Although he reiterated his intention to be in his first NFL training camp on time, New Orleans Saints first-round draft choice and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush delivered a not-so-subtle message to Saints officials over the weekend:
Negotiations are a two-way street, and it's time for everyone to take the on-ramp to the bargaining table.
"I'm a competitor and a football player, and so, yeah, naturally, I want to be in camp on time," Bush told ESPN.com. "My goal is to be in there and to start doing my part to bring a Super Bowl championship to New Orleans. That's what I want. But I have an agent and I have faith in Joel [Segal] to handle that end of things for me. [And] he knows we have to have a fair offer, one that meets our expectations."
The comment wasn't so much a repudiation of the stance Bush took during the Saints' recent minicamp as it was a clarification of those remarks.
At the minicamp May 13-15, Bush said it is "very important" to have his contract completed before training camp opens, and he noted that he apprised Segal to do "whatever it takes" to accomplish that goal.
"I don't want to get caught up in holdouts and things like that," Bush said at minicamp. "I think it is important to start off on a good foot and a good note -- not only with the team, but with the city."
Bush over the weekend did not back away from those remarks, which garnered disproportionate national attention, given that they were typical of what most rookies would say if queried about contract negotiations.
"In terms of my [desire] to have my contract finished and to be at camp on time, nothing has changed [from minicamp], not at all," Bush said.
But contract negotiations often get in the way of training camp reporting dates, as evidenced last summer when 23 of 32 first-round selections missed at least one day of camp practice because of contract impasses, and the Saints and Bush's representative have yet to commence bargaining. And so Bush's desire for an on-time camp arrival still must be reconciled by dollars and sense.
Other than allowing that he wants a contract which is "fair for everyone involved," Bush did not address in detail his financial expectations. But it is fair to assume that, as the second overall choice in the draft, Bush will seek a deal that approximates, and perhaps in some ways surpasses, the six-year, $54 million contract that the Houston Texans awarded defensive end Mario Williams, the draft's top pick.
After spending much of the weekend in Los Angeles at a league-related trading card photo shoot, Bush flew back to New Orleans on Sunday to resume working with Saints veterans in organized team activities. He said he is looking forward to being able to return to the practice field. The strained left hamstring that he sustained during the initial workout of the rookie minicamp is healing well, and Bush estimated he will be back on the field in about a week.
The former Southern California star, who never missed a college game because of an injury and who had never encountered even slight tightness in his hamstring, conceded he was stunned by the experience.
"I mean, I said to myself, 'What is this?' because I'd never had anything like it before," Bush said. "Really, I couldn't believe it. I was in a little bit of shock for a few minutes, like, 'My body has never let me down like this before.' But it'll be fine. It feels so much better already. And I appreciate the way the Saints have handled it and all the treatments the trainers have done with me. I'm just about over it but, I'm grateful that everyone has been so understanding and cautious with the thing."
Bush said he benefited from taking "mental reps" during the minicamp sessions, and he lauded first-year coach Sean Payton and his staff for keeping him focused, but Bush reiterated he is anxious to log some "live" snaps. At the rookie sessions, Bush made it through the first practice and then participated mostly in walk-through drills. Even with his curtailed workload, Saints coaches agreed that Bush's feel for the game and the grace and facility with which he does things were impressive.
Bush called his reception in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, where he has been embraced by fans as the savior of the Saints franchise, "overwhelming," and Bush said he intends to expand upon the charitable endeavors he has already begun in the city. Of his ongoing battle to wear his familiar uniform No. 5 in the NFL, he noted that the decision is out of his hands and that there is nothing new to report. There could be a resolution of the uniform matter this week, with owners scheduled to meet in Denver on Tuesday.
Perhaps because he has yet to work with the veterans in on-field drills, Bush said the speed of the game, the biggest difference nearly every rookie cites in making the transition to the NFL, hasn't really affected him. And he has been able, he emphasized, to stay on top of the mental aspects of the New Orleans offense, which was relatively rudimentary during the rookie minicamp.
"So far, except for the hamstring, so good," Bush said. "I know there's still a lot more to come, but I think I'm doing a pretty good job with the playbook. I just want to get out there are starting [applying] all of this mental stuff to the field. To me, that's what being a competitor is all about."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.