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American Football: pre season over, jones reports to the seahawks

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posted on Sep, 7 2004 @ 05:12 AM
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Seahawks
Preseason over, Jones rejoins Hawks

By Greg Bishop
Seattle Times staff reporter



Walter Jones is expected to start on Sunday.


KIRKLAND — Labor Day felt more like Groundhog Day, a repeat of last year and the year before that, after Walter Jones ended his annual training-camp vacation right on cue.

The Pro Bowl left tackle rejoined the Seahawks yesterday, on the first day of practice during the first week of the season. And this routine has become so, well, routine, that even the light ribbing Jones received from his fellow linemen could have been predicted when training camp opened a month earlier.

"Must be the first week of the season because Walt's back," guard Steve Hutchinson said.

"No big surprise there," guard Chris Gray added. "It's just good to have him back."

During training camp, Gray was asked to name one person he'd like to have lunch with. His answer: Walter Jones. But there's no animosity there, just good-natured joking for a routine so routine it's almost comical.

Jones missed all of camp and the exhibition season for the third straight year while his agent, Roosevelt Barnes, attempted to negotiate a long-term contract.

Training camp is one thing, but for every game Jones missed, he would forfeit $442,500 in salary. Hence his arrival yesterday and his signing of a franchise tender worth $7.08 million — 120 percent of what he made last season. It marked the third consecutive season Jones signed the franchise offer.

Jones seeks a multiyear deal, but the window on that deal may be closing. He's getting older (30), and the signing bonus has been a major impediment to getting the deal done. With the Seahawks handing Grant Wistrom a $14 million bonus — last year's highest offer to Jones — that price figures to go up.

"I care about it," Jones said. "I want to get signed. I want to be locked so I can go finish my career. Like I said, if it happens, it happens."

Asked if he cares which team he signs a long-term deal with, Jones said, "Right now, I'm signed with Seattle. I'm happy right now."

Jones spent his time off in Huntsville, Ala., pushing cars in his normal training-camp-away-from-training-camp workout routine, hanging with his family and getting ready for the season. Jones said he's in shape, and the Seahawks' conditioning staff agreed, allowing him to practice on his first day back.

He jumped right into drills, working with the first-team offense, and is expected to start against New Orleans in the season opener on Sunday.

And while Jones has made the Pro Bowl in each of his past three seasons, there's no telling how long it will take for him to get back into game shape. Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren cautioned against assuming Jones will show up and be the same player now he will be at the season's end.

"I don't think people should take that for granted, and players shouldn't take that for granted," Holmgren said. "Agents shouldn't take that for granted. He's an exceptional player, there's no question about that. He's one of the best I've ever seen. But does every player need a little work to be at his best prior to the first game? I think they do. Logic tells me they do. So, can an exceptional player play at a pretty high level? Yeah. Will he be as good as he will be in Game 10? We'll see."

Holmgren didn't think anyone would haze Jones upon his return.

"Usually, most of them are scared of Walter," Holmgren said.

So they just teased him, short, quick, harmless jabs into this annual routine. Gray joked that Jones will have a longer career because he can rest during training camp. Hutchinson needled Jones about playing on the scout team.

The rest was business as usual as this line that has been together for so many seasons hopes one week of practice is enough to reunite. Someone asked Jones if he would be ready.

"I don't think I have a choice," he said.

Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or gbishop@seattletimes.com



No camptown favorite
For the third straight year, Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones reported to the Seahawks after training camp was over.
Year Report date Signed for Regular-season status
2002 Sept. 16 $4.92 million Missed first two games; made Pro Bowl
2003 Sept. 2 $5.9 million Started all 16 games; made Pro Bowl
2004 Sept. 6 $7.08 million Expected to start in opener on Sunday




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