Roller coaster contract negotiations between the Miami Dolphins and restricted free agent defensive end Adewale Ogunleye have dipped to the point where agent Drew Rosenhaus on Friday expressed doubt another whether a deal will ever be consummated.
"At this juncture, it's a shame to put it in these terms, but I'd have to say that we're really at an impasse," Rosenhaus said. "There's a pretty big gap. Realistically, I just don't know how, or even if, we can get it done."
The remarks came only a few weeks after both sides expressed guarded optimism a deal could be struck, and only a week after Ogunleye used a team banquet at which he was named the Dolphins' most valuable player for 2003 to lobby Miami officials in attendance to get negotiations moving in a positive direction.
Almost as significant, Rosenhaus' assessment of the stalled negotiations came only four days before the critical date of June 15, when the Dolphins can reduce their qualifying offer to Ogunleye if he remains unsigned.
In early March, the Dolphins tendered Ogunleye a one-year proposal of $1.824 million, the highest qualifying offer for a restricted free agent, to retain a right of first refusal in the event another team signed the AFC sack leader for 2003 to an offer sheet. But the collective bargaining agreement permits the team to reduce that offer to 110 percent of Oguneleye's base salary of $375,000 for 2003 if he isn't signed by June 15.
Should the Dolphins exercise that prerogative, a possibility that Rosenhaus declined to address, it would drop the qualifying offer to just $412,500. Then again, given the tenor of talks, it wasn't as if Ogunleye was going to sign the $1.824 million offer either. The goal of Ogunleye and Rosenhaus has always been to secure a long-term deal and, if the Dolphins declined to offer one, to seek a trade.
Dropping the qualifying offer to the lower number could inject a degree of acrimony, one that has been absent to this point, into the negotiations.
"We're still looking for a contract somewhere between the one Jevon Kearse signed as an unrestricted free agent this year and the one that 'KGB' got as a restricted guy last year," Rosenhaus said. "That's where we feel the market for 'Wale' should be."
In a deal negotiated by Rosenhaus, Kearse two months ago left the Tennessee Titans and signed an eight-year contract for $66 million with the Philadelphia Eagles, including $16 million in upfront money. Last spring, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila received a signing bonus of $11 million as part of a seven-year, $37.1 million contract to re-sign with the Green Bay Packers as a restricted free agent.
Ogunleye, 26, led the AFC in sacks in 2003, with 15. A year earlier, in his first season as a starter at left end, the former Indiana University star posted 9½ sacks. Before the draft it appeared that a few teams, most notably Chicago and Minnesota, might be interested in trading for Ogunleye, but talks never reached the substantive point.
Rosenhaus has said that, if a long-term deal with Miami can't be completed, Ogunleye will sit out the first 10 games of the season. He would then report for the final six games, the requisite number to receive credit for a year toward the pension plan, and become an unrestricted free agent next spring.
"There are teams," said Rosenhaus, "that will be waiting with open arms for him."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.