Thursday, May 26, 2005
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Hines Ward isn't the only Steelers player hoping to get a contract extension. He's just the only one the Steelers are negotiating with at the moment.
Even though seven of the Steelers' likely starters will enter the final year of their contracts, Ward remains the lone player in active negotiations for an extension. The others, apparently, will have to wait either until Ward comes to an agreement or talks reach an impasse with him before the club opens negotiations with anyone else.
"The focus is always going to be on Hines first," said cornerback Deshea Townsend, who enters his eighth year with the team, the past 1 1/2 as a starter. "That's how it goes. I want to sign a new contract and stay here. I have to go out there and prove myself on the field again, I guess."
Besides Townsend and Ward, the others listed as starters on the depth chart who have one year left on their contract are nose tackle Casey Hampton, receiver Antwaan Randle El, defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen, tight end Jerame Tuman and safety Chris Hope.
While negotiations began between the Steelers' Omar Khan and Ward's agent Eugene Parker the last week of April, it appears not much progress has been made. Parker would not say what kind of deal he is seeking other than something commensurate with Ward's accomplishments and ability.
Ward would receive nearly $1.7 million in salary this season if no new agreement is reached.
The Steelers likely are unwilling to extend the contracts of each of the seven starters before the season begins. Von Oelhoffen is 34. Tuman might not start much longer because they drafted tight end Heath Miller in the first round. They might want to see more of Hope, who has started only one year, and Randle El, who is competing to start with Cedrick Wilson, before entering into a long-term relationship. As for Townsend, they drafted cornerbacks on the second round in each of the past two years.
Hampton, though, was their top draft pick in 2001 and made the Pro Bowl after the 2003 season. He was playing as well until his ACL was torn in the sixth game last season.
"Whatever happens, happens, I can't worry about that," Hampton said. "I have to worry about getting back on the field. I missed 10 games last season. My main goal is to get back and try to help this team win.
"When you worry about [a contract], you start pressing and trying to do things you're not supposed to be doing. You kind of get selfish. I'm going to do what I can do to help the team and not worry about that."
Randle El took a similar stance.
"It doesn't bother me. That's the business side of it. I'm not going to dwell on it. What's in front of me is in front of me