JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Tom Coughlin's biggest accomplishment on the opening day of Jacksonville Jaguars training camp Thursday was remembering how to deal with disappointment.
Just minutes after leading his players onto the practice field outside Alltel Stadium for the start of camp, a late afternoon thunderstorm washed out the scheduled conditioning run and provided a handy metaphor for Coughlin's disappointment. In a crucial year for the veteran head coach and his rebuilt team, the last thing Coughlin wanted to hear was that five-time All-Pro wide receiver Jimmy Smith was holding out in a contract dispute.
Smith, who has the longest tenure in Jacksonville of any current player, caught 112 passes for 1373 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago. He is considered crucial to the Jaguars' hopes of rebounding from two straight losing seasons, but told the Associated Press that he felt mislead by team officials, whom he claimed promised to reward him financially after restructuring his contract twice to help the team stay under the NFL salary cap.
"Last year, promises were made by management," he said "After last season, I wanted to see if they would keep that promise."
Smith is scheduled to make $2.75 million this season, which does not rank him among the top 15 wide receivers in terms of salary. He originally signed a five-year, $19 million deal in 1999 that has since been extended to 2006. Over the past five seasons, the 10-year pro out of Jackson State leads the NFL in receiving yards (7972) and catches (562).
Coughlin knows the statistics, and knows Smith is a valuable leader on the field and in the community. But while he "can understand where Jimmy's coming from," Coughlin wants his receiver in camp.
"I'm disappointed the discussion was in the press before we even had the holdout, before it was 1:00 (Thursday's deadline for players to report)," Coughlin said. "My thinking is we want our team together as fast as we can. We want our quarterback working with our receivers. We want our people here."
Smith was unhappy during the offseason when Jacksonville released Keenan McCardell as part of an offseason purge of veterans that helped the Jaguars erase over $25 million in salary cap overruns. Coughlin said he first heard last Friday that a Smith holdout was a possibility, but was still taken aback when the news broke Thursday. He denied ever personally promising to rework Smith's contract.
"Perhaps there were some promises made, but I don't know about those and (Jaguars owner) Wayne Weaver doesn't know about it," said Coughlin. "I've been in the position, I believe what Jimmy tells me. This is one of those real sensitive things where you're trying to get ready to go play a season, and I didn't know this was going to take place."
Negotiations between Smith's agent Gary Uberstine and Jaguars' chief negotiator Paul Vance are ongoing. Coughlin said that Smith would be fined for each day of camp that he missed.
HENDERSON ON BOARD: First-round draft pick John Henderson was Jacksonville's only other potential holdout candidate, but the defensive tackle from Tennessee agreed to terms Thursday afternoon.
The former Outland Trophy winner was the last Jaguar draft pick to sign. Henderson's deal is for $10 million over five years, including a $6.7 million signing bonus. Second-round selection Mike Pearson, an offensive tackle from Florida, signed a four-year, $1.7 million deal late Wednesday night.
With all their picks signed, the Jaguars have approximately $1 million of cap room remaining.
TWO-A-DAYS TODAY: The real work of preparing for the 2002 season begins this morning when the Jaguars report for practice. Almost all training camp sessions through August 19 are open to the public free of charge. Sessions will be at 8:40 a.m. and 3:20 p.m. today, Saturday and Monday-Tuesday. The Jaguars will hold single practices Wednesday and Thursday before the first big highlight of training camp, two joint practices with the New Orleans Saints on August 2 in Jacksonville.
-- The Associated
Press contributed to this report