- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 8, 2003

The Washington Redskins and defensive tackle Daryl Gardener agreed yesterday on most points in a six-year contract with a $5million signing bonus, NFL sources said, but agent Neil Schwartz left town late last night without a deal completed.

The sticking point was the total compensation for the first three years for Gardener, the best of 10 Redskins headed for unrestricted free agency.

Gardeners expectations were loosely based around the contract he lost when the Miami Dolphins cut him last summer. He had been set to receive more than $15million from 2003 to 2005, and he hoped to recoup that money in this deal.

The Redskins, led in talks by owner Dan Snyder, and Schwartz hoped an agreement would be struck during a meeting last night, but it was not despite significant progress earlier in the day. Talks will continue with a deal possible in coming days.

"If I have to come back tomorrow, I will," Schwartz said before getting on a plane last night.

Of concern for both sides was Gardeners back and how it affects his value. Gardener, who will turn 30 later this month, had back surgery in 2000 and 2001 as a Dolphin and endured back spasms before and in the early part of last season as a Redskin.

After being cut by Miami, Gardener signed with Washington for $775,000, which included a $250,000 signing bonus. His market value had dropped because of questions about his back and level of commitment.

Those questions appeared to be answered in 2002, when Gardener was a disruptive force on the interior line and impressive with his work ethic and attitude.

Despite missing much of the preseason and a Sept.16 game against Philadelphia with back spasms, Gardener led Redskins linemen with 71 tackles. He also had four sacks and four passes defensed. And his biggest impact was penetrating the line and creating plays for teammates.

The Redskins and Gardener were considering several ways to protect the club from a setback to his back. In addition to using some type of incentive for staying healthy, it appeared likely that at least one other measure would be included in the final deal.

The first idea was to have Gardener receive a "split" salary if his back flared up. A traditional split is less than the minimum base salary and is paid instead of a players scheduled salary when he goes on injured reserve. It often is negotiated into contracts of injury-prone players or young players without much bargaining power.

In Gardeners case, there could be a traditional split, but the sides were considering an additional split that would drop his salary to the minimum for each game he missed because of a back injury. That unique arrangement would have more impact in later years because the first year of a long-term deal usually pays around the minimum anyway.

Another idea was to have some sort of insurance. A fairly common scenario would be for Gardener to purchase a disability policy with the Redskins as the beneficiary. In such an instance, the club would be paid a prorated portion of his signing bonus for each game he missed because of back injury. Donovan McNabbs recent blockbuster deal with the Philadelphia Eagles included such a clause.

Talks to re-sign Gardener resumed Thursday after being stalled for several weeks. He returned to town Wednesday from his offseason home in Miami and expressed disappointment that he still wasnt signed.

Although Gardener now appears likely to remain with the Redskins, he has spoken in recent weeks of "options." He regards Cincinnati, where former Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis now is coach, and Dallas, where Bill Parcells returned to the NFL, as choice destinations if a deal fails in Washington.

Fellow defensive lineman Carl Powell appears to be Washingtons next priority after Gardener. Generating the salary cap room for those moves and others is the coming release of running back Stephen Davis, which will save $5.2million of space and position Washington several million dollars below the $75million limit.

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