posted on May, 8 2004 @ 02:04 PM
With his agent insisting his absence was a personal matter and not tied to efforts to land a contract extension, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver
Plaxico Burress has opted to skip a mandatory weekend minicamp, a move that has irked team officials.
Burress, a four-year veteran, missed the Friday practices and agent Scott Parker informed Steelers executives his client would not attend the Saturday
and Sunday sessions either. Burress is entering the final season of the five-year contract he signed as the Steelers' first-round choice in the 2000
draft, and has been unsuccessful to this point in eliciting an offer for an extension from the club.
Parker insisted that Burress' decision to go AWOL -- believed to be the first time that a Steelers player under contract skipped a mandatory minicamp
during the 13-year tenure of coach Bill Cowher -- was unrelated to contract difficulties. "Nothing about his contract was mentioned in my discussions
with him (Thursday)," Parker said.
The Steelers had 85 other players on hand for the minicamp, including at least two other starters entering the final season of their respective
contracts. Neither Burress nor Parker discussed the matter with Cowher. Instead, Parker informed Kevin Colbert, director of football operations, that
Burress planned to skip the workouts.
It was suggested that Burress is depressed because Sunday is Mother's Day, and his mother passed away unexpectedly about this time two years ago.
Steelers officials, though, weren't buying into excuses and clearly feel that Burress is attempting to pressure them to the bargaining table. Since he
is under contract, the club has the prerogative to fine Burress for missing the minicamp.
The former Michigan State standout is scheduled to earn a base salary of $535,000 for the 2004 season. He is due two roster bonuses totaling $580,400,
and incentives that could push his overall compensation to roughly $2 million.
But with Burress coming off a disappointing 2003 season, one in which he caught 60 passes for 860 yards and four touchdowns, Pittsburgh has opted not
to begin negotiations on an extension. Unless there is an extension, Burress, 26, will be eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring.
In 2001-2002, it appeared Burress was developing into one of the NFL's most dangerous deep threats. He totaled 144 receptions for 2,333 yards and 13
touchdowns in a two-year stretch and his unusual size (6-feet-5, 226 pounds) and speed made him a tough matchup for opposition secondaries.
Beyond a drop in production, Steelers officials remain concerned about Burress' seeming penchant for off-field difficulties.
The weekend minicamp represents the only mandatory full-squad sessions for Pittsburgh before training camp in July and Burress had been at the team's
complex working out in recent weeks, with no hint of his plans to not attend.
While the Steelers have opted not to discuss Burress' contract, negotiations have begun with starting quarterback Tommy Maddox on a restructuring to
enhance his deal. Under his current contract, Maddox is scheduled to earn a base salary of just $750,000 for the 2004 season. A deal with Maddox
likely can't be consummated until next month, when the cap-strapped Steelers can create some spending room, in part by releasing linebacker Jason
Gildon, who was excused from the weekend minicamp.