Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Burress still a no-show as Steelers workouts resume

By Alan Robinson
The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH - Wide receiver Plaxico Burress was a no-show again when the Pittsburgh Steelers resumed their offseason workouts Tuesday.

Burress was fined earlier this month for missing a mandatory minicamp.

"I thought he was going to be here, but obviously he's not," said Hines Ward, the Steelers' other starting receiver. "It's sad. I don't think it had to come to this. ... I've got to prepare like we're going into the season right now without Plax; we don't know what is going to happen."

Coach Bill Cowher didn't discuss Burress' latest absence, leaving the field about halfway through the hour-long workout without speaking with reporters. However, Cowher was visibly displeased when Burress was the only player to skip the team's post-draft minicamp May 7-9, saying, "I'm very disappointed in his decision, and we are ready to move on with or without him."

Cowher was even angrier because Burress never told the coach he wouldn't attend. Burress later told Sporting News Radio he was unhappy the workouts were held on Mother's Day weekend, which he spent with the two brothers he now helps support. Burress' mother died two years ago.

The Steelers were allowed to fine Burress a maximum of $7,446 for missing minicamp, and Burress said he was fined.

"If that's the excuse, Mother's Day, if that's what he says, we have to abide by it, but what's the reason right now?" Ward said. "I don't know. I can't answer the question."

Burress is also frustrated because the team hasn't opened contract talks with him. He is in the final season of the $8.67 million, five-year contract he signed after being drafted in 2000, but it now seems unlikely the Steelers will try to work out a new deal before the season starts.

Burress' production fell off sharply, from 78 catches for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns in 2002 to 60 catches for 860 yards and four touchdowns last season, and some in the organization believe the team would be better off letting him play for a new contract.

Doing so would allow Burress to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, and the Steelers might not be able to match the offers Burress likely would get if he replicates his 2002 season.

Ward, one of Burress' closest friends on the team, wants to discuss the situation with him but can't reach him.

"I've called him, but the number I called is no longer working," Ward said. "I don't even know if the coach has talked to him. ... So I don't know where he's at. I don't know what the situation is."

Burress' absence comes as the Steelers' offensive regulars are getting comfortable with new coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and two new position coaches, wide receivers coach Bruce Arians and quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple. Burress is also missing time working with rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers' first-round draft pick.

"Unfortunately, this is kind of the way this business works now," quarterback Tommy Maddox said. "Guys handle things in their own way, and other guys know that it's going on."

The Steelers' workouts run through early June and are supposed to be voluntary, but Cowher expects all players to attend. Every other player was on hand Tuesday, and one player who wasn't supposed to be there - outside linebacker Jason Gildon - unexpectedly showed up to work out on his own.

Gildon, an All-Pro in 2001 and a starter since 1994, has 27 sacks the last three seasons but will be released after June 1 in a salary cap move. He was due to make $3.65 million this season, but the Steelers signed former backup Clark Haggans to a $10.2 million, four-year contract to replace him and told Gildon to skip their offseason program.

Gildon, who will be 32 in July, hopes to sign with another team before NFL training camps open in late July.

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