Despite contract troubles, Ward, Burress report



Burress said his contract was not the reason for missing minicamp in May.
LATROBE, Pa. (AP) -- Wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward reported to the Pittsburgh Steelers' training camp on time Friday, ending speculation that either or both might hold out over contract issues.
Ward, signed for two more seasons at below-market value for a three-time Pro Bowl player, considered sitting out this season but couldn't make himself do it. He did extract a promise from team president Art Rooney II that he will be the team's chief signing priority next year
Burress insisted there wasn't any doubt he would show up even though he skipped all the voluntary spring workouts and was fined for missing minicamp in early May. Unlike Ward, he is unsigned past this season and has yet to be told if the Steelers want him back.
Voluntary or mandatory
"Everybody says voluntary but, when you miss it, everybody's eyebrows go up," Burress said. "I guess voluntary means mandatory now."
Burress said the team's refusal to discuss a contract had nothing to do with his prolonged absence. He said he stayed away from minicamp to be with his two brothers on Mother's Day weekend -- their mother died two years ago -- and he missed the coaching sessions to work out on his own.
"I tried to change my work method and I worked hard in offseason, and I'm expecting big things from myself going into the season," he said. "There were a lot of negative things wrote and said about the decision I made, which I really didn't pay any mind."
Burress looked to be developing into one of the NFL's top big-play receiving threats when he caught 78 passes for 1,325 yards in 2002. But he regressed last year when his production slipped to 60 catches for 860 yards as the team finished 6-10.
Some in the organization blamed the falloff on an occasional lack of concentration and a reluctance to run disciplined pass routes, and the Steelers are wary of committing more big money to him. He is in the final season of an $8.67 million, five-year contract.
"That's not my decision, all I can do is go out and play hard and prove to myself first and foremost what type of player I am regardless of what anybody says," he said. "I can't make the team re-sign me."
Ward is certain he will get more money from the Steelers, the question is when. He was disappointed the team renegotiated quarterback Tommy Maddox's contract with multiple seasons left on his previous deal and didn't do so with him.
Ward is a two-time team MVP who has made 301 catches the last three seasons, but his $1,668,750 million salary is far below that paid to most premium receivers.
Not worth it
"But for me to miss a whole year for the game I love so much and am passionate about, it's not even worth it," he said. "Is it (the contract situation) fair? Some say yes, some may say no, but life isn't fair."
Director of football operations Kevin Colbert didn't doubt Ward would show up, saying, "He is the definition of a Pittsburgh Steeler ... the player, the person, the toughness, the character, everything you want in a player is in that guy. We are aware of his situation. He is a huge part of what we do, and we don't want to sell that short."
Unsigned first-round draft pick Ben Roethlisberger and rookie free agent defensive lineman Brandon Calton (family issues) were the only players missing at the reporting deadline. Steelers negotiator Omar Khan was trying to work out a deal Friday night with Roethlisberger's agent, Leigh Steinberg.
Roethlisberger, the No. 11 overall pick, wants a signing bonus in the $9 million range; the Steelers don't believe he should get a larger bonus because he is a quarterback. They want him to accept a deal more like that given Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma, the No. 12 pick who will get a $1.22 million reporting bonus this year and a $6 million option bonus next season.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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