Demonstrating once again that the long green typically trumps long relationships in the NFL, veteran free-agent wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim on Friday afternoon backed out of a contract agreement with the Kansas City Chiefs, a deal that would have reunited him with head coach Dick Vermeil.
It is believed that Hakim, who had recently visited with New Orleans officials, will now sign with the Saints.
"Az and his agent got together and they really felt his best situation was not here for him," Vermeil said following Friday's mini-camp practice, a session in which Hakim did not participate. "Then he and I discussed it. I told you all along that I wanted what was best for him, and I think he's going to end up in New Orleans."
Hakim, 28, played the first two seasons of his NFL career under Vermeil, with the St. Louis Rams, who chose him in the fourth round of the 1998 draft. The two men forged a solid friendship and that relationship continued even after Vermeil temporarily retired from the NFL.
Various media outlets, including ESPN.com, reported earlier this week that Hakim, who had orally agreed to a one-year contract last week, had signed the deal. Asked Friday if Hakim had, indeed, signed the contract and then been released when he reconsidered it, Vermeil replied, "Almost."
The seven-year veteran reportedly did practice with the Chiefs on Wednesday, as the club continued its offseason workout routine and prepared for the weekend mini-camp.
Vermeil had said, even after the Chiefs announced the agreement with Hakim, that the wide receiver was not necessarily guaranteed a roster spot. Recently released by the Detroit Lions for salary cap, injury and productivity reasons, Hakim had auditioned for Chiefs coaches and club officials last week. The one-year contract to which he verbally agreed, and subsequently dismissed, was believed to be for a base salary of $665,000, the NFL minimum for a player of his tenure.
The Chiefs, who are still seeking a veteran wideout, may now turn to former Philadelphia Eagles first-round pick Freddie Mitchell, who recently worked out for them. Vermeil said that team officials are "in contact" with Mitchell, who likely would merit just a minimum salary contract of $540,000.
The recent release of starter Johnnie Morton for salary cap reasons has left the Chiefs inexperienced at the wide receiver position. After starter Eddie Kennison, whose résumé includes 414 career catches, Kansas City has four veteran wideouts, but the quartet has averaged only 35 receptions, 467 yards and 3.5 touchdowns for their respective careers. There are seven other receivers on the roster who have never caught a pass in a regular-season game.
The most productive veteran after Kennison is Dante Hall, with 85 career receptions, but the Chiefs don't want to expose one of the NFL's premier return specialists to the rigors of logging too many snaps from scrimmage. The projected starter at Morton's former spot, the speedy Samie Parker, is a second-year veteran who notched only nine catches as a rookie in 2004. Two other veterans, Marc Boerigter and Chris Horn, are recovering from 2004 knee injuries.
New Orleans, like Kansas City, has been attempting for weeks to add a veteran receiver.
The Saints have a pair of youngsters with great potential, Donte Stallworth and Devery Henderson, but both the speedsters have been susceptible to injuries. Starter Joe Horn is a Pro Bowl caliber player but New Orleans wants a proven veteran, likely to play in the slot, a job they had offered several weeks ago to Troy Brown. An unrestricted free agent at the time, Brown eventually re-signed with New England.
New Orleans offered Brown a multi-year contract and the guess is that they made a similar proposal to Hakim.
With the Rams, the former San Diego State star quickly developed into one of the NFL's best and most dangerous No. 3 receivers. Working out of the slot, in a wide-open offense that suited his skills well, Hakim frequently drew single coverage and was very adept at adding yards after the reception.
But after four seasons with the Rams, in which he averaged four touchdown catches and posted a career-best eight scores in 1999, Hakim signed with Detroit as an unrestricted free agent in 2002. Unfortunately, his three seasons with the Lions were plagued by a spate of injuries, including a serious hip ailment that threatened his career, and he never became a force in the Detroit offense.
In his three seasons with the Lions, Hakim averaged 39 catches, 507.7 yards and 3.3 scores. Hakim appeared in just 12 games in 2004, with five starts, and posted 31 catches for 533 yards and three touchdowns.
It certainly seems that, even after Hakim agreed with Kansas City, there was some kind of contact with the Saints.
"You're trying to [sign] somebody for the minimum [salary] and somebody else is offering more," Vermeil said, when asked Friday if Hakim's change of heart was related to finances. "I think he did what anyone else would do."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.