Saints players reporting today

Published 4:55 pm Thursday, July 27, 2006

Reggie Bush said shortly after he was drafted that he thought it was important not just for him, but also for the city of New Orleans, to be signed and ready to practice by the time training camp opened in late July.

But it’s more common than not for highly drafted rookies to hold out of the opening of training camp, and there was little indication that Bush would be signed by Thursday’s 6 p.m. reporting deadline at Millsaps College.

Neither Saints general manager Mickey Loomis nor Bush’s agent, Joel Segal, would comment specifically on negotiations Wednesday. Loomis has said recently, however, that negotiations with Bush are running a “normal” course.

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Of the top 10 picks in the 2006 NFL Draft, only two had signed by Wednesday afternoon. The first overall pick, defensive end Mario Williams, agreed to a six-year, $54 million contract with Houston. Safety Michael Huff, picked seventh overall by Oakland, signed a five-year deal worth about $22.5 million on Tuesday, shortly before the Raiders opened camp.

The Saints also had yet to agree to contracts with three other draft picks as the reporting deadline neared: safety Roman Harper (second round), offensive tackle Jahri Evans (fourth round) and receiver Mike Hass (sixth round).

While New Orleans had its 2005 top pick, offensive tackle Jammal Brown, signed before camp last year, the Saints have endured numerous high-profile holdouts before, including that of Deuce McAllister in his rookie season (2001).

Since Bush, the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner, was widely predicted to be the top overall pick until the eve of the draft, he is expected to push for a contract very close to what the Texans gave Williams.

Even if negotiations continue for another week or two, the Saints will have no shortage of running backs when they start practice Friday afternoon.

McAllister — now the franchise all-time rusher with his rookie holdout seeming like ancient history — is returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for most of the Saints’ wretched 3-13 2005 season. He’ll be joined by Michael Bennett, a fleet-footed former pro bowl running back with Minnesota who signed a two-year free-agent deal with the Saints during the offseason — before Houston shocked the NFL by not selecting Bush first overall in the draft.

The Saints have made it known they’d be willing to trade Bennett, but they’re not letting him go for nothing. The Saints may need him. McAllister’s health will be in question until he has proven he can take a beating in the regular season. And even if Bush signs, his durability in the NFL also is unproven.