Chargers camp starts without first-round pick
SAN DIEGO -- In what's becoming a tradition, the San Diego Chargers opened training camp without their first-round draft pick.
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie missed both practices on Tuesday, but he did agree in principle to a five-year deal that could be worth $12.75 million. The deal contains guarantees of $7.35 million.
The two sides couldn't reach an agreement by 9 p.m. Monday, the deadline for rookies to report to camp. They continued to talk while San Diego's other rookies and selected veterans practiced.
Agent Jason Fletcher said he and Cromartie were reviewing the contract and that the player would probably sign it Tuesday night. Cromartie didn't return a call seeking comment.
The Chargers practice twice on Wednesday and finish the first portion of camp with one practice Thursday. Veterans report on Friday, and the first full-squad workout is Saturday.
Cromartie was the last rookie to agree to a deal.
"I'm just excited that they're all here," general manager A.J. Smith said. "You never know until the process begins. I don't think one day missing practice is going to mean anything."
Earlier, when discussing how close the talks were, Smith said: "I remember back in Buffalo, Scott Norwood was close on a field goal, too."
Smith, who was in Buffalo's front office at the time, was referring to Norwood missing a 47-yard field goal on the last play of Buffalo's 20-19 loss to the Giants in the 1991 Super Bowl.
San Diego's second-round pick, tackle Marcus McNeill, made it to town in time to join his teammates in stretching after the first practice, then participated in the second workout.
This is the fifth time in six years that the Chargers' first-round pick wasn't on the field for the start of camp. The last Chargers' first-rounder to come in on time was cornerback Sammy Davis in 2003. The Chargers traded Davis to the San Francisco 49ers in the offseason for another former first-round bust, wide receiver Rashaun Woods.
Cromartie will be trying to win a starting spot in a secondary that had only seven interceptions last season. San Diego's pass defense was ranked No. 28.
Cromartie missed all of last season at Florida State with a knee injury. He made just one start in college, but the Chargers took him with the No. 19 pick because they liked his work ethic and potential.
McNeill made it from the airport in time to join his new teammates as they cooled down after the morning practice.
"I don't think he made any mistakes today -- yet," coach Marty Schottenheimer said.
McNeill agreed Monday night to a four-year contract. He was at a movie in Atlanta with his niece and nephew when he got a call from his agent that the deal was done, and flew to San Diego on Tuesday morning.
"Everybody around here knew I wasn't really trying to miss any camp and I really wanted to come here because I really can't compete for any job if I'm at home doing nothing," he said.
Left tackle is a huge concern for the Chargers, especially with untested Philip Rivers taking over at quarterback. Roman Oben missed the second half of the season with a foot injury that required two operations and the Chargers plan to be conservative with him this camp. Leander Jordan started the last eight games last season for the Chargers, who finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 seasons.
McNeill has a medical issue, too, a narrowing of the spine.
"A lot of question marks have been put around me from workouts and my back situation and everything," he said. "That's one asset that I do have is being on the field. When I am on the field I do feel like I'm a pretty decent player, so I'm really looking forward to getting out there and playing football."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press