Will they or won't they show up is the significant question facing a number of top NFL players as training camps open for most of the league next week.
Atop the list of players who are unhappy with their contract status are New England Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel and Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs, neither of whom will reach a long-term agreement with their current club this summer as Monday's deadline for such deals passed without a pact for either player.
Both must decide on the one-year tenders they were extended in February. Will they sign and show up for the beginning of training camp? Will they show up for the beginning of the season? Or will they wait until the 10th week and play just enough to qualify for free agency?
Beyond Samuel and Briggs, several other top players are questionable for the start of training camp. Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson has toyed with not showing up in hopes of being granted a new contract. Same goes for New York Jets guard Pete Kendall after not getting a raise this offseason.
The current focus, however, is on Samuel and Briggs. Samuel is intriguing because the Patriots have been otherwise very aggressive this offseason as they try to win their fourth Super Bowl this decade. Adding to the drama is that the Patriots played a similar game with wide receiver Deion Branch a year ago before trading him to the Seattle Seahawks, costing them continuity in the passing game.
"The Patriots know what the market is and we're not going to accept anything less than that," agent Alonzo Shaver said earlier this offseason. There has been little negotiation between the sides since the Patriots offered Samuel, a former fourth-round pick, a $12 million signing bonus on a long-term contract late last season, according to his agent.
Given the growth in contracts this offseason (cornerback Nate Clements received $20 million in guarantees from the San Francisco 49ers in March and defensive end Dwight Freeney got $30 million from the Indianapolis Colts last week), the Patriots offered Samuel a substandard deal.
Furthermore, Samuel could make much more simply by being patient. If he plays this season for the $7.8 million franchise figure he has been tendered and waits for free agency, he should cash in. Even if the Patriots franchise him again next season, his salary would be more than $9.3 million because of a 20 percent increase given to repeat franchise players, meaning he would make $17 million in two years. That makes the Patriots' long-term deal even more unrealistic.
"Yeah, you've got the math right on that," Shaver said with a touch of sarcasm. Samuel was seeking a deal that had a $17 million signing bonus, according to two sources.
Now, the Patriots are waiting to see if Samuel will show up to solidify their iffy secondary. Simply put, Samuel is New England's best cornerback. He had 10 interceptions last season and two more in the playoffs, including a return for a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts.
Samuel said in June that he would sit out the first 10 weeks, but that seems unlikely given that he has yet to see a big payday. Chances are, Samuel will show up shortly before the season.
As for Briggs, there has been no talk of a long-term deal because Chicago management doesn't believe in paying its outside linebackers serious money. Rosevelt Colvin and Warrick Holdman are among the outside linebackers the Bears have allowed to leave.
At this point, the only hope for Briggs to get in camp on time is if the Bears agree to not slap the franchise tag on him after this season.
"I really don't want to comment other than we are still talking and trying to work out a positive resolution," agent Drew Rosenhaus said.
To Rosenhaus' advantage, he has worked out a number of deals with Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo, including the 2004 move to send lynchpin defensive end Adewale Ogunleye from the Miami Dolphins to the Bears.
On the flip side, Briggs' holdout has been filled with rhetoric. Briggs paraded around the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix in March, sounding off about wanting to break away from the shadow of Brian Urlacher and declaring he wouldn't report for the first 10 weeks.
However, $6.8 million is a lot to pass up, particularly for a player who hasn't signed a long-term deal in his career.
As one agent put it, "It's hard to walk away from that first shot at big money."
• Johnson is looking for a long-term deal to replace the $1.7 million he's set to make this season, the final year of his contract. Johnson is particularly eager after carrying a league-record 416 times last season.
Kansas City is in transition as it changes quarterback from Trent Green to second-year pro Brodie Croyle. While Johnson is the team's best offensive weapon, the thinking is that he may not hold up after such heavy use last year.
• The issue between Kendall and the Jets has already gotten ugly with Kendall blasting the Jets on several occasions this offseason. Kendall is seeking a $1 million raise from his $1.6 million 2007 salary. He said in June that he was considering a holdout, even at the risk of losing $14,000 a day.
Then again, he might show up just to badmouth the Jets until they can't help but let him go.
"It's not going to be all warm and fuzzy if I'm there," Kendall said.
• As for Dillon and Brooks, Dillon figures to have the most impact if he returns. Agent Steve Feldman said Dillon can afford to retire and live comfortably in his home on the beach in Malibu, Calif. Perhaps, but Dillon is the best veteran running back available and teams generally need backs by the end of training camp.
Brooks has been on the mend since suffering a stomach injury last season with the Oakland Raiders. He had a workout with the Washington Redskins a month ago, according to his agent, but has gotten little interest. That's odd for a quarterback of his physical talent. If healthy, Brooks would be one of the top backups in the league.