Tuesday, July 22, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rashard Mendenhall -- Steelers' No. 1 draft pick
The Steelers have not had a significant rookie contract holdout in a decade and it appears they will not have one this summer either.
Signing any veterans to contract extensions, however, is another matter.
Kevin Colbert, the team's director of football operations, predicted yesterday that the top two draft choices will come to terms by the time the Steelers report to training camp Sunday at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
Running back Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers' top pick, and wide receiver Limas Sweed, drafted in the second round, are the last unsigned of their seven draft choices.
"We feel confident that everybody will be signed by training camp," Colbert said.
The Steelers are negotiating a five-year contract for Mendenhall and a four-year deal with Sweed.
Colbert said the signings of second-round draft choices around the league were down because both sides awaited a ruling by a special master on a dispute between management and the players union over complicated guarantees in the uncapped year of 2010.
The master ruled in favor of the union over the weekend and Colbert believes more picks will sign soon because of it.
Colbert was not as confident about signing any veterans to contract extensions anytime soon, but indicated they will work on doing so before the season begins.
"We're going to try to get something done as we go through training camp, like we always do, and maybe even before, but with only a week to go it's unlikely we'll be able to sign anybody before camp."
The Steelers have a policy of not negotiating contracts once the regular season begins. Colbert would not name individual veterans they want to sign but noted that anyone entering their final contract year before they could become an unrestricted free agent is possible.
Those in that category include offensive tackle Marvel Smith, linebacker James Farrior, guard Chris Kemoeatu, quarterback Charlie Batch, cornerback Bryant McFadden, and offensive tackle Max Starks.
"We're not down the road with anybody at this point, I mean in heavy negotiations," Colbert said.
The Steelers' last three first-round draft choices all signed by the team's first reporting day to training camp -- Lawrence Timmons, Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger signed four days after camp opened in 2004. Guard Alan Faneca was the last first-round pick to miss more than a week of camp when he signed nine days after it opened in 1998. However, third-round pick Hank Poteat did miss more than a week in 2000 as their last rookie holdout.
No other first-round pick other than Faneca missed as much as a week of training camp before he signed since 1992, when tackle Leon Searcy missed the first 2 1/2 weeks.
The longest holdout in modern Steelers history came in 1987 when Rod Woodson did not sign until Oct. 28, after the NFL players returned to work from a monthlong strike.