No. 2 overall pick and Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush not only appears headed for a contract holdout with the New Orleans Saints, but he is also toying with the idea of sitting out the entire season, a league source said.
And if Bush doesn't get his price, he just might put his name back in the draft in 2007.
"No player has ever had the kind of leverage that Reggie Bush has right now," the source said. "The Saints made it clear what they were willing to do before and now we'll see if they're going to get there."
It seems unlikely the Saints will do that in time for Bush to report to training camp with the team on Thursday in Jackson, Miss. Two sources said that talks between the Saints and agent Joel Segal have been nearly non-existent.
On Wednesday, Mike Ornstein, who is Bush's marketing agent, told the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., that he didn't think Bush would be signed in time for camp. Ornstein is not allowed to negotiate contracts, but he is acutely aware of all of Bush's business matters.
One of the sources took that a step further, saying Segal was considering not having Bush sign at all. Segal declined to comment when contacted Friday and messages left with multiple members of the New Orleans organization weren't returned.
While it appears unlikely on face value that Bush would sit out, he appears well-positioned to do so if he really wants.
Bush supposedly has more than $5 million in the bank from multiple endorsement deals Ornstein has negotiated since Bush left the University of Southern California. That money is guaranteed regardless of whether Bush plays this season.
Next, Bush could probably sit out 2006 and still be a high pick next year.
Furthermore, Bush probably has the public sentiment running in his favor. Even though holdout players are generally unpopular, Bush has caused tremendous excitement in New Orleans.
In May, shortly after Bush was drafted, the Saints had already set a franchise record for season-ticket sales, having topped 55,000 at that time. That's extraordinary, especially considering the condition of the hurricane-ravaged city.
Moreover, team owner Tom Benson is immensely unpopular in New Orleans. Ranging from his hard-line negotiations with the city and state to constant threats that he will move the team, Benson is often treated with open scorn by Saints fans.
Bush has also worked hard to endear himself to fans in the city after it came out that he didn't want to play in New Orleans. Bush has made multiple donations to hurricane relief.