Still unhappy with his contract status, six-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca will skip the Pittsburgh Steelers' organized team activities practices (OTAs), which began this week, and does not plan to rejoin the team until training camp begins on July 23.
The nine-year veteran has not participated in any of the Steelers' voluntary workouts this offseason. He did attend the initial mandatory minicamp of first-year coach Mike Tomlin's tenure May 11-13. But he missed one practice of that weekend session when he became upset at a comment one Pittsburgh official reportedly made and left the team's complex.
Faneca returned to the minicamp after a chat with Tomlin but made it clear he would not be back for the OTAs and is apparently prepared to stick to that stance. The four weeks of OTAs end in mid-June, and then the Steelers have more than a month off before they report back for training camp at St. Vincent's College.
The team's top lineman and a fixture at left guard since moving into the starting lineup midway through his rookie campaign, Faneca is entering the final year of his contract and has said this will be his last season with the Steelers. Barring an extension, Faneca will be eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring. It is doubtful the Steelers would use the franchise tag to retain Faneca's rights.
There was some speculation the team might attempt to trade Faneca, but Pittsburgh officials have not had any serious discussions with other teams about a deal.
"My guess is, they're not going to trade me, so that puts me in Pitsburgh [for this season]," Faneca told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Steelers owner Dan Rooney said at Tuesday's league meeting in Nashville that he was "hopeful" Faneca would change his stance but emphasized that the OTAs are voluntary and that players cannot be forced to attend the practices.
"He's an important guy to us," Rooney said, "but what can you do?"
Faneca has a base salary of $3.375 million for 2007 and the team earlier this spring paid out a $1 million roster bonus he was due. The Steelers reportedly offered Faneca a long-term extension early in the spring, but agent Rick Smith said that, in light of some of the contracts signed by veteran free agents this year, the proposal fell shy of expectations.
One of the league's top in-line blockers, Faneca also publicly questioned the franchise's choice of Tomlin as the successor to former head coach Bill Cowher. He noted that he felt the job should have gone to offensive line coach Russ Grimm, who was a finalist for the position. Grimm subsequently left the Steelers join the staff of another former Pittsburgh assistant, Ken Whisenhunt, who is the Arizona Cardinals' new head coach.
The Steelers have options at guard, including second-year veteran Chris Kemoeatu, who has worked on the left side for much of the spring, but replacing Faneca would not be easy.
Faneca, 30, was the team's first-round choice in the 1998 draft, one of only nine guards chosen in the first rounds of the past 10 drafts. The former LSU standout has missed only two games in his career and has started in 137 of 142 contests in which he has appeared.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.