Little progress for a new contract has been made in the talks between the Steelers and Ward's agent, Eugene Parker, which began at the end of April. But at least they're talking. The agents for the six other players have gotten the silent treatment from Pittsburgh so far.
Cornerback Deshea Townsend, nose tackle Casey Hampton, receiver Antwaan Randle El, defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen, tight end Jerame Tuman and safety Chris Hope are cooling their heels waiting for the Steelers to begin talks.
But those six will have to wait either until Ward comes to an agreement or talks reach an impasse with him before the club opens negotiations with anyone else.
"The focus is always going to be on Hines first," said Townsend, who enters his eighth year with the team, the past 1 1/2 as a starter. "That's how it goes. I want to sign a new contract and stay here. I have to go out there and prove myself on the field again, I guess."
The Steelers may be unwilling to extend some of the seven starters before the season begins. Von Oelhoffen is 34. Tuman may not start much longer because they drafted tight end Heath Miller in the first round. They may want to see more of Hope, who started only one year, and Randle El, who is competing to start with Cedrick Wilson before entering into a long-term relationship. As for Townsend, they drafted cornerbacks on the second round in each of the past two years.
Hampton, though, was their top draft pick in 2001 and made the Pro Bowl after the 2003 season. He was playing as well until his ACL was torn in the sixth game last season.
"Whatever happens, happens, I can't worry about that," Hampton said. "I have to worry about getting back on the field. I missed 10 games last season, my main goal is to get back and try to help this team win."
Jerome Bettis practiced for the first time the past week since preparations for the AFC Championship Game Jan. 23. He said he wanted his body to heal from a general beaten-up feeling.
"It was a good rest," Bettis said, "but now it's time to get back to work."
The Steelers signed their second rookie draft choice -- LB Rian Wallace, their fifth-rounder from Temple.
Wallace received a three-year contract for $1,036,500 with a $111,500 signing bonus and annual salaries of $230,000, $310,000 and $385,000. He'll play inside linebacker.
"We are trying to keep him where he is more comfortable for right now," said Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler. "We will see how things go in camp and decide where our personnel is best fit."
After missing the first week of voluntary practices, LB Joey Porter and DE Kimo von Oelhoffen joined their teammates the past week.
In order to get on the field without taxing himself too much, CB Deshea Townsend was playing safety the past week. Townsend had sports hernia surgery earlier this year.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
S Ainsley Battles made the team in training camp but was placed on injured reserve and may not return.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
S Russell Stuvaints (tendered at $305,000).
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
LB Rian Wallace (5/166): terms unknown.
OG Chris Keamoeatu (6/204): $981,750/3 yrs, $61,750 SB.
QB Charlie Batch: UFA; terms unknown.
OT Barrett Brooks: UFA; $665,000/1 yr; 2005 cap: $455,000.
S Tyrone Carter: UFA; $1.28M/2 yrs, $95,000 SB; 2005 cap: $587,500.
TE Matt Cushing: UFA; terms unknown.
LB Larry Foote: RFA; $13.43/5 yrs, $3.25M SB.
RB Verron Haynes: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.
S Chris Hope: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.
DE Brett Keisel: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.
WR Lee Mays: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.
WR Sean Morey: RFA; $380,000/1 yr.
TE Walter Rasby: UFA; terms unknown.
PK Jeff Reed: RFA; $7.5M/5 yrs, $1.5M SB.
QB Brian St. Pierre: ERFA; $380,000/1 yr.
CB Willie Williams: UFA; $2.5M/2 yrs, $500,000.
TE Marco Battaglia: FA; terms unknown.
WR Cedrick Wilson: UFA 49ers; $8M/4 yrs, $2M SB.
LB Kendrell Bell: UFA Chiefs; $35M/7 yrs, $3.5M SB.
WR Plaxico Burress: UFA Giants; $25M/6 yrs, $5M SB/$3.25M OB '06).
DT Kendrick Clancy: UFA Giants; $565,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB.
TE Jay Riemersma (released).
OT Oliver Ross: UFA Cardinals; $17.5M/5 yrs, SB unknown.
CB Chad Scott (released).
OG Keydrick Vincent: UFA Ravens; $4.64 M/3 yrs, $1.25M SB.