Negotiations between Saints, Bush agent to heat up

Hard bargaining on a deal for Reggie Bush will begin on Thursday, ESPN.com has learned, as New Orleans Saints officials and agent Joel Segal are scheduled to engage in what almost certainly will be the most substantive negotiations yet on a contract for the second overall choice in the draft.

The negotiating session, expected to be conducted by phone, comes on the day when Saints players are to report to training camp at Millsaps College near Jackson, Miss. The initial practice under first-year coach Sean Payton is on Friday, and it will take a monumental breakthrough in the Thursday bargaining to get the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner onto the field for that workout.

To this point, the two sides have discussed framework and concepts and perhaps even floated some dollar figures, but it is believed the Saints have yet to make a formal offer to the former Southern California star.

Bush is seeking a deal in the range of the six-year, $54 million contract that defensive end Mario Williams, the top overall selection in the draft, received from the Houston Texans. Based on discussions with Saints officials before the draft, those financial expectations may be warranted.

New Orleans would prefer to work off the contract signed by last year's second overall choice, Miami tailback Ronnie Brown, but those numbers aren't apt to sway Bush or his representative.

The Dolphins signed Brown to a five-year, $34 million contract that included about $20 million in guaranteed money.

Compounding the negotiations for the Saints is the fact that Bush, who has embraced the hurricane-ravaged city of New Orleans and already made several sizeable donations to charities there, has banked $5 million to $7 million in various endorsement contracts negotiated by Mike Ornstein, his marketing agent.

That certainly alleviates the urgency for Bush to sign a contract quickly, since he already has considerable cash flow.

Bush said during the team's rookie minicamp in May that he wanted to be in camp on time and that he had instructed Segal to attempt to accomplish that goal. But only a few days later, Bush clarified his remarks, telling ESPN.com that any contract had to be a sound business decision.

There were reports last week that Bush might consider sitting out the entire 2006 season and re-entering the draft in 2007, but those were regarded as premature. Still, unless there is significant progress achieved quickly in negotiations, Bush's absence from camp could be a protracted one.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.