Wednesday, September 3, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley / Times staff columnist

Late again, Jones is just in time to collect a paycheck

KIRKLAND — Walter Jones burned while his agent fiddled.

In the smoldering Alabama sun, through the hot, wet air, while his teammates were working out some 2,500 miles west, Jones pushed cars and sweated rivers preparing for a season he wasn't even sure he was going to play.

He worked out old-school style, pushing trucks like a contestant in the World's Strongest Man competition. He did the same routines he had done as a high-school lineman in Aliceville, Ala.

Of course, not everything was the same. Jones once pushed Chevy pickups as part of his workout regimen. Now he pushes Cadillac Escalades. The change is a metaphor for his football success.

The game has been good to Walter Jones, even if his agent, Roosevelt Barnes, doesn't think it has been good enough.

"If it was up to him, he'd prefer to be somewhere else," Barnes said of Jones.

For the second time in two years, Barnes kept Jones away from the Hawks' Cheney training camp. For the second year in a row, he put the Seahawks' legitimate playoff chances in jeopardy.

Jones, one of the best left tackles in the game, returned to Seattle yesterday, after signing the Hawks' one-year tender.

He was 37 minutes late for practice.

But he was $5.9 million richer.

"I'm sure he didn't want to miss a game check," coach Mike Holmgren said. "Last year he missed two games, and that's a lot of money for anybody. If this was their (Barnes and Jones) plan from the beginning, it would have been nice to have him in last week, get banged around a little bit to get more prepared to play in this ballgame."

A week ago, Jones could have signed the same deal and been seven days closer to playing shape.

Instead he will enter Sunday's opener against New Orleans two pounds lighter than he was for his first game last season, but no more ready to play a full NFL game than David Wells is to run a marathon.

"It's part of the procedure," Jones, 29, said of his holdout.

But the process is killing the Seahawks. They need all of Walter Jones, but this week they'll be lucky to have 50 percent of him.

"To be the great player he is, it probably took him four games last year," Holmgren said. "He's still a very good player, but to be the dominant player that he is, he needs to play some games. He's got to get used to the speed again. You need a little bit of that in training camp — maybe not as long as we have it, but you need some of it to get ready to go."

Against the tyranny of time, Jones will try to prepare for a football game. It didn't have to be this way.

The Seahawks made a legitimate long-term offer to him — seven years at $6.2 million a year, plus a $13 million signing bonus. It would have made him the second-highest-paid offensive lineman in football behind Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden.

Jones, like almost every holdout who has preceded him said it was about respect, not money. But $13 million should have bought a career's worth of respect.

"I don't know what the magic thing is that will get this done," said senior vice president Mike Reinfeldt, who has negotiated with Barnes. "Walter's a good person. He likes Seattle. And he likes his teammates. We'll have a cooling-off period now, then maybe we can see if something (long term) makes sense."

Jones is an example of a good person getting bad advice.

He is well-liked by the players. He is soft-spoken and an easy target for good-natured kidding. But his holdouts are getting old. They're insults to his teammates, who suffered the tedium of camp and risked injury in the preseason while he was pushing Escalades in Alabama.

"For me this (negotiating) process is a lot like going to the dentist. A lot of times I don't understand what they're doing, and it's painful," Holmgren said. "Look, we want him to be part of what we do for a long time. We don't want him out of here.

"I'd like nothing better now than to go to work and, at some point, lock him up to a long-term deal. We've tried awfully hard, and it hasn't worked."

On Sunday, Jones will be the target of every fan's frustrations. He will be the focus of those who are tired of paying small fortunes for season tickets, who are tired of players making millions and sobbing about respect.

And just as sure as the sun will rise that day, Jones will be booed.

"That's just a part of it," he said.

An unnecessary part of another unproductive summer.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company


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