TE Alex Smith signed in time to report to training camp on time, as did five of his 2005 draft mates on Thursday
As usual, reporting day for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp doubled as a busy day for the team's contract negotiators. And, as usual, most of this necessary business was completed in time for the team's first meeting.
What is not so usual about the Bucs' 2005 camp is the presence of a top-five pick among their 12 drafted rookies. That, plus the fact that the first-rounder in question was the third running back chosen among the first five players, and neither of those backs has signed with their respective teams yet, led to the one glitch in this usually routine process.
The result: third-round tight end Alex Smith, fifth-round safety Donte Nicholson, fifth-round wide receiver Larry Brackins, seventh-round wide receiver Paris Warren, seventh-round safety Hamza Abdullah and seventh-round wide receiver J.R. Russell all signed contracts and reported to camp on time. First-round running back Cadillac Williams has yet to do so.
The Buccaneers also reported the release of veteran tackle Todd Steussie. Head Coach Jon Gruden indicated that the decision was cap-related, coinciding with the 11 new deals signed by draft picks in the last nine days.
Smith was the last of the six rookies to sign on Thursday, but the order was less important than the fact that all but Williams was signed in time for camp's opening day. The Bucs were dealing with their largest draft class since 1992 and had inked only five of them – second-round linebacker Barrett Ruud, third-round tackle Chris Colmer, fourth-round guard Dan Buenning, sixth-round defensive tackle Anthony Bryant and seventh-round fullback Rick Razzano – before Thursday dawned.
"We're very excited to get going," said Gruden. "[Williams'] agent continues to negotiate with [General Manager] Bruce [Allen] as we speak and we'll update you as soon as we know something. But we are excited to have the other draft picks in attendance from the get-go. We're eager to get started."
Actually, as Gruden mentioned, this is the second straight camp in which he has had to address a holdout on opening day. Last year, veteran receiver Keenan McCardell refused to report to camp without a new contract and was traded midway through the season to the San Diego Chargers. However, this year's situation with Williams shares none of that acrimony and is probably more a function of the running back's position in the draft.
"I don't know how this is going to work out," said Gruden. "Obviously, there were two backs picked ahead of him. Both Cedric Benson and Ronnie Brown, my understanding is that both of them are also missing training camp. It's not a good year for running back coaches so far.
"Unfortunately, we addressed the holdout situation last year on the opening day of training camp, and unfortunately we're doing the same thing at this stage. But I think we're a lot more optimistic that this one can resolve itself quickly."
In other words, while the Bucs and Williams are currently on opposite sides of the negotiation table, they are both very interested in achieving the same goal, and as quickly as possible. A holdout that drags on to any significant length could set the rookie back a bit, but Gruden believes that Williams is very eager to get to work.
"Well, it's disappointing, but I know he's probably working out right now," said Gruden of Williams. "It's very important to him. I'm also very confident that Bruce and [agent] Jim Steiner and his associates will get this thing worked out. In the meantime, we've got a lot of work to do and we'll get a chance to look at some of the other backs."