As expected, Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch did not report to Foxborough yesterday, beginning a holdout that could cost him as much as $14,000 a day if the team chooses to impose fines.
The Patriots reported yesterday morning for meetings and conditioning tests, and will begin training camp today. The team placed Branch on the reserve/did not report list.
The Patriots got some good news last night when rookie running back Laurence Maroney agreed to a contract, according to a team source and a source close to Maroney.
A host of first-round picks agreed to terms in the past few days, including the two players taken immediately before Maroney in the draft -- San Diego cornerback Antonio Cromartie and Kansas City defensive end Tamba Hali.
Last year, Patriots guard Logan Mankins, the 32d overall pick, was the first first-rounder to agree to a contract. Maroney, selected 21st overall, is not only thought to be the Patriots' running back of the future, he is expected to share time with starter Corey Dillon this season.
Maroney, a former University of Minnesota star, said last night he is in the Boston area and was eager to hit the practice field.
Training camp opens with two practices today, at 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Maroney could join the team today, though he would have to complete a conditioning test before being cleared to practice.
Branch's agent, Jason Chayut, would not say if his client is in the area, but Branch has been working out and would be prepared to take the practice field as soon as a contract is worked out. Chayut indicated that Branch is prepared to sit for some time if the team doesn't make him a satisfactory offer.
``I don't know when that's going to happen," Chayut said. ``He recognizes, from his perspective, they're not doing right by him and he's disappointed with the team."
Branch, who could not be reached for comment, is entering the final year of a five-year contract he signed as a second-round draft pick in 2002. He is scheduled to make $1.045 million this season following a $500,000 incentive bump after posting career-best numbers of 78 receptions for 998 yards in 2005.
Former teammate David Givens, who entered the league the same year as Branch and was second on the squad in receptions and receiving yards last year, signed with Tennessee this offseason, picking up an $8 million signing bonus and a contract worth $24 million over five years.
Branch, who turned 27 last week, is looking for a contract more in line with Indianapolis's Reggie Wayne, who signed a six-year, $40 million deal with a $13.5 million bonus in February.
``He just wants to be treated fairly," Chayut said.
Should Branch's holdout extend into the season, he would have to report to the team before the 11th game of the regular season to be granted free agency after the season.
Branch is the second Patriots star to hold out in as many seasons in a contract dispute. Defensive end Richard Seymour, who had two years remaining on his contract, missed the first four days of training camp last year. He returned after the Patriots upgraded his salary for 2005, and he signed a four-year, $30 million extension in April.