LaVar’s last stand?
LaVar Arrington knows he won’t be a member of the Washington Redskins much longer. That’s fine with him. In fact, Arrington is not sure he wants to play football for any team after this season.
“It’s not a given that I’ll continue playing if the Redskins get rid of me,” the 27-year-old linebacker says, sitting in the dining room of his majestic, 20,000-square-foot mansion east of Annapolis. “I don’t really want to play for anyone else. I don’t feel bad about it. I’ve had my time. I’m capable of doing other things besides football.”
For three seasons, from 2001 to ‘03, Arrington was the Redskins’ biggest star, a three-time Pro Bowl performer. He was well-rewarded by the club, and that’s when things began to go bad.
Arrington says an 18-month dispute over a $6.5 million bonus in the contract extension he signed two years ago poisoned his relationship with owner Dan Snyder, then the rest of the organization.
Arrington wouldn’t be a Redskin next season even if things still were amicable between him and the organization. He is due $12 million in 2006, and he likely will be cut before a July 15 deadline in his contract that calls for him to be paid $6.5 million if he still is on the roster.
“It’s crazy and unfair that something I had very little to do with derailed my relationship with management,” Arrington says. “You see they’re not marketing you anymore. You see people interacting with other people the way they used to interact with you. I watched how things were with Stephen Davis. I watched how things were with Champ [Bailey]. I saw the same things happening to me.
“I restructured my contract to help the Redskins. Do you think I’m going to do that now? Of course not.”
Davis produced the best three-year span (1999 to 2001) for a running back in franchise history, but he was cut after the 2002 season. Bailey was a four-time Pro Bowl cornerback (2001-03) with the Redskins, but he was traded to the Denver Broncos in March 2004.
Arrington says he’ll be the next to go. He says he would be cut even if he hadn’t missed most of last season because of injuries — injuries that lingered and made him a spare part for much of the first half of this season.
“Obviously, using me sparingly or not at all is a very clear message,” says Arrington, who did not play despite suiting up for an Oct. 9 loss to the Denver Broncos. “I’m not wanted here. I believe in my heart that the Redskins faithful love me as Ravens fans love Ray Lewis or Packers fans love Brett Favre. Some individuals hate it that there are more of my jerseys in the stands than anyone else’s.”
That feeling of separation from the Redskins coincided with Arrington’s move in February of last year to Annapolis and this house that sits on the lip of a creek that leads to the Chesapeake Bay.
Arrington lives so far from Redskin Park that he usually stays at a rental property in Virginia during the season rather than commute home to his version of paradise, with its adult playrooms full of autographed NFL helmets and NBA sneakers, suits of armor, Spider-Man statues, a koi-filled indoor pond and plenty of Arrington memorabilia.
There also is an all-pink baby room: Arrington and his wife, Trishia, are awaiting the birth of their first child, Marlee, around Jan. 15. Keeno, Arrington’s 5-year-old son from a prior relationship, is a frequent visitor.
“I didn’t plan to move this far from Redskin Park,” Arrington says. “I looked all over Virginia and Maryland for this type of setup. But I wanted to be near the water.”
The Redskins are on the verge of their first playoff berth in Arrington’s six seasons. He’s back in his accustomed spot as the weak-side linebacker, as he has been every week that he’s been healthy since Nov. 5 (he missed December wins over Arizona and Dallas because of a bruised thigh).
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.
Arrington says he intends not only to finish the year’s worth of course work he needs for a dual degree from Penn State in counseling and education, but he also wants to pursue a master’s and a doctorate.
He was less clear about his business ventures, but he was as emphatic as the bright red plates sitting on his dining room table that he can live without football.
“The Redskins will try and trade me, but if no one wants to take the trade, they’re going to have to cut me,” Arrington says. “If they string me into July, that’s not debilitating to me. If that means the end, that means the end. I can always look back at everything I’ve been through and say for the most part that I’ve handled things the right way. I haven’t embarrassed my name in any way. I’ve always been a cool guy.
“I’m happy in my skin. My parents instilled in us that you can’t take anything for granted. I’ve been preparing for my post-football career since I started playing. If I went no further than being Parade’s National High School Player of the Year, it was one heck of a ride.”
Arrington isn’t quite done with the game. He still hopes to experience — finally — the thrill of a journey into postseason.
“I’m still a part of this team, and we’re having a winning season,” he said. “If I get a Super Bowl ring, I could really feel good about leaving this game.”