CLEARWATER, Fla. - The Phillies could open the 2007 season with the highest payroll in team history.

It could be more than $96 million after they sign first baseman Ryan Howard. But that projected payroll for their opening-day 25-man roster could change - and possibly drop - before the April 2 season opener, against the Atlanta Braves, at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies and Howard, their only unsigned player, are negotiating a contract and are expected to have a decision no later than Friday. Either the parties will come to an agreement or the Phillies will renew Howard's contract. Because Howard is not eligible for salary arbitration until after this season, the Phillies have that right.

A multiyear contract seems unlikely at this point, but the Phillies are expected to pay Howard at least $1 million next season, which would be a record for a player not eligible for arbitration.

Albert Pujols made $900,000 for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003, which is the current record for a player not eligible for arbitration.

The Phillies have not set a Friday deadline specifically for Howard, the only player on the 40-man roster still without a contract. The Phillies have had a long-standing policy of renewing the contracts of all unsigned players by the first renewal date. That date is March 2, which is Friday.

The Phillies technically have until March 11 to renew Howard's contract, but prefer to have their players signed by the first renewal date so the players aren't distracted and can prepare for the season.

The $96-million-plus figure includes $5.5 million the Phillies are paying Jim Thome, now the Chicago White Sox' designated hitter, and $7.5 million being given to righthander Jon Lieber. There is a chance the Phillies could trade Lieber before the start of the season to fortify the bullpen.

It also includes salaries for righthander Antonio Alfonseca and outfielder Karim Garcia. Alfonseca will be paid $700,000 if he makes the team, plus incentives. Garcia, who signed a minor-league contract with the Phillies, also will receive $700,000 if he makes the team.

Without Howard's contract, the projected payroll stands at about $95.66 million. Here's how it breaks down:

Pitchers (12 pitchers worth $48.43 million). Freddy Garcia ($10 million), Adam Eaton ($7.875 million), Jon Lieber ($7.5 million), Tom Gordon ($7 million), Jamie Moyer ($7 million), Brett Myers ($5.25 million), Ryan Madson ($1.1 million), Geoff Geary ($837,500), Antonio Alfonseca ($700,000), Cole Hamels ($400,000), Fabio Castro ($383,000), and Matt Smith ($380,000).

Catchers (two catchers worth $2.88 million). Rod Barajas ($2.5 million) and Carlos Ruiz ($380,000).

Infielders (six infielders worth $19.54 million, not including Howard). Jimmy Rollins ($8 million), Chase Utley ($5.5 million, plus perhaps $1 million of a $2 million signing bonus), Wes Helms ($2.55 million), Abraham Nunez ($2.1 million), Ryan Howard (unsigned), and Chris Coste ($385,000) or Greg Dobbs ($385,000).

Outfielders (five outfielders worth $19.31 million). Pat Burrell ($13 million), Aaron Rowand ($4.35 million), Jayson Werth ($850,000), Karim Garcia ($700,000), and Shane Victorino ($410,000).

Other (1). Jim Thome ($5.5 million).

Contact staff writer Todd Zolecki

at 215-854-4874 or tzolecki@phillynews.com.