that stadium and the surrounding property for every dime they can get.

    Concessions have increased or will increase in price; the price of parking will go up; the price of programs will go up, etc.

    It’s about business and making money while you can.

    June 20th, 2014 11:26 am

  32. Larry

    Totally with Mike and Vernon Davis here. As most of you know, NFL contracts are not guaranteed. Where is the same outrage from most of you when a player who is in the second year of a four year deal is cut? Isn’t that “breaking” the contract from the team’s side? How come no one is upset about that, but they are upset when someone like Vernon Davis realizes that his leverage is probably not going to be higher and decides to not show up for a few days of mini-camp? Media, who usually takes the owners side has most of you snowed…

    June 20th, 2014 2:45 pm

  33. Dave T

    Sign the deal, accept the check, honor the deal. Period. End of Story. Next!

    Oh wait, I am sorry, that isn’t how it really works? I am in the wrong line of work….

    June 20th, 2014 3:00 pm

  34. Dennis


    I never said Vernon was morally wrong to hold out. My point is that he is dumb to hold out. He has no leverage at this stage of his career. He stands to lose a lot more than he might possibly gain by holding out. Think about it. If he doesn’t play the 49ers replace him in the lineup. They sign 6 wide receivers instead of 5. How does Vernon replace his salary? Hold out for 2 years and you risk ending your career. The leverage is all with the 49ers. There are too many wide receivers in camp this year for Vernon to think the team really needs him all that much.

    June 21st, 2014 7:27 am

  35. KezarMike

    For once I’d like to see a team say to one of these Multi millionaire atheletes who don’t want to honor their contract “Then retire. Thank you for your service.” Start getting a replacement ready NOW. Let him hold out and lose money. I’d fine him from the first day of training camp and then bring suit for breach of contract to sue him for his signing bonus.

    June 22nd, 2014 10:46 pm

  36. Shane

    I agree in principle regarding living up to contracts but not when it comes to the NFL. Let’s face it, NFL contracts are nothing like the other legal or social contracts any of us are used to participating in and shouldn’t be treated as such.

    NFL contracts are ridiculously complicated and seem to cover the teams asses more often than not in terms of only some of the big contracts’ money being “guaranteed” in terms of the player ever seeing it and the teams being able to cut the players nearly at will, and only refraining from doing so when it doesn’t benefit the team in terms of the salary cap and signing other players.

    For those of you saying” sign the contract, play the contract,” why shouldn’t the teams to be held to that same standard and pay out every penny of every contract for every year of the contract?

    I’d love to hear back from you on that when a 5-7 year deal is required to pay the next big player the money it takes to keep him in red and gold in his physical prime and then the Niners can’t cut him or renegotiate his contract toward the end when he’s no longer playing at that same level.

    NFL players have a short time to make all the money they’re going to make, and they sacrifice their physical and perhaps mental well being by having the holy ever living shit beaten out of their bodies and brains day in and day out.

    When i think about what they physically go through and the fact that the multi-billion-dollar Empire that is the NFL will engage an overwhelming army of attorneys to later mitigate any of its medical or legal liability toward the players’ health or well being later in life I’m in favor of players getting as much as they can while they still have value.

    Vernon is a TE who not only sacrifices blocking in the trenches, he runs over the middle to catch passes and is at high risk of concussions and everything that comes with it.

    Good for him if he can scratch out more money from the 49ers while he still can.

    June 25th, 2014 8:17 am

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