Ward seeks contract discussion
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With talks for a new contract going nowhere, Hines Ward plans to pay a visit to the Steelers' offices this week to discuss his situation with his coaches and possibly management.
Agent Eugene Parker declined to say yesterday whether Ward would report to training camp with the rest of his teammates Sunday night at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. Parker would not discuss the negotiations between himself and the Steelers on a contract extension for Ward, who is signed through the 2005 season. The Steelers also declined comment.
Ward planned to boycott the start of training camp a year ago to protest his contract situation, but changed his mind after coach Bill Cowher placed a phone call to him a day before camp opened. Ward will earn a salary of $1,668,750 this season -- the same as '04 -- on a contract he signed before the 2001 season.
Ward has made the past four Pro Bowls -- more than any Steelers receiver in history -- and he eclipsed the Steelers previous record of 85 receptions in a season three times. Yet his salary cap value of $2,171,950 last season ranked 37th among the NFL's wide receivers.
Ward, 29, does not necessarily want to be the highest-paid receiver in the game but wants to be among them, according to a source close to him.
Randy Moss led the parade of wide receivers last season with a salary cap value of $8,882,727, with Marvin Harrison second at just over $8 million. Only three other receivers topped the $7 million salary cap list in 2004 -- Isaac Bruce, Eric Moulds and Terrell Owens.
After Ward made waves about his relatively low pay last year, Steelers president Art Rooney publicly promised to make him a priority in 2005.
"We said he'd be our priority and that's still the case," Rooney said at the NFL meetings in March. "In terms of signings, I would expect that should be our big signing."
Yet five days before players report to camp, not only is there no contract, there has been little progress. Roosevelt Barnes, Parker's associate, spoke with the Steelers yesterday about Ward, the first time in about a month any talks took place at all between them. No progress was reported. Barnes also represents Steelers draft picks in the second and third rounds, Bryant McFadden and Trai Essex, both still unsigned.
The Steelers have not had a player under contract boycott camp in the past decade. Last year, Plaxico Burress skipped a mandatory May minicamp and all of the team's voluntary spring workouts but reported to training camp on time. He turned down an offer from the team last summer and signed with the Giants as a free agent this year after the Steelers made no contract offer after the season ended.
Steelers players have signed contract negotiations during camp and, at times, right up to the start of the season. The Steelers have a stated policy that they will not negotiate contract extensions once the regular season begins unless the sides are close enough that a deal is imminent.
Let's get Ward under contract. I don't want to see him wearing any other jersey, but a black and gold one. I'm curious to what the delay is and why there is so little progress with his contract.