As Mike Wallace and Dwayne Bowe continue to catch heat in lieu of passes, the saga involving this summer's two most contentious holdouts outside of Jacksonville is growing more and more tangled with each elapsing day.
Both big-name wide receivers have decided to no-show the start of training camp in a ploy to get their respective employers to show them the money. And while neither has yet to become any lighter in the wallet, as unsigned players can't be subject to fines for being absent, each is still running a great risk of damaging their earning power down the road with their questionable strategies.
That may already be the case with Bowe, with numerous reports out of Kansas City stating that 2011 first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin has blossomed as a featured performer in new coordinator Brian Daboll's offense -- a system that Bowe hasn't taken a single rep in after skipping all of OTA's and minicamp in protest of his contract status. And since he's no longer able to negotiate a long-term pact this season as a designated franchise player, the 2013 impending free agent's already slipping leverage has lessened further.
That makes Bowe's decision not to report somewhere between incredibly perilous and downright stupid. Though there's no chance he'll forfeit a $9.5 million salary by having his holdout linger into the regular season, missing valuable practice time in a different offense is a very real threat to his production in an all-important contract year, especially for a player who's carrying some issues about desire and commitment.
Perhaps Bowe and his camp are closely monitoring Wallace's increasingly ugly situation in Pittsburgh, as the possibility that the Steelers could be more open to trading the disgruntled speedster isn't as far-fetched as it was a week ago. The team fired a serious salvo in its ongoing battle with the restricted free agent when it inked fast-rising counterpart Antonio Brown to a five-year, $42.5 million extension just a couple of days into Wallace's boycott, fueling speculation as to whether the latter has fallen out of favor in Pittsburgh's long-range plans.
The move is still by no means a sign the Steelers have completely soured on Wallace or given up on getting him signed to a multi-year pact. Unlike Bowe's scenario in Kansas City, Pittsburgh can remain in contract talks throughout the season because Wallace is a restricted free agent, and Brown has yet to prove he can be a true No. 1 receiver without his partner forcing opponents to roll coverage his way with his game-changing deep speed.
However, it is a definite indication the Steelers aren't adverse to letting Brown, coming off a breakthrough 69-catch, 1,108-yard 2011 campaign, show if he's indeed got the goods to be Ben Roethlisberger's new top target. And if promising third-year man Emmanuel Sanders also can take a big step forward in a more prominent role, the chance of Wallace's market value taking a sizeable hit could very well increase.
The presence of Todd Haley, the former Chiefs head coach who's now running the offense in Pittsburgh, adds an intriguing twist to the drama surrounding the two holdout receivers. With Bowe having gone from underachieving first-round pick to All-Pro cornerstone under Haley's tutelage in Kansas City, the idea of him replacing Wallace if the Steelers opt to part ways has started to spread like wildfire.
That's an interesting theory, for sure, but still an unlikely development. First off, it's highly doubtful Haley would have that kind of influence on the front office, even though his father was Pittsburgh's player personnel director during the franchise's dynasty era in the 1970s. Wallace is also two years younger than Bowe and has had the more consistent career at this point; therefore keeping him in the fold would seem to be the Steelers' preferred option.
And with both Bowe and Wallace each potentially having something to lose, getting in camp and learning their new playbooks to ready themselves for what could be the most important year of their careers appears to be the best course of action as well.
JAGUARS IN A REAL JAM
While the absences of Wallace and Bowe certainly pose an obstacle to the season preparations of the Steelers and Chiefs, the Jacksonville Jaguars may be facing the most daunting prospect of adjusting on the fly of any team during this year's camp if their contract squabbles aren't resolved in short order.
And by the looks of it, the club's dispute with Maurice Jones-Drew doesn't appear to be nearing a solution any time soon.
The NFL's reigning rushing champion has yet to take part in any team activities as he seeks a reworking of a contract that has him as the league's ninth- highest paid running back for the upcoming season. The Jaguars have shown no inclination to foster talks with the three-time All-Pro, who has two years remaining on a deal he initially signed in 2009, setting the stage for a holdout that threatens to lurk deep into the preseason and possibly beyond.
The impasse could easily loom as a major hurdle to a team that finished dead last in total offense during last year's 5-11 disappointment and is installing a revised system under new head coach Mike Mularkey. And considering the down seasons that Chris Johnson and Larry Johnson experienced after sitting out most of training camp in recent years, the Jaguars can ill afford a drop-off from their undisputed best weapon to realistically contend.
Jacksonville still hasn't come to terms on a contract with rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon as well, with the roadblock coming over protective measures the front office is seeking because of the No. 5 overall pick of this year's draft's history of alcohol-related problems. While an agreement is expected to be hammered out relatively soon, the camp time Blackmon has already missed presents another challenge to the Jags' goal of improving the offense.
The Jaguars weren't envisioned as a serious playoff competitor this season, but another step back could wind up being a very difficult predicament for a franchise that's endured its struggles in generating sustained local interest to overcome.
QUICK HITS -- EARLY TRAINING CAMP EDITION
* Not only have the New York Giants possibly dodged a huge bullet with the news that starting cornerback Terrell Thomas' recent knee injury may not be a torn ACL, but the defending Super Bowl champs could be the first to benefit from this year's rule change regarding injured reserve. Teams can now activate one player per season from IR after eight weeks provided he's on the Week 1 roster, meaning Thomas would only have carried as a game-day inactive for the season opener if he's able to be healthy come November.
* About the only surprising development from Bryant McKinnie's curious four- day AWOL from Baltimore Ravens camp was that the notoriously hefty offensive tackle reportedly weighed in around a relatively svelte 350 pounds. That the Ravens didn't release the troublesome veteran on the spot is an obvious admission that the team doesn't have much confidence in either Michael Oher's ability to man left tackle or youngsters Kelechi Osemele or Jah Reid's readiness to handle the right side, and that they're hell-bent at making a Super Bowl run in 2012. It's a good thing McKinnie wasn't playing in Tampa Bay.
* Speaking of the Buccaneers, anyone who had been still under the belief that Greg Schiano's no-nonsense philosophy was simply window-dressing likely had their opinions swayed when the hard-line head coach jettisoned two talented players on the first day of camp for not getting with the program. Starting defensive tackle Brian Price, who made headlines by punching rookie safety Mark Barron in a team meeting during minicamp, was traded to Chicago, while wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe was waived for failing his conditioning test. It remains to be seen whether the Bucs will improve off last year's four-win total, but you can bet they'll be a more disciplined group than the laissez- faire atmosphere under the Raheem Morris regime.
* Congratulations to the Detroit Lions, who've now gone 12 days without having a player arrested.
* Those tuning into Sunday's Hall of Fame Game may be keeping a close eye on how Kevin Kolb and John Skelton fare in their limited opportunities as the two ramp up their competition for the Arizona Cardinals' quarterback job, but the performance of the replacement officials that will be used may be the most significant story to watch. If the fill-ins show they're not over their heads, the league will have gained a decided edge in its ongoing labor standoff with the Referees Association.