- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

A late switch by the Washington Redskins has defensive tackle Daryl Gardener frustrated again and his future uncertain.
Negotiations to re-sign Gardener are back in a quiet period after a flurry Thursday and Friday ended with significant progress but no deal. Gardener flew back to his offseason home in Miami yesterday morning "bothered and disappointed" that he remained unsigned, agent Neil Schwartz said.
Gardener's expectations were high, of course. He hoped his desire to sign with the Redskins without testing free agency and his presentation of what he considered a fair proposal would lead to an agreement.
At times Friday, a deal appeared possible. But when talks seemed to come down to a final element whether to include a backside payment at the end of three years, its size dependent on how injury-free Gardener's back remained the Redskins wanted to change the $5 million signing bonus agreed upon, sources familiar with the talks said.
The club was willing to boost the bonus, but in exchange it wanted to make the entire payment subject to the future health of Gardener's back. Normally, signing bonuses are the only guaranteed part of a contract.
The sides had been examining other ways to protect Washington, including "split" salaries and insurance. But the Redskins apparently wanted more protection. Gardener, who turns 30 this month, had back surgery in 2000 and 2001 and endured spasms before and in the early part of last season.
Gardener feels comfortable with his proposal, which calls for about $15.7 million over the first three years, including the $5 million signing bonus and backside payment. It is for six years total; the Redskins are offering five years, but the difference is immaterial because NFL salaries generally are not guaranteed. Washington actually would benefit from a sixth year because it would lessen the annual hit on the salary cap.
The $15 million figure over three years is loosely based on what Gardener was scheduled to be paid from 2003 to 2005 by the Miami Dolphins, who cut him last summer. He believes he can get that type of money in free agency.
Thus the next move appears to belong to the Redskins. They must decide whether they can live with a value and structure similar to what Gardener is proposing. They were several million dollars short Friday night, but a bigger concern seemed to be their proposed contingency on the signing bonus.
The next two weeks likely will determine whether Gardener, the best of 10 Redskins scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, re-signs. Although free agency doesn't begin until Feb. 28, those close to Gardener say and his comments in recent weeks indicate that he'll decide on the Redskins well before that date.
At issue is the good will Gardener believes he extended by being so open about his desire to re-sign. He left Redskin Park at season's end without any of his belongings and said, "Money is not a problem. I have enough money to retire. I'm comfortable with that. Just because of who I am, there's a price with me. We can come to terms with that. But I'm going to be a Redskin regardless." Also, he recently made a down payment on a house in the area.
Those close to Gardener say he is patient for now but won't be for long if he continues to feel the Redskins aren't reciprocating his goodwill.
There are no talks scheduled in coming days, but they could be rekindled at any time. The recent resumption of discussions followed Gardener's return to town Wednesday. He didn't want to leave town without a deal but the fact that he did doesn't mean that he has given up on the Redskins.
Gardener's most likely other destination would be Cincinnati, where former Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis is the new coach. Gardener also has expressed an interest in playing for Dallas, where Bill Parcells recently returned to the NFL. Denver also is a possibility.

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