As the Atlanta Falcons' three-day mini-camp concluded Friday, coach Dan Reeves issued a deadline in the team's contract negotiations with Pro Bowl running back Jamal Anderson.
Reeves and Falcons general manager Harold Richardson spoke with Anderson's agent, Jim Sims, Thursday night. The Falcons made what Reeves described as a final offer, giving Anderson until the opening of training camp at the end of this month to accept it.
"If it isn't done before training camp, then the offer's going to be off the table," said Reeves, also the Falcons' executive vice president.
"We've got to get ready to play. We've got some things we have to address and get the people ready who are going to be there. Like I said, it's not like he (Anderson) doesn't have a contract."
The Falcons open training camp late this month at Greenville, S.C. Following a 14-2 regular season and a first appearance in the Super Bowl, the franchise is coming off its best season in a mostly disappointing 33-year history.
Anderson, due to be paid $2.6 million in the final year of his contract, led the NFC with 1,846 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns in 1998. A five-year veteran and a Falcon his entire career, Anderson has rushed for more than 1,000 yards the last three seasons.
He and Sims are seeking a deal that includes a $10 million signing bonus.
"We've studied those (other NFL) relevant running backs' signing bonuses, and we just feel the signing bonus dollar is not at a level that is acceptable right now," Sims said Friday. Atlanta's offer, he added, "stands at $6 million."
Within the last few years, such NFL running backs as Terrell Davis, Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin, Emmitt Smith and Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams, the top pick in the April NFL draft, reportedly received signing bonuses ranging between $9 million and $12 million.
"We haven't seen a deal (from the Falcons) that isn't backloaded," said Sims, who is based in Oakland, Calif. "And it's obviously backloaded when you look at the signing bonus and it's only $6 million."
Anderson, who has remained home in Salt Lake City, could not be reached for comment, though he posted a message Thursday on his personal web site.
"Is Jamal selfish? No," Anderson wrote. "If I was, believe me, I would have been using the Super Bowl or the NFC championship as a stage to air my contract concerns. What better place to get people to listen?"
"Folks, the point is I did not create a market for running backs. I just know I belong with them."
Sims seemed displeased when told how Reeves described the team's latest offer as "take it or leave it" adding that Anderson is prepared to stage a holdout during training camp, and possibly the entire season.
As he was preparing to fax another proposal to the Falcons, Sims said discussion of the contract's length has fluctuated betwen five and six years. He declined to reveal the terms of the Falcons' latest offer.
"If the deal they have on the table is guaranteed, then we might accept that," Sims said. "The problem with the deal on the table is that it's severely backloaded."
"We just want a fairly structured deal," he said.
Reeves pointed out that other Falcons entering the last year of their contracts like receiver Terance Mathis, center Robbie Tobeck and defensive ends Chuck Smith and Lester Archambeau are negotiating deals while participating in mandatory team workouts.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to come together at some point," Reeves said, "but we'll have a difficult time moving much farther than where we are right now."
Sims, who has represented Anderson since his rookie year, also indicated his next proposal might be his last.
"He (Jamal) has laid it down for them on the field for the last five years, and he'd like to be rewarded," Sims said. "He's a guy that's never, ever received a signing bonus other than his seventh-round money, the $23,000. Put it this way: He goes out there and bangs heads."
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