Potential Holdouts Threaten Teams' Continuity

NFL front offices are bracing for a significant increase in holdouts this summer. Teams used to be able to write language into a contract that allowed them to go after the remaining portion of a player's signing bonus if he held out.

But with the new collective bargaining agreement, the most a team can recoup is 25 percent of the prorated portion of the signing bonus amount for one year.

"You're going to see an upsurge in holdouts of players under contract," said Eagles president Joe Banner. "I think (it will be) dramatic. It used to be that if you didn't honor your contract, there were very severe consequences. That doesn't exist anymore.

The Carolina Panthers nipped any potential squabble with star wide receiver Steve Smith in the bud by giving him a new six-year deal worth $44 million. Instead of being paid less than middle of the road receivers like the Rams' Drew Bennett and the Eagles' Kevin Curtis, who cashed in during free agency, Smith is now compensated among the top five players at his position.

Alan Faneca would just like to be paid among the top 10 players at his position, which seems more than reasonable for a six-time Pro Bowl left guard. But with salaries at the position skyrocketing in free agency the past two years, Faneca said the Steelers have "been crystal clear on the fact they're not going to sign me this year and that's it. It's been a dead issue for a long time."

Faneca said he asked to be released or traded in the offseason, and that he will leave the Steelers after his contract expires following next season.

"It sets a precedent," Steelers receiver Hines Ward said, "because other guys look at Alan as 'Wow, this guy is a great citizen, he does a lot for the city of Pittsburgh, he's obviously a Pro Bowl player. He's done everything you ask him to do.' The younger guys just sit back and look at that situation."

Another prickly situation is bordering on the absurd in Kansas City, where quarterback Trent Green remains in limbo. He has made it clear he won't return to play third fiddle behind Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle, and it's well known the Dolphins expect Green to be their starting quarterback next season.

But Kansas City and Miami remain locked in a contest of "who will blink first" when it comes to the compensation the Dolphins will send in exchange for Green.

The Chiefs can carry Green's $7 million salary under their salary cap, but that's obviously not ideal. The Dolphins can wait to see if Green is released, but they also want to get him on the roster and involved in offseason work.

The Bears' only full-team minicamp runs from May 18-20. Coach Lovie Smith was asked if he expected Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, who is dissatisfied with his one-year, $7.2 million contract offer as the team's franchise player, to be present. "I have no idea," Smith said. "That's the first thing that we've done that's mandatory, so I assume he'll be there. But if not, we'll kind of go from there."
Briggs has not participated in any of the Bears' off-season workouts, and he isn't expected at minicamp.

Coaches are talking up Briggs' possible successors, including last year's fourth-round pick, Jamar Williams, and this year's third-rounder, Michael Okwo.

"That's the prototype that we're looking for at that position," coach Lovie Smith said of the 6-foot, 234-pound Williams and the 5-11, 232-pound Okwo. "They move. They have some defensive back skills as far as their movement; hips, changing direction and things like that. And they have a little bit of strength. You look at Okwo. His body percent is down under 10. He is a prototype that we're looking for at the position. He was sideline to sideline in college and we're hoping he'll do the same thing for us."

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