Hawks got our problem, too
Les Carpenter / Times staff columnist
Camp-cutting Jones due for appearance
In the past, he used to push trucks through the Alabama sun. This was how Walter Jones spent the holdout summers, somewhere finding the perfect technique for stonewalling a pass rusher by putting his gigantic palms on the tailgate of a 4x4 and shoving with all his might.
No one around the Seahawks knows what their best player, the one with all the Pro Bowls, has been doing these last few months. Mainly because no one around the Seahawks has seen or talked to Walter Jones. But the season is starting soon, and one of these days they figure they'll see him walking in through the parking lot, bag in hand, ready to play.
Yesterday, coach Mike Holmgren was asked if he had heard from his starting left tackle. He laughed.
"No, I haven't," he said.
Then he smiled.
"Usually I hear from one of you guys," Holmgren said. "His agent will tell someone something."
But other than a brief, noncommittal conversation with this paper yesterday, Jones' agent, Roosevelt Barnes, has offered nothing.
Nobody even believes this is about money anymore. The last two summers, when Jones sat home, the warm days were filled with demands for millions, for a record-breaking signing bonus and a Seahawks refusal to shatter its salary cap for a single player, even if that player was vital to making its offense move. After Seattle gave Grant Wistrom $14 million in guaranteed money this winter, it would have seemed Jones was justified in asking for a pile of money the size of Mount Rainier.
Strangely, there has been no talk of money this summer. Jones just packed his bags as he does every January and disappeared. If the Seahawks and Barnes have discussed a contract in that time, they have kept those negotiations awfully quiet.
The presumption is that Jones has simply grown accustomed to missing training camp and likes the idea of life without two-a-days and sleeping on tiny beds in a college dorm. And since he has been able to stroll in sometime in early September the last two seasons and still manage to make the Pro Bowl, well, why not do it again?
This seems to be a growing trend around the league. Players like Jones, who have been designated their team's franchise player and therefore are not allowed to be free agents, have the luxury of holding their employers over a barrel. Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson missed all of the Raiders' training camp, as did St. Louis tackle Orlando Pace.
It's the best scam in football: miss camp and get paid.
In Jones' case, the payout will be a little more than $7 million for this season — a fine sum but paltry compared to the tens of millions he could make if he signed a long-term contract. But what's a few more million when you can miss training camp instead? Especially when you are already fabulously rich beyond belief?
Officially, the Seahawks' line on Jones is that they expect him back for the start of the season. The only piece of supporting evidence for this stance is a conversation with some of his teammates in which he presumably said "I'll see you September 1."
Well it's Sept. 1, and the Seahawks' best player better get into town if all these Super Bowl dreams are going to have any chance of coming true. Seattle finished its last real practice of the preseason yesterday. The next time the Seahawks wear their pads to the practice field will be this weekend — just a week before the season begins. And even then might be too late.
So far Jones has been able to amble into the locker room in September and have everything be fine. But he is 30 now, and 30 is an age that is not good to football players. Joints wear down at 30, muscles pull easier, bones have a greater tendency to snap.
Sure, Jones has been able to save himself another summer of twice-daily collisions on the practice field and four exhibition games. But no matter how many trucks you push, you can't duplicate the force a 300-pound defense end creates when he thunders around the line. One of these days, Jones isn't going to be able to stroll into camp and have everything be fine.
There is a trap looming for these Seahawks, who seem to be a popular favorite to play in the Super Bowl in Jacksonville despite winning just two road games last year. They start the year in New Orleans and Tampa, which are difficult places to play, and they are also teams with two of the best pass rushers coming around the left side, the Saints' Darren Howard and the Buccaneers' Simeon Rice. Running a passing offense on the road against Howard and Rice without Jones — or with an out-of-shape Jones — is football suicide.
The Seahawks do not have a forgiving-enough schedule to afford starting the year 0-2.
So the moment of truth has come: Because if this is really still about money, then both sides need to lift the cloak of silence.
And if it's not, then the time has come for Walter Jones' summer vacation to end
Re: Hawks got our problem, too
As Avenger has pointed out in other posts, it's a good thing the Cards & Falcons don't have problematic pass rushing. I figure Pace stands a better chance with their pass rush than Jones does with Howard and Rice.
They start the year in New Orleans and Tampa, which are difficult places to play, and they are also teams with two of the best pass rushers coming around the left side, the Saints' Darren Howard and the Buccaneers' Simeon Rice. Running a passing offense on the road against Howard and Rice without Jones — or with an out-of-shape Jones — is football suicide.