Giving a linebacker a No. 56 jersey doesn't mean he's Lawrence Taylor. Giving him a $68 million contract doesn't mean he's worth $68 million, either.
Dan Snyder didn't quite understand this when he first took over the Redskins. He thought football was like other businesses he'd been in, that it was all about packaging and promotion. It ain't. It's about another "P" -- performance.
And so LaVar Arrington became a star, a fan and media darling when he was little more than just a good player. Had he been drafted by a team that wasn't so bereft of Pro Bowlers, had the attention and adulation not come so easily -- who knows? -- he might have developed into the Hall of Famer the franchise hyped him as. But he wasn't ... and he didn't.
Arrington's release yesterday shouldn't have surprised anyone given the downward curve of his career the past two years. The Old Order, in case you hadn't noticed, is out in Ashburn. The Redskins are no longer selling the sizzle. All Joe Gibbs and his staff are interested in is the steak.
That much was obvious last season, when Arrington couldn't get on the field for a while because defensive boss Gregg Williams figured he could live without him -- just as he had the year before, when LaVar was hurt. That clinched it: No. 56 was now Nonessential Personnel. Arrington eventually worked his way back into the lineup but rarely played with the same exuberance. Indeed, it was almost if as he was counting down the days until the free agent signing period.
Sure enough, Sunday night he agreed to forego more than $4 million in deferred money just to get the Redskins to let him go. The club, strapped for cap space, obliged. It was time for both parties to move on.
Simply put, Arrington was never a Gibbs Guy. A Gibbs Guy never would have responded the way LaVar did to being benched. A Gibbs Guy would have taken at least some personal responsibility. But LaVar claimed to be totally mystified by his demotion -- and worse, said the coaches had offered him no explanation. (Which, if you know anything about Gibbs' staff and how it operates, was total nonsense. Any coaches worth their whistles give constant feedback, whether the players want to hear it or not.)
"Don't they know who they're dealing with?" Arrington seemed to be saying. "Don't they know I'm LaVar Arrington?" All the coaches knew, though, was the linebacker they were seeing on the field. And they weren't seeing any three-time Pro Bowler. They were seeing a player coming off knee surgery whose undisciplined style smacked of "me" instead of "we."
But now, hey, he's somebody else's concern.
At yesterday's press conference, Gibbs looked like he'd just taken part in a sleep-deprivation experiment. He's been putting in long hours trying to rework the club's payroll -- in the event the CBA isn't extended and the salary cap is lower than expected. In fact, to go along with their offensive and defensive units, the Redskins now have a kind of renegotiation unit.
"We've had great cooperation with our players," Coach Joe said. "Eleven or 12 other players [besides Arrington] have helped us."
A year ago, the Redskins had a similar situation with Laveranues Coles, who wanted out and wound up being traded back to his old team, the Jets. So naturally I asked Gibbs, "Is it harder to keep players happy now since they have so much more freedom than they used to?"
"The one thing that doesn't change is human nature," he replied. "Maybe the money wasn't as big [in the 80s and 90s], but you still had these situations. It's just a matter of trying to work things out and be smart and do the right thing."
You tend to forget that, not long after being named Super Bowl MVP, John Riggins was talking to the USFL's Michigan Panthers. One of the players on that Redskins team, offensive guard Fred Dean, ended up signing with the new league (with Steve Spurrier's Tampa Bay Bandits), and cornerback Jeris White retired in a huff when he wasn't offered a contract to his liking.
Two years later, Art Monk was ready to jump to the USFL's New Jersey Generals, but Jack Kent Cooke matched their offer. Oh yes, Gibbs has been through this a few times before.
It's hard to feel any ill will toward LaVar, as lively and engaging and likeable as he is. Besides, he played a pretty mean outside linebacker -- at times. But he was a Dan Snyder player, and what this club needs most right now, if it's going to take the next step, are Joe Gibbs players. Arrington's departure might enable the Redskins to retain one or two ... or possibly even add one or two. Either way, it's worth it.