One of the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive cornerstones is staging a holdout from training camp because of a contract dispute. But it isn't Terrell Owens.
The controversial wide receiver reported to camp on time Monday, walking into a dorm at Lehigh University just after 6 p.m. Tailback Brian Westbrook was a no-show, however, after agent Fletcher Smith informed Eagles officials earlier in the day that Westbrook would hold out because of unhappiness about the two sides' inability to agree to a long-term contract. The Eagles plan to fine Westbrook $6,000 for each day of camp that he misses.
Westbrook was a restricted free agent during the offseason but ended up signing the Eagles' one-year, $1.43 million contract tender.
Think what you want about the attempt by Owens and Rosenhaus to get the Eagles to renegotiate Owens's seven-year, $48.97 million contract after one season; right or wrong, at least there is a clear plan there, a cogent strategy. Westbrook's bid to secure a long-term deal has been meandering.
He switched agents, from Tony Agnone to Smith. He skipped one offseason camp in protest, then attended another. He signed the tender that the Eagles made to him in restricted free agency, which now enables the team to fine him for holding out from training camp; if he hadn't signed the contract, the Eagles couldn't fine him now. He and Smith got the Eagles to negotiate with them, and yet Westbrook still decided not to show up to training camp -- against Smith's advice, the Eagles seem to believe.
The problem in the Westbrook negotiations is determining what the running back's fair market value is. The standard for a top-of-the-line contract for a tailback has been set by LaDainian Tomlinson's eight-year, $60 million deal with the San Diego Chargers, Clinton Portis's eight-year, $50.5 million contract with the Washington Redskins and Deuce McAllister's just-signed eight-year, $50.1 million deal with the New Orleans Saints. But those three players are durable runners who can carry offenses with their rushing abilities as well as their pass-catching abilities. Westbrook plays a different style. He's a better receiver than runner, and he has yet to demonstrate that he can be a workhorse ball-carrier.
Defensive tackle Corey Simon also was absent from the Eagles' camp Monday night, although he technically is not a holdout because he is not signed to a contract. He has refused to sign the one-year, $5.134 million deal that the Eagles tendered to him when they named him their franchise player. But there was almost no talk here Monday about Simon's absence, with the focus so squarely on Owens and then some of the Eagles' attention shifting to Westbrook.
T.O. Meeting Today
Owens and Rosenhaus are scheduled to meet today with Eagles President Joe Banner and Coach Andy Reid. But the sides seem to have different agendas. Rosenhaus and Owens appear intent upon using the meeting to make a renewed pitch for a reworked contract. The Eagles seem to be viewing it as Reid's standard get-together with any player coming off a contract dispute, just to make sure the player leaves the bitterness behind and is ready to be part of the team.
Rosenhaus said Monday that Owens remains upset about his contract, which pays him a salary of $3.25 million this season, but those concerns won't affect the receiver's performance on the field. Rosenhaus backed down from previous statements that even if Owens were to show up at the Eagles' camp, he might walk out at some point.
"He's all business," Rosenhaus said. "That's the way he is. He's very professional. Right now the mindset is, Terrell is here to play football. His concerns about his contract aren't going away. But he's a professional, and he's here to do his job."
Rosenhaus pledged to remain diligent in his dealings with the Eagles even if the issue becomes far less public now that Owens is in camp. The Miami Beach-based agent completed two lengthy sets of negotiations over the weekend by applying the finishing touches to contract extensions for previously disgruntled clients, Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie and Arizona Cardinals wideout Anquan Boldin.
"Time heals," Rosenhaus said. "Time gets things done. . . . This is going to work out eventually."
Rosenhaus declined to say how seriously Owens considered a holdout, a maneuver that might have enabled the Eagles to recoup nearly $1.9 million of the $2.3 million signing bonus that Owens received from the club last year.
"I think Terrell had his mind made up he was going to be here," Rosenhaus said. " . . . We have a game plan. Right now that plan is to take care of football. His mentality is to be very focused right now. . . . We considered a lot of things. But the game plan we put together does not include a holdout."
It was an offseason in which talk of potential holdouts swirled around several prominent Rosenhaus clients -- including Owens, Green Bay Packers wideout Javon Walker and Indianapolis Colts tailback Edgerrin James. But all of the players reported to their training camps on time, and Rosenhaus said Monday that he draws a line between a player boycotting offseason minicamps and a player who's under contract holding out from training camp.
"I'm not a fan of a guy who's got a contract who doesn't show up in camp," Rosenhaus said. "I would rather make deals."
Rosenhaus indicated that Owens, who didn't speak to reporters Monday, will address his situation publicly at some point. He said Owens has no lingering problems from last season's ankle injury, and maintained there won't be any friction between Owens and quarterback Donovan McNabb or any other Eagles players.
"We're very confident his teammates will be behind him," Rosenhaus said. "The fans shouldn't have a problem with Terrell. He's here."
Owens and the other Eagles veterans are scheduled to participate in their first practice of camp this afternoon. . . .
An NFL source said this morning that defensive end Richard Seymour agreed to end his holdout from the New England Patriots' training camp, although a long-term deal is not completed yet. . . .
The Pittsburgh Steelers have informed holdout wide receiver Hines Ward that they don't intend to discuss a new contract with him until he reports to training camp.
Merriman Signs "Early"
One of the biggest surprises of all the contract negotiations with the first-round draft picks league-wide is that the Chargers agreed to a deal Monday with University of Maryland defensive end Shawne Merriman, the 12th overall selection in April.
It had appeared since shortly after the draft that this would be a long, contentious set of negotiations. Merriman dismissed Gary Wichard as his agent after the draft and hired Kevin Poston. Poston and his brother and business partner Carl have a reputation around the league for being difficult to deal with, and Merriman missed the Chargers' offseason activities because Kevin Poston and the club could not agree on language for Merriman to sign a waiver to protect him financially in case he got hurt before signing a contract.
But contract negotiations between Poston and Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith went relatively smoothly, and the two agreed to a five-year, $11.33 million deal that includes $9 million in bonus money. Merriman is to be in the Chargers' camp today.
The Postons are working amicably with teams around the league these days. They also have had a relatively smooth set of negotiations with the Cleveland Browns as the sides near completion of a restructured contract for injured tight end Kellen Winslow that would include a package of incentives enabling Winslow to recoup any bonus money the club withholds because of his May motorcycle accident. . . .
Veteran guard Larry Allen participated in the Dallas Cowboys' practice Monday afternoon. He lost 10 pounds while spending the first 21/2 days of camp on the non-football injury list after failing the team's conditioning test Friday. . . .
James backed off his threat to refuse to join the Colts on their trip to Japan for this weekend's preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons in Tokyo. . . .
Wide receiver Freddie Mitchell, signed by Kansas City after wearing out his welcome in Philadelphia, suffered cartilage damage in his knee over the weekend. The Chiefs hope the injury will keep Mitchell sidelined only two to three weeks.