There is ample time for the Eagles and LeSean McCoy to agree on a contract extension, with 74 days left until the start of training camp.

But is July 25 - the day veterans are to report to Lehigh - really a deadline or an arbitrary date in negotiations?

If McCoy plans on holding out, then yes, it would be a deadline of sorts, although the Eagles may not view it that way. The Pro Bowl running back has one year left on his contract and the team may consider that all the leverage it needs to get him into camp on time.

Holding out is one of the few points of leverage an NFL player has on his employer, however, and McCoy has plenty of weight. Other than quarterback Michael Vick, he is the Eagles' most important piece. Last season he was their most valuable one.

As of last week, negotiations were continuing and "still very productive," as one source close to the situation described dialogue between the front office and McCoy's agent, Drew Rosenhaus.

"No one is frustrated at this point," the source said. "It's not like either side has stomped away upset. But there's a ways to go."

The two sides have been talking on and off since the season ended in January, with incremental movement toward an agreement. In the meantime, more pressing needs took precedence for the Eagles.

They re-signed their own key free agents, extended a few loyal subjects, traded for a middle linebacker, acted quickly to replace their injured left tackle, and conducted a draft with near-unanimous approval.

As far as offseasons go, it was a productive one for Eagles coach Andy Reid and general manager Howie Roseman. The only unresolved issue, essentially, is extending McCoy.

By approaching Rosenhaus, the Eagles have made it clear that they would rather lock up the 23-year-old long-term rather than go year to year, as the Bears and Ravens seem willing to go with their star tailbacks. Both sides have labeled the Eagles' initial advances "aggressive."

The Eagles, of course, also have the franchise tag at their disposal. They could have McCoy play out this season - at his $615,000 base salary - and then franchise him for 2013, and perhaps even 2014.

McCoy would stand to earn millions if he played his fifth and sixth seasons under the tag, but he would not get the millions in up-front bonus money that he would surely prefer playing the most physically demanding position in football.

When he last spoke about his contract situation in February, McCoy said that he would play out his rookie contract and that an extension was not on his list of concerns. He has attended the Eagles' optional offseason workouts since mid-April and is expected to be present in a week when formal spring practices begin.

But will McCoy show for the three-day mandatory minicamp that starts June 12? That minicamp is often the offseason event that players choose to skip if they want to make a statement over their contract situations. In 2005, former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook made such a statement.

McCoy is not Westbrook, a surly character who had an often contentious relationship with the Eagles front office. He is also not DeSean Jackson, who let his contract uncertainty affect his performance on the field.

McCoy is more trusting than both. He wants to please. But he didn't get the nickname, "Shady" for nothing. The Eagles have to tread carefully in negotiations. If they insult him he is capable of shutting down.

The Arian Foster contract should be an accurate starting point for talks. The Texans' fourth-year running back signed a five-year, $43.5 million contract in March with $20.75 million guaranteed.

Foster and McCoy came into the league at the same time. Their career totals are very similar - Foster has 4,411 yards from scrimmage and 33 touchdowns; McCoy has 4,241 yards and 33 touchdowns - but Foster played less in his first season as an undrafted rookie.

Their contract situations are also different because Foster was a restricted free agent this offseason. McCoy is two years younger, though, and seemingly more important to the Eagles offense. In the three games Foster missed last season his backup, Ben Tate, ran for close to 300 yards and scored two touchdowns.

McCoy's backup right now is Dion Lewis.

McCoy is friends with Foster. He is also close to Baltimore's Ray Rice and Chicago's Matt Forte, running backs who have yet to sign franchise tags that would pay them approximately $8 million this season. Both have skipped voluntary workouts and could be preparing for training camp holdouts.

Neither Rice nor Forte held out of camp last summer heading into their fourth seasons. Rice had a career year, amassing 2,068 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns. Forte was establishing career-best marks, as well, until he suffered a season-ending knee sprain in December.

Forte's injury was not career-threatening, but McCoy may not see the point of risking injury by showing up at least for the early part of training camp. He could risk losing an accrued year toward free agency if he misses an extended period, although he may be willing to forfeit a year if he's confident he can force the Eagles into giving him an extension.

Jackson skipped 11 days of camp last summer and reported a day before he was to lose a year. Westbrook, who refused to sign the Eagles' restricted free agent tender in 2005, reported eight days late for camp to avoid losing a year.

Both Jackson and Westbrook saw their production slip in those seasons. The Eagles, in dealing with McCoy now, are hoping to avoid similar discord, among many other reasons.

They have 74 days to get a deal done or risk a possible holdout from their 2011 MVP.

One of the Best

LeSean McCoy established himself as one of the NFL's elite running backs during the 2011 season. His performance on the field made it clear, but his career numbers back it up as well. Only five other running backs since 2000 have totaled as many yards from scrimmage and scored as many touchdowns over the first three years of their careers as the Eagles tailback.

Player   Team   Years   G/GS   Total Yds   *Avg.   TDs   *Avg.

LaDanian Tomlinson   Chargers    2001-03    48/48    6,145    128.0    42    .875

Chris Johnson   Titans    2008-10    47/46    5,606    119.3    38    .809

Adrian Peterson   Vikings    2007-09    46/39    5,313    115.5    41    .891

Clinton Portis   Broncos/Skins    2002-04    44/40    5,327    125.7    38    .905

Arian Foster   Texans    2009-10    35/27    4,411    137.2    33    1.03

LeSean McCoy   Eagles    2009-10    46/32    4,241    103.5    33    .868

Others

 Matt Forte   Bears    2008-10    48/48    4,731    98.6    22    .458

Ray Rice   Ravens    2008-10    45/33    4,544    132.4    14    .424

*Average based on games as the primary running back

- Jeff McLaneEndText

Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.