- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2000

Well, it's official. Stephen Davis didn't show up for training camp yesterday, when veterans were supposed to report. Yet another Redskin has rebelled at being designated a franchise player. And something tells me Davis won't be the last.

We all know why the Redskins are doing this to him: Because they can. They did it to Wilber Marshall and Sean Gilbert for the same reason. None of them are true franchise players, the kind of guys you build a team around, but that hardly matters in the NFL. If your contract is up and the club doesn't want to lose you and the franchise tag is available, there's a chance you will get stuck with it.

I use the word "stuck" because being named a franchise player is hardly an honor. Yes, it assures you a hefty paycheck the average of the top five salaries at your position but it prevents you from exploring free agency and finding out your real worth. Remember what Curt Flood said: "A well-paid slave is still a slave."

But, hey, that's the deal the NFL Players Association negotiated, and teams are nuts if they don't take advantage of it. You have got to save money where you can these days, what with the cap and all. If you can sign one of your top players for less than the sticker price, why wouldn't you? It might enable you to sign somebody else who could make a difference.

Still, it's a dangerous game for clubs to play. They risk alienating the player, and there are few things worse than an unhappy athlete. When Marshall was franchised, he forced the Redskins to trade him a nasty episode that required the the commissioner's intervention. When Gilbert had the tag put on him, he sat out the season and probably cost the Redskins a playoff spot. (He, too, was traded.) And now Davis is a camp no-show and looking like he might be out a while. Not good.

Dan Snyder, Mr. Softee in other negotiations, is playing hardball with him. To take away some of Davis' leverage, he has added Adrian Murrell, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher, to the roster. Murrell and Skip Hicks don't equal Stephen, but they would give the Redskins at least a credible rushing attack.

More than anything, Snyder has made Davis wait in hope his insecurities will heighten and he will reduce his demands. This is, after all, Stephen's first big contract, and he didn't become the starting running back until last season. Maybe, after years as a backup, he isn't entirely sure how good he is.

I think he's plenty good. I think he's the best running back the Redskins have had since John Riggins. Terry Allen was terrific for a couple of seasons, but he never ran the ball the way Davis did last year. Stephen gave the offense T.A.-like consistency between the tackles and much more of a breakaway threat. His 4.8-yards-a-carry average was almost a full yard higher than Allen's 3.9 in '95 and '96, his two best seasons.

The Redskins say they're concerned about Davis' durability he missed the last two games last year and was less than 100 percent in the playoffs but that's nonsense. Deion Sanders has durability issues, too, and the Redskins still handed him an $8 million signing bonus, $3 million more than they have offered Davis. Besides, Stephen hasn't had any serious injuries as a pro, only dings here and there. And he showed no signs of wearing down last season despite a heavy workload. Four of his top five rushing efforts came in the last 10 weeks.

Snyder hasn't helped matters any by throwing all that money around in the offseason $8 million up front for Deion, $4.25 million for Bruce Smith, $10 million each for rookies LaVar Arrington (when he finally comes to terms) and Chris Samuels. It's just going to make it harder to re-sign Davis. After all, Stephen must be thinking, if they're worth that kind of dough, what am I, the leading rusher in the NFC, worth?

With Davis absent, Hicks and Murrell are getting more of an opportunity to show what they can do. Skip, who became kind of a forgotten man last year, plans to make the most of it. "This gives me a chance to get a lot of reps, get a lot of the rust off and show the coaches I can still play," he said. But can he become more of a north-south runner he has a habit of bouncing it outside and handle 25 carries a game? "I think so," he said. "Stephen made himself into more of a north-south runner." As for carrying the ball more, "[At UCLA] I always carried the ball a lot. I was known as a guy who, the more carries he got, the better he ran."

Some running backs (Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith) have been able to miss most or all of training camp and not have it affect them. And some (Jamal Anderson) have come back and gotten hurt right away. This is the other risk the Redskins are taking. Which category will Davis fall in? When he finally signs, will he be game-ready or close to it or will he be a candidate for a pulled hamstring?

"Coming off an [ankle] injury," Norv Turner said, "from a conditioning standpoint, every day he misses hurts him."

Yeah, but people tend to forget that two weeks after Davis sprained his ankle last season, he ran for 119 yards in barely half of a playoff game. The Redskins make it sound like this ankle thing is career-threatening.

This much is certain: Norv doesn't want to go into the opener against Carolina without Davis. Tre Johnson, his best blocker, already has been suspended for the game (for inadvertently swatting an official). With no Stephen, no Tre and the Panthers possibly adding Eric Swann to a defensive line that already includes Gilbert, it could be a very long afternoon for the Redskins.

But Snyder is holding firm, insisting Davis sign a one-year tender and report to camp before negotiations on a long-term contract begin. And Davis is holding equally firm, saying he won't sign a tender without the guarantee the team won't franchise him again next year (if a new contract isn't worked out).

Memo to the Redskins: Be fair. Don't try to take advantage of the kid. It will only come back to haunt you.

Memo to Davis: When Mark Rypien held out one year, Jack Kent Cooke called him a "bloody idiot." And Ryp only missed a week. Just thought you might like to know.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide