Haslett Working Without A Contract

The New Orleans Saints' top draft pick is unsigned, and their starting quarterback is holding out. General manager Mickey Loomis has another problem, too: Coach Jim Haslett is in the final year of the original three-year contract he signed in 1999. Attempts to get him signed to a new deal before training camp fell short. ``Having the head coach under contract for a long period of time, especially a very good head coach like Jim is, is very important,'' Loomis said. Haslett's current base salary is $900,000. That deal places him in the bottom quarter of the NFL's 32 head coaches, according to published reports. Haslett is believed to be seeking a five-year deal that averages $2.5 million a season. Rams coach Mike Martz last week signed for $3 million a year. Loomis and Haslett discussed the new deal as they waited for players to report to training camp. Both said they thought the negotiations were down to fine points.

``We're talking about the nonfinancial pieces of the deal right now,'' Loomis said. Among the things still to be settled is the length of the contract and whether the final year will be an optional one. Haslett also was known to be seeking extensions and raises for his coaching staff. Haslett, in his third year, led the Saints to their only playoff victory in his first year, and was named the NFL Coach of the Year. Last season the Saints finished with four straight losses and a 7-9 record. Haslett does not want negotiations to become a distraction this season. ``I'm going to worry about what's going on in the field and what's going on in the meeting rooms, and I think the other issue will hopefully be taken care of one way or the other soon,'' Haslett said. Haslett acknowledged it might to be to his advantage to finish the final year of his contract before signing a new deal. Such a move would allow him to not only negotiate with the Saints but with other teams. ``I guess it depends on a number of different things,'' Haslett said. ``I don't think it's what's best for this football team, but that's always a possibility.''