Rosenhaus, players tired of double standard
A number of players have threatened to miss training camp in an effort to receive new contracts from their teams.
On the same day Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi announced he will sit out the 2005 season after suffering a stroke in February, three other NFL-related stories were also hitting the press. Agent Drew Rosenhaus said Packers wide receiver Javon Walker would almost certainly be a no-show at Packers training camp, while Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens was a "50-50" chance to show up, and Colts running back Edgerrin James also was mulling a holdout.
The stories were not unrelated.
In the NFL, where the average career lasts 3.2 years, earning power is only as strong as the body is able. Walker, Owens and James -- proven performers -- want more money. Now.
Although the Patriots are expected to pay Bruschi his $850,000 salary, the teams in Philadelphia, Green Bay and Indianapolis have not been receptive to requests by Rosenhaus and his publicly unhappy players to renegotiate.
Rosenhaus truly lives for these contentious situations. On Thursday, two days after he was credited with saving the life of a young boy at a Disney World resort hotel by administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the NFL's busiest agent was sitting in his Miami home office, preparing for combat.
"You get more work done at training camp than at any other time of the year, other than the very beginning of free agency," Rosenhaus said. "Most camps start around the end of [the] week, and I anticipate some discussions. I hope everything changes and no one misses camp. The teams state their positions, but they have a way of changing when training camp is on the horizon. I could have a couple, but I don't anticipate having many.
"Realistically, in any period of time leading up to training camp, there are a number of players that go down to the wire. I have several of those, but there's so much that can change."
As far as Walker and Owens are concerned, don't bet on it.
There are approximately 20 other players who missed mandatory workouts during the offseason and have expressed displeasure with their current contracts, but no one believes a significant number will miss the first day of camp to make their point.
"I'm reserving the right to get excited," Rod Graves, the Cardinals' vice president of football operations, said with a laugh.
Graves, as it turns out, is actively involved in negotiations with Rosenhaus, regarding wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who is heading into the third year of a four-year contract. Both sides say a new deal might be imminent.
Graves will be among those watching who reports to training camp -- and who doesn't.
"What's really going to have an effect on it in the future is how successful these players are going to be," he said. "That will determine how many holdouts we'll see in future years.
"There will be a lot of justification for concern if we see a lot of players missing training camp. At that point, it will become a big concern."
The laundry list
Five months ago, who would have guessed that Ricky Williams -- after a protracted smoke-and-mirrors sabbatical -- would be in Dolphins training camp, while Walker and Owens might be AWOL?
The talented wideouts are at the top of the list of those who say they are miserable under the terms of their contracts. Next in line are other Rosenhaus clients: the Redskins' Sean Taylor, Reuben Droughns of the Cleveland Browns, the Colts' James and Green Bay's Grady Jackson, who signed with Rosenhaus earlier this month.
Also, there are at least a dozen high-profile NFL players not represented by Rosenhaus who are under contract and on the list of possible holdouts, including the Patriots' Richard Seymour; Ray Lewis and Ed Reed of the Ravens; the Seahawks' Darrell Jackson; and Vikings safety Corey Chavous. Running back Travis Henry might have joined them, but he was finally traded from the Buffalo Bills to the Tennessee Titans last week.
And then there are the four players who have been designated as franchise or transition players who have refused to sign the one-year qualifying offers: New York Jets defensive end John Abraham, Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Corey Simon, Seattle running back Shaun Alexander and Green Bay tight end Bubba Franks. Technically, these players aren't under contract and won't be allowed to practice until they sign -- if they sign. Abraham, Simon and Alexander could be out for awhile.
For the past several months, followers of the NFL have debated the subject intently. This week it moves to the water-cooler and talk-radio forefront. There are three players under contract most likely to cause a scene when their fellow veterans report for camp this coming week: Walker, Seymour and Owens.
• Walker's circumstance might best capture the recent trend toward virtually instant contract gratification. A first-round draft choice in 2002, he accepted a $3 million signing bonus, but averaged only 32 catches in his first two seasons. Last season, Walker broke through with 89 catches for 1,382 yards, 12 touchdowns and a Pro Bowl berth. Suddenly, the $515,000 he was scheduled to make this season and the $650,000 called for in 2006 didn't seem like enough.
"At the end of the day, everything is business. Everybody understands business," Walker told ESPN in an exclusive interview. "You've got to do what you've got to do to get things done."
• Seymour is a case study in how the NFL manages to keep salaries down by insisting that prized rookies sign long-term contracts. Seymour was the sixth player taken in the first round of the 2001 draft and signed a six-year deal worth $14.3 million. According to terms of the contract, Seymour would make $2.87 million in 2005. By reaching nearly $7 million in escalator clauses, Seymour's six-year total would be close to $21 million. And although that sounds good to anyone this side of the NFL or NBA, Seymour wants something along the lines of Jevon Kearse's eight-year, $66 million deal (negotiated by Rosenhaus with the Eagles) that included a signing bonus of $16 million. There is a precedent here, because the Patriots reworked quarterback Tom Brady's rookie contract with two years left and gave him $60 million over six years. Of course, he is a two-time Super Bowl MVP.
Historically, though, the Patriots have taken a dim view of anyone challenging their authority. Last year, you may recall, cornerback Ty Law, in the last year of his contract, was offered a four-year, $26 million deal. He declined and termed it "a slap in the face." The Patriots did not insult him again, withdrawing the offer. Law broke his foot early in the season and was released in February. One of the best cover corners in the league remains unemployed, though he is likely to sign a deal soon, possibly with the Lions, for whom he worked out Monday.
People close to Seymour say he's contemplating sitting out the 2005 season, but it would accomplish little, because he'd technically still owe the Patriots two seasons. Seymour may opt for a few $6,000 fines -- the cost of missing a day of training camp -- to make his point. Notably, he would be the first player to hold out since Bill Belichick became head coach in January 2000.
"A lot of people don't understand. Everybody sees a big number," Owens told ESPN. "I feel like I've overperformed my contract and my situation is sort of unique. There's a lot of things that factored into how I got involved with the seven-year contract and the money that I have that I'm trying to get out of."
Last week, Owens said he didn't "really have to play for the Eagles." If last week's dog-and-pony show was any indication, even if he eventually shows up at Lehigh University, you can count on Owens to be a disruptive force.
On Friday, Owens told the Philadelphia Inquirer that, indeed, he planned to be there when veterans report Sunday. Later that day, Rosenhaus went on ESPN and said no decision had been made.
"Look," Rosenhaus said by phone a few minutes later, "T.O. is a cat who likes to play games with mice. He's enjoying all the attention. Believe me when I tell you, bud, nothing's been decided. We're still weighing our options."
The rubber meets
Carl Francis, the NFL Players Association director of communications, sighs when he hears the number of potential holdouts.
The concept of holdouts, he says, is nothing new.
"The only difference," Francis said, "is now it's made public by agents. The bottom line remains the same: Players have the right to ask to renegotiate and the teams have the right to renegotiate -- or not renegotiate.
"Javon Walker has the right to hold out as one of the top receivers in the league. The Packers have the right to say no. But that's where it stands still. That's where the rubber meets the road. Everybody takes their chances. It comes with the territory."
More than anyone, Rosenhaus has fundamentally changed the dynamic between player and contract. NFL teams routinely waive underperforming stars with long-term contracts or ask them to restructure their deals. Rosenhaus believes players that exceed expectations should have the same right.
"Just say a guy signs for five years, 60 million," Owens said. "If a guy gets cut, he's not going to see 60 million. Unlike the NBA, if a guy gets cut, he's going to get that money regardless. That's what a lot of people don't understand, the money's not guaranteed. Once you get cut, that's it."
Rosenhaus' recent success in getting big contracts for Clinton Portis, Adewale Ogunleye and Kearse and promising new deals to high-profile prospective clients has helped him attract more than 90 NFL clients -- more than anyone else.
"I'd say a lot of other people are jumping on the bandwagon," Rosenhaus said. "They see me do it, they feel they can do it, too."
The Cardinals' Graves, who said he appreciated Rosenhaus' ability to close a deal, nevertheless believes that some of today's requests for renegotiation go too far.
"I'm for keeping the system stable," Graves said. "In my opinion, there has to be some willingness to wait your turn."
Jason Rosenhaus, Drew's brother and the accountant at Rosenhaus Sports, begs to differ.
"NFL players have a small window of opportunity to make enough money to set themselves up for life," Jason said. "They cannot afford to wait until next year or two years to wait their turn. This is a ruthless, brutal business."
Several agents interviewed anonymously by ESPN.com said they believed Rosenhaus' very public style of negotiation will eventually backfire. One prominent West Coast agent said, "When you feed the fans a constant diet of contract upheaval, you're damaging the sport -- and ultimately, the client's well being."
Indeed, fans in Philadelphia and Green Bay worry that their chances of reaching the playoffs could be compromised by protracted holdouts by their star wideouts.
"The fans have a very short memory; they will forget," Rosenhaus said. "The minute that we get things resolved with Philadelphia -- if we get things resolved with Philadelphia, should he go back there, as soon as he catches a touchdown pass, they're going to be cheering like never before."
Graves isn't so sure.
"Here's the thing I am concerned about," he said. "We've got a magnificent system and part of that system is to pay the players who have performed, which allows for the greater part of the money to be spent on unrestricted free agents. Whenever there's an attempt to take the bottom half and bring that group into the top half, now you're working on destabilizing the system."
In the wake of Bruschi's announcement that he'll be on the sidelines this year, if not forever, players don't feel there is enough time in the professional game to wait.
"At the end of the day, more players go to camp than don't," Rosenhaus said. "Realistically, the contract is subject to forfeiture and you can get fined. I don't want to be portrayed as someone who thinks a holdout is effective.
"The only time a holdout is necessary is when a player is being grossly underpaid and teams won't recognize it. Those situations apply with respect to Javon and Terrell, but we won't decide until, literally, the day they're due or the day before."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.