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McAllister, McKenzie, Bentley seeking long-term deals

NEW ORLEANS -- With the opening of training camp just a week
away, the New Orleans Saints had not signed six of their seven 2005
draft picks on Friday.

Meanwhile, the team also sought to nail down extensions for several top veterans, including running back Deuce McAllister, cornerback Mike McKenzie and center LeCharles Bentley.

"There's a sense of urgency to get these deals done. That's our
goal, so we'll see what happens," Saints general manager Mickey
Loomis said.

As of late this week, the Saints were $3.8 million below the
salary cap, giving them some room to maneuver.

Saints officials have said they are not planning to ask any veterans to take pay cuts for salary-cap reasons. However, the Saints could create more cap room by releasing linebacker Derrick Rodgers before camp.

Rodgers, an eight-year veteran, missed offseason workouts and
minicamps because of back surgery in February. He is scheduled to
receive a base salary of $1.1 million this year and $1.2 million in
2006.

McAllister and Bentley are in the final year of their contracts, scheduled to earn base salaries of $2.3 million and $455,000,
respectively.

McKenzie has two years remaining on his deal, with base salaries of $3.43 million this season and $4.1 million next. However, McKenzie was traded to the Saints when he held out on Green Bay over the same amount of money. He agreed to come to New Orleans because the Saints had shown a willingness to give him a raise.

Loomis said he has no plans to negotiate with cornerback Fakhir Brown, who skipped the Saints' voluntary coaching sessions while asking for a new deal.

No one has threatened to hold out of training camp _ yet.

"Unfortunately, holdouts are part of the game," Loomis said.
"We try like heck not to have them. But they happen."

The Saints' policy has been to refuse to negotiate with players
who are in violation of their contracts. Loomis said the term
"holdout" doesn't apply to veterans who are under contract and
refuse to report to camp.

"That's a violation," Loomis said. "If a guy's got a
contract, he has an obligation to be here at training camp."

Unsigned rookies are different. The Saints have not had the top
pick on the field when camp opened for the past five seasons. The
same may occur with offensive tackle Jammal Brown.

The Saints agreed to terms with sixth-round draft pick Jason Jefferson last week.

That leaves Brown, second-rounder Josh Bullocks, third-rounder Alfred Fincher, fourth-rounder Chase Lyman, fifth-rounder Adrian McPherson and seventh-rounder Jimmy Verdon unsigned.

Meanwhile, coach Jim Haslett said owner Tom Benson offered him a contract extension in January, but those talks stalled during the
year Loomis did not want to comment this week.

At some point, the Saints also may try to work out an extension with defensive end Darren Howard, was designated as the Saints' franchise free agent, giving him an automatic one-year, $7.8 million contract. Under NFL rules, the team was not allowed to negotiate with Howard until earlier this month.

"I haven't had any discussions with him yet," Loomis said.
"We've got some other fish to fry here."