Drummond still hasn't signed qualifying offer

Still seeking to transform his long runbacks of 2004 into a long-term return for his future, Detroit Lions special teams standout Eddie Drummond remains optimistic about receiving a lucrative multi-year contract proposal from the team.

As does his agent, the ubiquitous Drew Rosenhaus, who has put Drummond's contract situation near the top of a burgeoning roll call of negotiating priorities.

"We're still very hopeful of a long-term [contract]," said Rosenhaus on Saturday, as he watched a Miami Dolphins mini-camp workout that included several of his clients. "That's the goal. Time will tell if we can do it. But, as you know, time is running short."

Indeed, the clock is ticking, rather loudly at this point, toward a deadline of sorts. Drummond has until Wednesday to sign the one-year restricted free agent qualifying offer, for $1.43 million, that the Lions tendered him three months ago. If he doesn't sign the one-year deal, the Lions have the option of reducing the qualifying offer to an amount 10 percent above his 2004 base salary.

That reduced amount would be just $418,000, more than $1 million less than the qualifying offer, and a dramatic markdown.

It should be noted that, under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, Detroit does not have to reduce its offer. But after June 15, the Lions have the option of doing so at any point, if Drummond has not signed the one-year deal. On the flip side, Drummond, viewed by some as the NFL's premier return specialists, has precious few options.

That's because the April 15 deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets from other clubs has long passed. At this point, Drummond is essentially an exclusive free agent, unable to solicit offers from around the league, with either his release or a trade the only means he now has for departing the Lions.

A three-year veteran, Drummond, who ran back four kicks for touchdown in just 11 appearances in 2004, has made clear his preference for staying in Detroit, and has punctuated that desire with his regular attendance at offseason workouts.

"This where I want to be," Drummond said. "I'd like to help finish what we've started."

Lions vice president Tom Lewand told The Detroit News last week that the team is willing to discuss a long-term contract, but only after Drummond first signs the one-year offer. When that occurs, he said, negotiations toward a longer extension can begin in earnest.

Without a long-term deal, Rosenhaus reminded, Drummond would be eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring. It is always difficult to gauge the value of even a top-flight return man on the open market. But Allen Rossum of Atlanta, who replaced Drummond on the NFC Pro Bowl squad when the Lions star was unable to participate because of a shoulder injury, received $2 million in upfront money this offseason to re-sign with the Falcons on a four-year deal.

Drummond, 25, is five years younger than Rossum and arguably more explosive. Before the shoulder injury truncated his '04 season, Drummond returned 41 kickoffs for a 26.6-yard average and two touchdown and 24 punts for an average of 13.2 yards and two scores.

His punt return average led the league and the former Penn State star, originally signed as an undrafted college free agent in 2002, was second in kickoff return average.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.