July 13, 2005

Team Negotiators Have Their Work Cut Out

The Saints have about two weeks until training camp opens, and a lot of work to do at the negotiating table.

In addition to seven draft picks, the Saints have several veterans in search of new contracts, with varying degrees of desperation.

The Saints reportedly have one of their late-round picks on paper, sixth round pick Jason Jefferson.

Top priority for the Saints should be RB Deuce McAllister, a Pro Bowl caliber player who will make $2.3 million in what could be the final year of his deal. McAllister can declare for free agency after this season.

The Saints and McAllister's agent Ben Dogra have been exchanging proposals for a full calendar year now. Although no news or status is known at this point, the two sides have discussed at length. The Saints have offered a deal in excess of Priest Holmes' recent contract featuring more than $10 million in guaranteed money. Dogra, on the other hand, is likely looking instead at Clinton Portis' recent contract, which had more than $17 million in guaranteed money.

Obviously, the two sides are far apart. At this point, it is not known if McAllister, or any of the Saints veterans looking for new money, will skip any part of training camp in protest.

In 2002, Aaron Brooks sat out of training camp to spur negotiations on for a new contract. He reported after two days, and a month later he had a new six-year, $36 million deal with a $10.75 million signing bonus.

Starting cornerbacks Mike McKenzie and Fahkir Brown have actually missed time because of their contracts this offseason. McKenzie's beef with his current deal extend into last season and his previous team. Because of his contract situation, the Saints were able to acquire McKenzie and a conditional 2006 pick for a second rounder and QB JT O'Sullivan from the Packers. Brown missed offseason workouts but like the rest of his teammates, showed up for minicamp despite his disparate pay.

McKenzie is working under a five-year, $17.1 million contract extension that included a $3.5 million signing bonus and runs through 2006. The Saints' interceptions leader last season will make $3.43 million in base salary this season. His fellow starter, Brown, will make $540,000 in the last year of his deal.

C LeCharles Bentley is another veteran looking for a new deal. Another Pro Bowl caliber player, Bentley is one of the top at his position but will only collect $455,000 in the final year of his rookie contract.

Meanwhile, the Saints have two weeks to extend or break a dubious streak. The current administration has yet to bring their top pick in to camp on time. Darren Howard, Deuce McAllister, Donte Stallworth, Johnathan Sullivan, and Will Smith all were not present for the first practices of their rookie training camps. Jammal Brown is likely to be the sixth straight given the team's long-standing strategy and history of failing to avoid holdouts. Senior football administrator Russ Ball is the point man for Brown's negotiations, who will face off against Dogra again to get the Saints' first round pick and starting right tackle in on time.

Little news has come out from the Saints at this point regarding negotiations, although with the clock ticking news should start coming out soon. Typically, the Saints will announce signings of draft picks all the way up to the last 24 hours before camp starts.

Russ Ball has one of his objective out of the way. According to Jeff Duncan, the agent for Saints sixth round pick DT Jason Jefferson, Ron Slavin, has agreed to a three-year contract to get the first of the Saints' 2005 draft picks in camp. The contract, tightly slotted in by surrounding deals and last year's numbers, has a signing bonus of $69,500 and is worth a little under $1 million over the length of the agreement. The Saints have a rookie pool allocation of $3,606,940.

Jefferson is expected to compete for a roster spot with 2004 5th round pick Rodney Leisle, and 2003 1st round pick Johnathan Sullivan. Howard Green and Brian Young are the incumbent starters.

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