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saintz08 07-22-2005 09:56 PM

Saints' office faces crunch time
Saints' office faces crunch time

Sure, NFL teams and players have had all summer to work out their contract issues. But it seems there is no better bargaining chip than the threat of a training-camp holdout.

The Saints open camp one week from today, which means negotiations with several key players will heat up in the coming days.

The Saints still have to sign six of their seven draft picks. And they continue to discuss long-term contract extensions for tailback Deuce McAllister, cornerback Mike McKenzie and center LeCharles Bentley.

"Yeah, it's busy," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said Thursday morning. "There's a sense of urgency to get these deals done. That's our goal, so we'll see what happens."

Loomis said the Saints are in good shape with the salary cap. They were $3.8 million below the cap Thursday, but that number will continue to fluctuate.

McAllister's new deal is expected to be the richest in franchise history; the two sides have discussed seven- and eight-year proposals. But a new contract could lower McAllister's salary-cap figure for the upcoming season.

The Saints are not planning to ask any veterans to renegotiate their contracts for salary-cap reasons, Loomis said. But they still might release linebacker Derrick Rodgers before camp.

Rodgers, an eight-year veteran who prepped at St. Augustine, was unable to participate in offseason workouts and minicamps after undergoing back surgery in February. He is scheduled to receive a base salary of $1.1 million this year and $1.2 million in 2006.

Loomis said there are "ongoing negotiations" with the agents of McAllister and McKenzie, and there have been only "discussions" with Bentley's agent.

McAllister and Bentley are in the final year of their contracts, scheduled to earn base salaries of $2.3 million and $455,000.

McKenzie has two years remaining on his deal, with base salaries of $3.43 million this season and $4.1 million next. But he and the Saints had discussed the possibility of a new contract when he came over in a trade with Green Bay last October.

Loomis said he has no plans to negotiate with cornerback Fakhir Brown, who skipped the Saints' voluntary coaching sessions while asking for a new deal.

No one has threatened to hold out of training camp, but Loomis said that possibility always looms.

"Unfortunately, holdouts are part of the game," Loomis said. "You don't want them. We try like heck not to have them. But they happen."

Loomis said it seems like threats of veteran holdouts are a little more prevalent around the NFL this season.

"But we'll see when camp opens July 29," he said. "There's been a lot of noise about that, but until camp hits, you don't know."

The Saints' policy has been to refuse to negotiate with players who are in violation of their contracts. Loomis said the term "holdout" doesn't apply to veterans who are under contract and refuse to report to camp.

"That's a violation of his contract," Loomis said. "If a guy's got a contract, he has an obligation to be here at training camp."

Unsigned rookies are a different story. And if tradition holds, the Saints will have trouble getting first-round draft pick Jammal Brown into camp on time.

The Saints haven't had their top pick in camp by opening day for the past five years. No NFL team has signed its first-round pick this year.

The Saints agreed to terms with sixth-round draft pick Jason Jefferson last week.

That leaves Brown, second-rounder Josh Bullocks, third-rounder Alfred Fincher, fourth-rounder Chase Lyman, fifth-rounder Adrian McPherson and seventh-rounder Jimmy Verdon unsigned.

Also on the Saints' agenda are possible contract extensions with Coach Jim Haslett :evil: and veteran defensive lineman Darren Howard. Both are on the back burner for now.

Haslett said owner Tom Benson offered him a contract extension in January. But talks have stalled during the year. Loomis did not want to comment on the state of negotiations Thursday.

Howard was designated as the Saints' franchise free agent, giving him an automatic one-year, $7.8 million contract. By league rule, the team was not allowed to renegotiate that deal until earlier this month.

"I haven't had any discussions with him yet," Loomis said. "We've got some other fish to fry here."

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