He has made just 38 tackles. Because he rarely plays on third down, Arrington doesn’t have a sack. However, he says he’s not unhappy with his role.
“At some point during that six-game drought when I wasn’t playing much, I lost my mojo,” Arrington says. “I accepted being on the bench for the good of the team. But I shouldn’t have. I was like, ‘Is this the way my career is going to end?’
“I found myself for the first time this season on Saturday. I was like, ‘I could care less what people think about me or what they say. I’m just going to be me.’ And I think it showed.”
Which comes back to Arrington’s reputation as a freelancer, a player who relies on instinct and athleticism to make plays rather than functioning in the context of a coach’s designed scheme.
The Redskins surprisingly ranked as the third-best defense in the NFL last season even though Arrington started just two games and played in only four. If Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach-defense, and linebackers coach Dale Lindsey didn’t believe before their first season in Washington that they could succeed without Arrington, they certainly did afterward.
So there was no unease on the part of the coaches when Arrington missed two weeks of training camp to rehab his knee — it’s twice been surgically repaired — nor when they chose to start Warrick Holdman ahead of him.
“Joe Paterno started the whole thing of me being a freelancer and it has continued through my whole career unwarranted,” Arrington says of his coach at Penn State. “I’ve been called a freelancer doing what I was asked to do. If I ran into any gap I wanted, how long would you keep me in the game?
“[Former defensive coordinator] Marvin Lewis said, ‘LaVar ran around like a chicken with his head cut off until I got here.’ But I made a Pro Bowl before he got here.”
Arrington says his refusal to give his entire life to football also hurt his standing with coaches.
“Causing a fumble to win a game or getting an interception to change a season, that’s not the extent of my life,” he says. “It never has been. I always see myself as a person first. Maybe coaches get upset that I don’t take myself or this game too seriously and they do. Maybe they get upset because I see it as a game and nothing more than a game.”
That game, of course, gave Arrington millions of dollars — the disputed contract was worth $68 million over eight years — and gobs of glory.
But Arrington says nothing necessarily will keep him in pads and cleats next season. Not the prospect of playing in San Diego for his favorite coaches, ex-Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer and assistant Greg Manusky. Not the prospect of playing for the Chargers alongside former Maryland linebacker Shawne Merriman, the protege Arrington calls “my baby boy.”
Arrington might have few good options: Two NFL scouts agree he is damaged goods since he hasn’t been a healthy, full-time starter since 2003.
“No team is going to take on that contract,” one said. “LaVar’s going to have to sign the best one-year deal he can get and show everybody that he’s back to his old self to get another big contract.”
Arrington says he would seriously consider playing for the Chargers and a few other teams but that he’s already looking beyond football.