Today is the 33rd day of the standoff in which Cedric Benson is refusing to report to the Chicago Bears because of a contract dispute and, unless secret talks between the two sides are going on, there is no end in sight.
It has been nearly two weeks since there have been publicly acknowledged deliberations between the Bears and the tailback's agent, Eugene Parker. All of the other first-round draft picks league-wide are signed to contracts and with their teams, and Benson's absence -- it technically is not a holdout, since that term refers to a player who is under contract -- is the longest by an NFL first-round draft choice since 2002, when offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie didn't sign with the Minnesota Vikings until early November.
Benson was the fourth overall selection in April, and his contract should be easily done at this point. The players drafted immediately before and after him have been signed, making it clear how much money he's due. The fifth player drafted even plays the same position: Tailback Carnell (Cadillac) Williams signed a five-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reportedly worth about $19 million, including $15 million in bonus money (plus an additional $12 million in incentives). The draft's No. 3 overall pick, wide receiver Braylon Edwards, signed a five-year, $29 million deal with the Cleveland Browns that includes about $18.2 million in bonuses.
But contract disputes that last this long usually are about emotions, not the numbers, and Benson showed on draft day -- when he cried during an interview about what he called the unfair pre-draft perception of him around the league -- that he is emotional. Many NFL talent evaluators were wary of Benson before the draft because of some off-the-field troubles while he was at the University of Texas and because of his friendship with another former Longhorns star runner, Ricky Williams. Benson downplayed his relationship with Williams leading up to the draft, and the Bears grabbed him on draft day because they thought they were getting a terrific pure runner who could be the cornerstone of a Chicago offense that ranked last in the league, by a wide margin, last season.
Now the Bears are threatening to reduce their contract offer because of Benson's diminished value to them as a rookie. Teams rarely follow through on such threats once a deal is within reach, however, and in the case of a running back, a player usually can join his club and be productive even after a lengthy absence from training camp.
A testy set of rookie-year contract negotiations didn't exactly hinder San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, for instance. Tomlinson didn't sign his rookie contract in 2001 until just before the third of four preseason games. He played only one preseason game that year, yet rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns against the Redskins in the Chargers' regular season opener.
But the Bears are limping toward their Sept. 11 regular-season opener against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field without their would-be centerpiece runner and with their starting quarterback, Rex Grossman, sidelined after breaking his ankle in a preseason game. For a second year in a row, the Bears failed to sign a reliable veteran during the offseason to back up Grossman, and now are left with failed former Dallas starter Chad Hutchinson as their No. 1 quarterback. General Manager Jerry Angelo does not exactly look like an early front-runner for NFL executive of the year.
The Browns will be without tailback Lee Suggs for at least the final two preseason games because of a high ankle sprain. Suggs hurt the ankle in practice last week. Last season, he missed Cleveland's first three games because of a pinched nerve in his neck. Suggs has been vying with Reuben Droughns and William Green to be the primary ball-carrier for new coach Romeo Crennel. . . .
The Cowboys got the safety they'd been seeking when they signed Rich Coady on Wednesday, three days after he was released by Atlanta. Keith Davis has been the starter at the safety spot alongside Roy Williams, but Coach Bill Parcells had said that he was not satisfied with the position. Davis is one of the Cowboys' top specials-teams players, and starting him at safety would mean cutting down on those duties. . . .
Jose Cortez became the Cowboys' kicker, at least temporarily, when the club released Billy Cundiff on Wednesday. But Cortez has no assurances that the job will be his entering the season, and the Cowboys plan to continue looking for kickers. . . .
Rookie defensive end Marcus Spears resumed practicing with the Cowboys on Wednesday. He had been sidelined by knee and ankle injuries suffered early in training camp, and Cowboys officials had been wary when he initially got hurt that he might be sidelined all season. They quickly reduced that prognosis to four to six weeks on the shelf and held out hope that Spears would be back by the regular season, and the rookie proved to be a quick healer and returned in 19 days. . . .
The Cowboys also released offensive tackle Jacob Rogers on Wednesday. Rogers was a second-round draft choice last year and opened training camp this summer as the favorite to be the team's starting right tackle, but disappointed club officials when he opted to have season-ending knee surgery instead of attempting to play with discomfort. Coach Bill Parcells and owner Jerry Jones decided they'd seen enough and didn't bother to place Rogers on the injured reserve list to retain his rights for next season. The Cowboys apparently worked out injury settlements with Rogers and Cundiff, who also is hurt. . . .
Parcells already has brought two of his former New York Giants defensive standouts, lineman Jim Burt and linebacker Carl Banks, to the Cowboys' camp to help teach the Dallas players the nuances of playing a three-lineman, four-linebacker scheme. Banks worked closely with rookie linebacker Demarcus Ware. The next tutor to visit the Cowboys' practice field to work with Ware could be Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor. . . .
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Robert Ferguson missed two days of practices this week because of heart palpitations but was cleared by doctors to play in Friday's preseason game against the New England Patriots. . . .
Cornerback Champ Bailey has missed Denver's first two preseason games because of an ailing left hamstring, and the Broncos don't plan to play him in either of the remaining two exhibition contests. Bailey has played through various injuries while never missing a regular-season game in his six-year NFL career. . . .
NFL career receiving leader Jerry Rice missed the Broncos' practices the past three days because of a personal matter but is scheduled to return today. . . .
Rookie Ryan Moats becomes Philadelphia's No. 2 tailback behind Brian Westbrook, at least for now, with Correll Buckhalter on the shelf again because of a season-ending knee injury. The Eagles signed veteran Dorsey Levens last season after Buckhalter suffered a torn patellar tendon in his right knee during the preseason -- the same injury, to the same knee, that he suffered again earlier this month -- but they like Moats, a third-round draft pick out of Louisiana Tech, enough that they might stand pat this time around. Reno Mahe is third on the depth chart, and former University of Maryland standout Bruce Perry is fourth.
It is the third time in four years that Buckhalter will miss the entire season because of a knee injury. He underwent surgery Tuesday in Birmingham.
The Eagles also signed Levens after Buckhalter got hurt in 2002, and Levens would give Coach Andy Reid a heftier runner for short-yardage situations if the team summons him again. Levens, 35, would be the oldest running back in the league if he plays this season, but he averaged 4.4 yards per carry and rushed for four touchdowns for the Eagles last season.
There have been rumblings for weeks that the Eagles might try to trade a package of defensive players to the Packers for Ferguson and reserve tailback Najeh Davenport.