It Could Boil Down to Love or Money for KC Guards
Veteran Will Shields is arguably the best Guard in the NFL today and quite honestly might end his career as the games most durable, and reliable to ever play the position. He's played in 10 straight Pro-Bowls and has not missed an NFL start since his rookie season way back in 1993.
Until Monday afternoon Shields was nowhere to be found at the Chiefs OTA summer workouts. But he made an appearance this week and addressed the hoard of media who wondered if he'd lace up his cleats for one more NFL season.
"It depends if I can get up and walk the next morning. It makes a big difference how you feel the next day and as you work your way through it. We are going to come out and get some things done and we are going to go from there," said Shields.
On Tuesday afternoon, Shields took his first test as he particpiated in the workouts and stood his ground as he took a little ribbing from his teammates. Shields along with left tackle Willie Roaf are the cornerstones of this incredible offensive line. For Shields his desire to play one more season is not in doubt. He loves the Chiefs, the NFL and could play another ten seasons if only his body would allow him to do it.
Shields had worked out on his own up until this week and from what I saw first hand on Tuesday; he's ready to start the season today. But his participation in the workouts did little to seal the deal about his return this season.
"Sometimes your body outweighs your heart," Shields told reporters. "You never can tell what is going to happen. You go one way, you do one thing. It has been a long time. This is my 13th (season) coming up and you have been playing this long. I have been fortunate and blessed to stay healthy all the way through it."
At the other end of the spectrum is first time Pro-Bowler Brian Waters. He's been abscent thus far in the OTA's and with a mandatory mini-camp looming later this month in Kansas City; the rumors about a potential contract issue will indeed become more intense if he fails to show up for the workouts.
Though the Chiefs are very clear in their words to the media that Waters abscense is not contract related; its not hard to assume that this situation could get ugly before it gets better.
Waters has reportedly fired his agent and is looking for new representation. Chiefs President Carl Peterson addressed the Waters situation last week and he made it clear that he expects his ascending guard to be at training camp in River Falls in late July.
"He wanted to be with his kids this offseason," Peterson said. "He's never done that before. "I've talked to him, and he said, ‘I'll be at mini-camp, I'll be in shape, and I'll be ready to go.' "
But that might not be the case as Waters, who signed a four year contract extension in November of 2002 that runs through the 2007 season, appears to be looking into the possibility of becoming one of the highest paid interior lineman in the game. That means a possible holdout and trouble for the continuity of the NFL's best offense.
Even his head coach believes that Waters absence is money related as Vermeil continues to walk the fine line between his disgust that he's missed all the workouts and his respect for wanting to spend more time with his family. Though Vermeil never came out and said it was contract related; he indicated that the primary reason a player does not show up for OTA's or Mini-Camps is generally money related.
There is little doubt that Waters is the heir apparent to Shields in regards to stature and play on the field. He was so dominant at times last season that he became the first NFL offensive lineman to win AFC Player of the Week honors. His Monday Night massacre of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis made him a legend in the hearts of Chiefs fans. Lewis, who is also in a contract dispute with his team, was reduced to ordinary status thanks to the efforts of Waters and his line mates.
In the interim, the Chiefs have moved veteran John Welbourn back to tackle and he's been plugged into Waters spot in OTA's. Veteran Chris Bober has worked in the spot vacated by Shields so the Chiefs have some talent that can at least fill the holes of two Pro-Bowl guards; but neither of them strike fear into opposing defenses.
Welbourn might be the exception. He struggled a year ago at right tackle so the Chiefs moved him back to guard where he excelled at the position when he was a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. So a lengthy holdout by Waters could be softened by the solid play of Welbourn.
Still the Chiefs have to be concerned and clearly must have a solid indication soon about Shields and Waters for that matter; as they prepare for the start of next months training camp. For Shields it's doubtful that he'll leave the Chiefs in a lurch. If he's going to call it a career; he'll probably let Dick Vermeil know at the conclusion of the OTA's and mini-camps.
For Waters, he'll likely start hearing the wrath from his teammates. The Chiefs have orchestrated a near perfect off-season and if Waters fails to show up for training camp; then they could start off on the wrong foot and that's not something this team needs; if they are going to make a legitimate Super Bowl run.
Privately one player told Warpaint Illustrated that indeed Waters was holding out for more money. Still his view is clear that once you sign a contract, you should honor it and abide by the terms of the agreement that binds you to that team.
On the other hand some players won't begrudge another player for trying to earn more money. That means the tie-breaker in the debate will be Carl Peterson who has to maintain some order on this team; must find away to get Waters in camp soon. Peterson has deservedly received high praise for his efforts this off-season and he has to deal with this issue head on. It appears that he might have already begun that process with Waters.
"He's under contract, he's got two more years left on his contract, and I think things will work out," Peterson said.
That means the denials by Peterson and Waters, who talked with a local radio station last week about the rumors of his contract demands; probably means that the two sides have indeed had discussions about a contract extension. However those conversations could hinge on Waters new representation and how willing his new agent is going to honor the promises made by Peterson to Waters when he finally arrives in Kansas City.
When I asked Vermeil after Tuesday's workout if he spoke to Waters recently; the Chiefs Head Coach told me that he had not spoken to Waters recently. It was short; to the point and his glare said all I needed to know about his feelings about this situation. It's clear he's not happy that Waters has yet to show up for OTA's. He expected him to be in town this week and Vermeil was not shy in hiding his emotions about the absence of Waters.
Time will tell if Peterson relents and re-signs Waters to a deal that fits his lofty position as one of the NFL's elite Guards. It will also be a test of his teams strength if Waters continues his no-show approach to the off-season. Everyone recognizes how important Waters is to the success of this offense.
For Shields, his choice is easier. He's already one of the games highest paid Guards. Shields must simply decide if he's willing to endure another training camp and regular season to get that elusive Super Bowl Championship that he's longed for his entire professional career. If that desire can't out way the physical challenges that lay ahead of him, that decision could come very soon.
Waters, on the other hand, has to decide if the pursuit of riches is more important than helping his teammates win that Super Bowl Championship. He still has time to get a big contract but is it wise to ask for one now when the off-season has put together its finest team in nearly a decade.
Still at the end of the day both players have legitimate issues that could keep each one of them off the roster for the foreseeable future. However, if you're fan of the Chiefs; it's clear that if Shields and Waters are on the field for Kansas City in 2005; the teams chances of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy next February in Detroit improve significantly.
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