Holmes rejects $1m NRL deal
VALENTINE Holmes has vowed to turn his back on a potential $1 million NRL salary in favour of staying in the US to pursue a career in the NFL - even if he misses out on the final playing squad for his team, the New York Jets.
Holmes told News Corp Australia he would not return to the NRL in 2020 if he was selected this weekend in the Jets' second-string, 11-man practice squad, which pays about $A190,000 a year.
By comparison, the Jets' No.1 running back, Le'Veon Bell, is estimated to make nearly $A20 million a season and 17 running backs in the NFL make $A6 million or more a year.
"I can make the playing roster this year if I am good enough," Holmes said after the Jets' final preseason game, a 6-0 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday.
"I'm sure I'll probably stick around if they put me on the pathway (practice squad).
"Yeah, I will stay if they put me on that pathway. If they want me, I'm here - this is what I'm here for, that's what I gave it all up for. I have a lot to learn and a lot to do."
Asked if he ruled out returning to the NRL next year if he made the second-string practice squad, he replied: "Yep."
The New York Post's senior Jets writer, Brian Costello, said he did not think Holmes would make the squad of 53.
"But I think he's a very good chance of making the practice squad, especially with his status on the international pathways program."
Holmes will know his NFL fate this weekend when the Jets announce their final squad and the practice team, which cannot take part in season games.
"For the next couple of days, we've all got to stick around the place and stay close to the phone - I'm not completely sure how it all works, to be honest. They just told us to stay around New Jersey, stay around this area and we've got a meeting and stuff tomorrow," Holmes said.
Holmes, who has trained this summer with the Jets extended squad of more than 90 hopefuls, electrified the small crowd when he took a spectacular running catch over his shoulder as he tiptoed along the sideline, which had American sports writers in the press box exclaiming: "That was a great catch!"
Deciding between accepting a spot on the practice squad or returning to the NRL is not a straightforward decision for Holmes. His wife Natalia - whom he married in Townsville in May - has recently joined him in the US, but she has also just started her own business in Townsville. Holmes also has the rest of his family there and he has been strongly linked to the North Queensland Cowboys should he elect to return to the NRL.
Speaking to News Corp later, Holmes said he still held out hope of being among the final 53 players to be announced this weekend.
"I can make the roster this year if I am good enough," he said in the locker room at Metlife Stadium after the Jets' win.
"For the next couple of days, we've all got to stick around the place and stay close to the phone - I'm not completely sure how it all works, to be honest. They just told us to stay around New Jersey, stay around this area and we've got a meeting and stuff tomorrow.
"I'm excited to have played in all four preseason games, and not many people get the opportunity to even play in one so I'm grateful that the Jets gave me this opportunity and played me in the four games. I'm very grateful to be here."
Holmes added of his spectacular catch: "I was excited I stayed in (the field of play) and caught it.
"We practised the exact same play at training, on the same side, so that's what you train for, try to make it like muscle memory. I had a feeling it was coming to me, I got on his outside and I lost it a little bit in the light, but it came back to me and I got it."
People who know the game well say it is not a question of whether Holmes has talent - it's just too hard to crack the NFL big time after just a few months in the game.
If he misses out on the official playing roster, his final option to stay could be to win selection in the Jets' practice squad as an elite international player. This squad doesn't play matches, but practises in the hope of making the top grade for the next season.
If he has indeed played his last NFL game, Holmes can at least be satisfied that he gave his shot at the NFL everything he had, including that wonderful catch and some exciting runs in his first match two weeks ago.
Holmes's wife Natalia - whom he married in Townsville in May - has recently joined him in the US, but she has also just started her own business in Townsville.
Holmes also has the rest of his family there and he has been strongly linked to the North Queensland Cowboys should he elect to return to the NRL.
In an interview with News Corp during Jets training camp earlier in summer, Holmes said a return to the NRL in 2020 was a definite possibility if he missed out on the Jets' main squad, although he was at pains to stress he believed he could succeed.
He told AAP this week: "We (he and wife Natalia) are just staying in a hotel because we don't know what we're doing. We'll see how these next couple of games go and see if I've made the cut or whatever and then we'll decide from there. But definitely, she was excited to come over and I'm excited to have her here.
"I've played in NFL games so I'm pretty happy about that. Not many people can say that so, whatever the outcome is, I'm proud of what I've done."
Following Holmes's spectacular catch, Rich Cimini, ESPN's NFL Nation reporter covering the Jets, tweeted: "Fantastic over the shoulder catch by Val Holmes. Didn't look like a rugby player on that play."
Joe Caporoso, who owns turnonthejets.com, tweeted: "#Jets should keep Valentine Holmes around on PS (practice squad). Had a nice pre-season."
While @UKJetsHQ said: "Valentine Holmes can and will be a very good American football player!"
Holmes finally saw game time five minutes into the third quarter and had a number of quick touches and carries for a couple of small gains.
The stadium erupted with elation when he took the tough long catch over his shoulder.
But such is the nature of the NFL that he was subbed off almost immediately after the play, although he saw more game time in the fourth quarter.
Holmes told the newyorkjets.com this week that it had been a big decision to leave his NRL life behind to try out for the NFL.
"I just wanted to challenge myself as a person and an athlete. I've always admired the guys over here and what they can do on the field. One thing I kind of live by in my life is to not have any regrets.
"It's been like a roller-coaster I guess. It's been real fun, really exciting just to meet some of these guys who I used to watch or even play with on Madden. It's obviously been very hard learning the play book and picking up those kinds of things, but physically, it's not too bad, not too much of a difference.
"They've embraced me as just one of the boys. They're always there willing to help. If I do end up making it, I'll be over the moon. Exciting times."