Is there a long way to go before the Steelers and Hines Ward reach an agreement on a contract extension?
"Long is a relative term," agent Eugene Parker said Tuesday, the day after his client ended his 15-day holdout. "We're committed to getting this resolved. And the Steelers have expressed to us that they're committed to getting this resolved, so that is the focus."
There is a belief that the Steelers won their stalemate with Ward by closing negotiations until he reported.
Parker does not agree.
"I don't necessarily look at it that way," he said. "I have principles myself. They have principles. So, you deal with them. I don't look at (the Steelers' stance) in terms of hardball or whatever else. I look at it as, 'How can their principles mesh with our principles?' "
Contrary to some published reports, Parker assured no negotiations took place while Ward held out at his home in Atlanta. Parker said Ward had conversations with members of the organization, most notably coach Bill Cowher, but that was the extent of it.
Numbers were not exchanged during the holdout.
"No negotiations -- that was the policy," Parker said. "As Hines said -- and as Bill Cowher said -- they communicated. They weren't negotiating. They were talking, and that was a big factor in Hines coming back. He wanted to get a feel for what his coach felt about it. And, once he got clarity and was comfortable, that gave him an opportunity to get back and get things started (with negotiations)."
Ward is seeking an extension on his current contract ($1.66 million), which is in its final season. He's already been offered the richest deal in team history, but turned it down. The Steelers turned down a counter offer from Ward.
The four-time Pro Bowler is seeking his "fair-market value" in terms of guaranteed money. The two sides must decide what the fair-market value is for a player like Ward.
The key issue is so-called guaranteed money. Ward said he wasn't seeking what he termed a "ridiculous" sum lavished on the likes of fellow receivers Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison, who received $18 million and $23 million, respectively, in guaranteed money on their most recent deals. Harrison's deal was signed last season; Moss' in 2001, when he played for Minnesota.
Moss' money was guaranteed, coming in the form of a signing bonus -- a record for a wide receiver. Harrison, however, is depending on a $10 million roster bonus next year in order to collect his $23 million in guaranteed money.
The Colts could choose to cut the 31-year-old Harrison if his numbers slip and avoid paying him the $10 million roster bonus next season. An injury could also change his situation.
There is a difference between an iron-clad guarantee, which always includes a signing bonus, and, as one agent put it, "a common sense guarantee," which could include things such as a roster bonus or a simple agreement between a player and a team to guarantee a certain number of years on a contract.
Parker negotiated a deal for Arizona Cardinals top pick Larry Fitzgerlad last season that was believed to include $20 million in guaranteed money.
Ward recently was quoted in USA Today Sports Weekly as saying he wanted $16 million-$18 million in guaranteed money over the next three years, but said Monday that none of the numbers attributed to him in published reports were accurate.
"We plan to restart the negotiations and to try to meet the goals that we had set out to achieve -- and that was to make Hines a Steeler for the rest of his career," said Parker. "That's what Hines wants to do. That's what the Steelers want to do. We have to figure out ways to make that happen, or take significant steps in making that happen."
Ward runs the risk of injury before anything is finalized.
"Yeah, but we're taking measures to address that. It's always an issue," Parker said. "We just want to move forward in a positive fashion. Our course on this is all positive. If something negative comes up, we just have to deal with it when it comes."