How 2017 NFL holdouts fared: Donald dominated; Bell took time

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Bell, Steelers still apart in contract negotiations (1:23)

With Le'Veon Bell skipping Steelers organized team activities, Adam Schefter breaks down the ongoing contract talks between the two parties. (1:23)

There aren't nearly as many holdouts during the NFL offseason and preseason programs as there used to be, thanks to the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2011. It brought about a rookie wage scale, more specifics on franchise tags and contracts structured to pay veterans on long-term deals.

But that doesn't mean all NFL players are happy with their contract status entering each season.

As Kevin Seifert wrote in June 2017, "with no real holdouts to speak of, we obsess these days over absences from voluntary spring practice. ... Training camp holdouts offer public drama during an otherwise monotonous part of the NFL calendar, but almost none of them extend into the regular season."

In 2017, there were four notable players who skipped OTAs, as well as training camp. Let's take a look at each player's case and how he fared during the season:

Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Bell sat out all of the 2017 offseason workouts and training camp before showing up to the team facility Sept. 1. He showed some rust with an average of 3.46 yards per carry through his first three games, but he finished the year strong on his way to 1,946 yards and an All-Pro first-team honor. Though Bell is known to stay in superb shape every offseason, the Steelers want him at training camp because the offense relies so heavily on him, and the offensive line needs to be in sync with Bell's patient running style. That requires reps with Bell in the backfield. Bell lamented too many negative runs through the early part of the season, so that will be a significant focus for him whether he misses offseason work or not. The Steelers will take a slow-starting Bell over any alternative. They still gave him the ball more than 400 times last season and will probably do that again.-- Jeremy Fowler

Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams: The All-Pro defensive lineman sat out the entire offseason program but reported a day before the Rams' season opener -- without a new contract -- and dominated during the season. Donald did not play in Week 1 and said after a Week 2 loss against the Washington Redskins that he was in shape but was not football ready. Donald said after a Week 3 victory against the San Francisco 49ers that his football conditioning had improved. By Week 4, Donald was in midseason form. He finished the season with 11 sacks and five forced fumbles, and was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But Donald, who is entering the fifth season of his rookie deal, is once again absent from OTAs as contract negotiations continue. The four-time Pro Bowl selection wants to be among the highest-paid players in the league. General manager Les Snead has said that he wants to make Donald a Ram for "a long time." -- Lindsey Thiry

Donald Penn, LT, Oakland Raiders: Penn held out of training camp, wanting to be paid like a top-10 left tackle, and showed up without a new deal after missing two preseason games. He got a two-year, $21 million extension on Sept. 15 and resumed his role protecting Derek Carr's blind side. Penn started the 2017 season slowly, and after rounding into shape, he put together his second straight Pro Bowl season. Alas, he suffered a Lisfranc injury in his right foot in Week 15 and his streak of 170 straight NFL starts came to an end. At 35, Penn has been freshly motivated by the Raiders' decision to use the No. 15 overall pick on UCLA left tackle Kolton Miller. -- Paul Gutierrez

Duane Brown, LT, Houston Texans: Brown entered the 2017 offseason with two years left on the six-year deal he signed in 2012 and wanted a new contract before he would report to any offseason workouts. The 2008 first-round draft pick sat out the Texans' entire offseason program and the first seven games of the season before returning to the team. The week Brown was back in Houston, ESPN reported that at an October owners meeting Texans owner Bob McNair said, "we can't have inmates running the prison," in reference to player demonstrations and protests during the national anthem. Brown spoke out strongly against McNair and his comments. The veteran started the next game for the Texans but was traded to the Seattle Seahawks two days later. He suffered a sprained ankle in his second game with the Seahawks but returned the following week. Seattle's pass protection improved over the remainder of the season even though Brown played through the injury. There have been no indications the sides are close to a contract extension, but general manager John Schneider said that when the Seahawks acquired Brown, their goal was for him to finish his career in Seattle. -- Sarah Barshop and Brady Henderson