- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2006

Linebacker LaVar Arrington’s wish to play his old team twice a year came true yesterday when he signed an incentive-laden seven-year, $49million contract with the Washington Redskins’ division rivals, the NFC East champion New York Giants.

“I’m really excited,” Arrington said in an exclusive interview with The Washington Times. “I get to play for a winning team, a team heading in the right direction and I get to play the Redskins twice every year. My fans will see that they were right that my leaving Washington wasn’t about football. I can still play.”

Arrington, taken second overall by Washington in the 2000 draft and a Pro Bowl pick from 2001 to 2003, had his once-close relationship with Redskins owner Dan Snyder ruptured by a 19-month contract dispute that began just before the end of the 2003 season.

Arrington never earned the trust of new defensive boss Gregg Williams or linebackers coach Dale Lindsey in 2004, missing most of that year with an ailing leg and then spending most of the first half of 2005 in a reserve role before returning to the lineup at midseason. Arrington’s interception set up what proved to be the winning touchdown in the Jan.7 playoff victory at Tampa Bay, Washington’s first postseason triumph in six years.

“It’s going to be great to play in an organization where there are no big egos, where there’s a real family feeling,” said Arrington, who on March6 was granted his release from the Redskins to give them salary cap relief and to give him maximum time to find a new team.

“I feel like a million pounds of pressure have come off me,” he added. “People were saying the market for me had dried up, but they were wrong. I didn’t want to rush into an emotional decision or go for all the money right away. I wanted to amass the facts, carefully weigh my options and make the right choice.”

Arrington was also wooed by Jacksonville and Miami and was nearly swayed to Green Bay by a late sales pitch from Packers quarterback Brett Favre. Ultimately, the ability to remain relatively close to his Annapolis home, his family in Pittsburgh, his wife’s family in New Jersey and the cultural mecca of New York proved decisive.

So, six years after donning No.56 in honor of Giants Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, Arrington — who’ll wear No.55 since Taylor’s number has been retired — has a chance to be a latter-day L.T. in New York.

“We needed a big, power player to add to our defense and LaVar Arrington is that,” Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi told Giants.com. “He has a presence about him and he makes us a better football team. We came to an agreement that achieves what everybody wants: the player being rewarded for performance.”

Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, who in March 2005 jumped from the Redskins to the Giants, helped persuade his pal to do the same.

“A.P. had told me a lot of good things about the Giants and he was in the room with me and [defensive coordinator] Tim Lewis when I made my first visit, translating their terminology,” Arrington said. “I’m going to rely on A.P. to get me caught up in their system.”

Arrington, who turns 28 in June, said he has been working hard with a personal trainer but was eager to get to Giants Stadium to begin work with his new teammates, some of whom he knows well from college at Penn State, Pro Bowls or from Washington. Arrington’s relationship with Lewis dates to the early 1990s when he was a Pittsburgh ballboy and the coach was a Steelers assistant.

“I feel good,” said Arrington, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgeries in September 2004 and April 2005. “I’m 100 percent, whatever that means. I still love my teammates in Washington, but I want to start building relationships with the guys in New York.”

The Redskins visit Giants Stadium on Oct. 8 and the teams conclude the season on Dec. 30 in Landover.

“Those games, especially the one in Washington, are going to be strange,” Arrington said. “It feels strange right now thinking about playing the Redskins, but I’m looking forward to it, believe me.”

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