SANTA CLARA -- Vernon Davis indicated he might sit out this week, even as the 49ers open mandatory minicamp Tuesday.
Forty-Niners fans will be monitoring the tight end's contract status.
Wall Street will be, too.
The first athlete to sell shares tied to the value of his future income, Davis is trying to use his self-described holdout as leverage for a pay raise.
Davis already skipped the recent voluntary OTAs. Instead, he seemed to be everywhere else during that time, popping up at a Santana Row fashion show, his Gallery 85 art studio, behind the counter of Jamba Juice (Davis owns a franchise in Santa Clara) and at the New York Stock Exchange.
He's also been making the national media rounds.
"Every decision that I make is in the best interest of my brand," Davis said during one such stop, on the "Jay Mohr Sports" radio show last Wednesday.
That phrasing, one he repeated often during his media tour, seemed plucked straight from the playbook of Fantex, Inc., the San Francisco-based company that orchestrated Davis tracking stock. Fantex, on its website, offers athletes a chance to "grow his brand's awareness, increase his brand's longevity, and potentially generate more lifetime brand income."
Fantex CEO Buck French said in a phone interview that the company is supportive of Davis' wide-ranging off-field pursuits but added that his decision whether to attend 49ers' camps is solely his own.
"Vernon is, as he would even say, the CEO of his brand," French said. "When he says, 'the best interest of his brand,' he means both his football brand and his overall brand. He has multidimensional aspects. He's taking all of that into consideration."
Davis, 30, had been vague when asked if he is dissatisfied with his contract but clarified in a story he wrote for Sports Illustrated's MMQB.com website that he does feel underpaid and is "holding out." He has two years left on the six-year, $42.7 million contract he signed in 2010 and is in line this year to be the third-highest-paid tight end in the NFL. Davis is coming off a season in which he had 850 receiving yards and tied his career-high with 13 touchdowns.
"It's all about getting paid what you deserve. It's not that complicated," he wrote. "I want the 49ers to win the Super Bowl, and I want to be on the field this summer working towards that goal, but I have to worry about my future first. ... I can't listen to anyone but my family and my advisers, because those are the people who are going to be there when football inevitably dumps me."
In the Fantex deal, the two-time Pro Bowler signed away 10 percent of his future income from playing contracts, corporate endorsements and appearance fees. In exchange, Davis received $4 million through the IPO, which sold 421,000 shares.
Fantex originally made a similar arrangement with Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, who had agreed to receive $10 million for 20 percent of all football-related earnings. But Fantex had to scrap that stock offering because of back surgery that cut short Foster's 2013 season.
Fantex's promotional material now warns that "an athlete's brand income would be negatively impacted if they are injured or retired prematurely." But it notes that there is still earning potential to be had in endorsements, business ventures or broadcasting.
Davis' life outside of football is part of the reason Fantex secured a deal with him in the first place. He has an entrepreneurial, philanthropic and artistic side that, the company says, gives him earning appeal beyond his performance on the field.
"Vernon gave us not only a Pro Bowl tight end, but the core essence is that he's a multidimensional individual," French said. "Fantex's goal is to build the brand beyond being an athlete and to really show the full picture in the person behind the brand.
"His brand is interesting because he is an artist. He finds that a passion and an outlet (that) we think people would be interested in. He's also a philanthropist. He helps underprivileged kids. And he also has his own personal story about how he grew up in a very difficult situation in Washington, D.C., and overcame tremendous obstacles."
Bob Dorfman, the creative director of Baker Street Advertising agency in San Francisco, wonders just how far Davis' renaissance pursuits will get him in terms of advertising appeal. Dorfman's agency is the one behind the Giants' "Together We're Giant" advertising campaign. Asked about the Davis stock, Dorfman was in no hurry to purchase shares.
"It seems like a horrible investment to me," he said.
The problem, he said, is that Davis is neither an MVP nor a quarterback -- which means he is unlikely to reach the strata reserved for lucrative endorsement deals. He said Davis is merely a productive tight end -- "a midlevel star."
"I don't know that he's in his prime anymore," Dorfman said. "I don't know what to say about Vernon Davis. He's an interesting guy. He's good. (But) is he a highly marketable player? Meaning he's going to get lots of national endorsements?
"I don't think so. ... He is very worldly and intelligent, but the guys that really make the big money off the field are the quarterbacks. Peyton Manning is the most obvious example, obviously, as the most successful endorser in football. He just has a very guy-next-door, likable, make-fun-of-myself personality. Companies are sort of drawn to that."
Roger Noll, a professor emeritus of economics at Stanford, called the Davis stock deal "an amazing thing" in part because it's so unusual.
Noll pointed out that there's something akin to this in tennis, where young players will sell a share of their future earnings to a small group of investors during the startup phase of a career, when expenses greatly exceed revenue. The idea there is that "players will get a chance to improve enough to start accumulating serious payoffs in tournaments," Noll wrote in an email.
But basing the earning potential on a brand? The closest thing Noll could think of was Oprah and Martha Stewart, two decidedly non-NFL types who figured out how to corporatize themselves.
Fantex, meanwhile, has plans to expand its stable beyond Davis. Tracking stocks are in the works for Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel and Cincinnati Bengals receiver Mohamed Sanu, and French said the company will soon be partnering with athletes in other sports as well.
As for the original client, Davis might be back on the field this week. Where will his brand be five to 10 years down the line?
"Wherever Vernon wants to be," French said. "Our goal is to build the awareness around the broader picture of who he is so that he has a sustainable brand. We believe that if we execute and do our job, he's the type of individual you could see doing a whole host of different things.
"The sky is the limit for what he wants to do. If he puts his mind to it, he usually gets it done."