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Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Peters holdout lacks a cheering section


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

There comes a time during a prolonged holdout when resentment begins to fray the bonds of union brotherhood.

At first, teammates root for their disgruntled comrade to stick it to The Man and squeeze as much money out of the front office as possible. Gradually, their support fades as they sweat and bleed together on the practice field, as they bank all those mind-numbing hours of film and playbook study, as they ice their pain.

 
 Paul Jasienski/Getty Images
 Jason Peters was to make $3.25 million this season on a five-year contract he signed in July 2006.

Sentiment in the Buffalo Bills' locker room already has begun to turn away from truant left tackle Jason Peters, who surely deserves more money but is exhausting the patience of those who should be supporting him most.

Peters is a Pro Bowler, but is Buffalo's third-highest-paid offensive lineman. He was to make $3.25 million this season on a five-year contract he signed in July 2006.

Communication between the sides has been so minimal the Bills' front office is merely assuming Peters wants more money. They can't say with 100 percent certainty, but it's a safe bet.

The Tennessee Titans in April signed their left tackle, Michael Roos, to a six-year extension worth $43 million. The Miami Dolphins used the first pick in the draft on left tackle Jake Long. They're paying him $57.75 million over five years, including $30 million in guarantees.  

The Bills are hurting at tackle, yet it's abundantly clear they're not about to acquiesce. Owner Ralph Wilson isn't one to back down from a financial fight, especially not one with a player who has three years left on a deal already renegotiated once.

If Wilson yields here, only 23 players might report to Bills camp next year.

The Bills have declared publicly they won't renegotiate with Peters until he reports to the team (they're working out a new deal for receiver Lee Evans, who has been around). They also have made it known to Peters' agent, Eugene Parker, they're not willing to renegotiate 2008, insisting any additional money will be paid next year forward.

Sometimes the only leverage a player has is to hold out, and Peters is pushing it to the hilt.

The players are reconciling with the fact that, barring some dramatic development, Peters won't be showing up soon.

At least two prominent members of Buffalo's offense -- players who preferred to remain unidentified -- now wonder how much Peters will be able to contribute even if he does show up. Peters skipped voluntary workouts, mandatory minicamp and training camp while the Bills were installing new offensive coordinator Turk Schonert's system.

Although the 6-foot-4, 328-pound Peters established himself last year as one of the NFL's elite left tackles, there's a belief the new offense will present enough wrinkles to render him a liability if inserted into the lineup right away.

The longer Peters stays away, the harder it will be to integrate even if he's in great shape. Nobody can attest to his conditioning because he's been spotted less often than J.D. Salinger.

Many Bills expected Peters would report to the team after their second preseason game on Aug. 14 or when they broke training camp at St. John Fisher College last week.

The Bills played their third preseason game Sunday night. The exhibition took place in Indianapolis, an easy drive from Fort Wayne, Ind., where Parker is based. There was hope the occasion would lead to a face-to-face meeting with Bills chief operating officer Russ Brandon.

Instead, all we learned from Indianapolis came from NFL Network insider Adam Schefter, who reported "Peters is planning not to be there for the [regular-season] opener, and it's going to be a situation that looks like it could go on for a while."

Peters, subject to daily fines of $15,116 from the start of camp and through the preseason, would forfeit a weekly paycheck of about $191,000 for every game he misses.

Peters and Parker would have trouble finding sympathy even among agents, and those guys are generally viewed as money-grubbing fiends.

"I don't think this makes sense," said one agent who represents a Bills player affected by Peters' holdout. "Holding out right now is negative in a lot of ways."

Where Peters, 26, is viewed as being unreasonable is that he has three years remaining on a deal that was generous at the time he took it.

The Bills brought Peters to training camp in 2004 as an undrafted rookie tight end. He was waived and passed over by all 31 other teams. The Bills signed him to their practice squad, and eventually he played on special teams.

Enamored with his footwork and raw athleticism, the Bills switched him to tackle and turned him over to line coach Jim McNally. Peters made his first NFL start in Week 8 of 2005. He filled in for injured fourth-overall pick Mike Williams and never left the lineup.

Peters' former agent, Vincent Taylor, approached the Bills about a new contract, and the Bills gambled on their potent-but-unproven newcomer.

No, Peters isn't receiving market value for a Pro Bowl left tackle, the second-highest-paid position in football. But the Bills did make a significant investment in a player nobody else wanted or thought to convert him to tackle.

Neither Taylor nor Parker returned calls to ESPN.com for this story.

But, to be as fair as possible, ESPN.com phoned several agents to get their opinions on the Peters holdout. Maybe there was something we missed.

Not one of the seven agents contacted Monday agreed with the holdout. The most common reasons against it were the Bills' mandate that renegotiations can't open until he reports and the fact Peters has so much time left on his current deal.

"If I was running the team," said one agent with a veteran Bills client, "I can't say I would do anything differently than the Bills are doing. I wouldn't negotiate with Peters. No way."