- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 1999

Stephen Davis is leading the NFL with a Redskins-record 1,405 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. He's just 25 and hasn't suffered any major injuries. What's more, Davis, who is eligible to be a free agent in March, would like to remain a Redskin.
Perennial playoff contenders San Francisco and Dallas routinely reworked contracts in December to prevent offseason hassles. However, the Redskins foolishly have turned a deaf ear to Davis' agent, Steve Weinberg, and his attempts to open discussions.
"Things are where they were when I was in D.C. in October," the frustrated Weinberg said. "They said they won't negotiate during the season. We want to get something done. Stephen wants to be a Redskin, but it takes two to tango."
Just 11 months ago Trent Green, who shone last season in his first year as Washington's quarterback, was in the same boat, and he somewhat reluctantly headed into free agency. Prospective Redskins owners Dan Snyder and Howard Milstein with advice from former 49ers player personnel director Vinny Cerrato rejected then-general manager Charley Casserly's proposed $2.5 million offer to Green. They figured they could pay less on the free-agent market for a quarterback with just 14 starts on his resume.
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue interceded and declared that Redskins president John Kent Cooke and Casserly were still in charge until the league approved the franchise's sale. By the time Tagliabue made his decision the start of the free-agency period was a day away. Four days later, Green signed a four-year, $16.5 million deal with St. Louis.
Milstein is gone, but apparently Snyder and Cerrato haven't learned their lesson. Cerrato, now the Redskins director of player personnel, said the team will not discuss contracts with any of its prospective free agents until after the season.
"That's our philosophy for our first year here," Cerrato said. "We're still evaluating Stephen, but we want him back. Both parties understand the situation. We don't want any distractions right now. We'll tend to it before free agency starts. We plan on Stephen being a Redskin. We're not going to let him get on the market."
Weinberg said there is no drop-dead date a time when he will no longer negotiate with Washington and let the market determine Davis' value. However, Davis' price rises every Sunday.
What's really funny about the situation is that Weinberg and Casserly just about had nailed down a three-year, $3 million contract back in June. That happened well before Davis had beaten out Skip Hicks for the halfback job opened by the release of Terry Allen. However, a source said Snyder also nixed that deal.
So after a record-setting season, Davis figures to cost about four times as much. And instead of getting a deal done while Davis was still proving himself this fall, Cerrato will be forced to try and re-sign a likely Pro Bowl starter.
Jacksonville's No. 2 runner, James Stewart, Oakland's speedy Napoleon Kaufman and Baltimore's rejuvenated Errict Rhett will be free agents. But Cincinnati's Corey Dillon is the only back on the market who figures to draw nearly as much attention as Davis. Dillon is a three-time 1,000-yard runner. The Bengals will have the right to match any offers to the restricted free agent and would have to be compensated with a first-round draft choice if they let him go.
If Weinberg and Cerrato can't agree on a contract by the start of free agency March 2, the Redskins could put their franchise tag on Davis. That designation for a running back was worth $3.316 million in 1999 and will rise with the roughly $5 million-a-year deals St. Louis' Marshall Faulk and Atlanta's Jamal Anderson have signed.
A contract like that would be lucrative, but Davis would probably gripe as most franchise players do about being unable to test the market. The Redskins then would have just six weeks to get Davis signed or, if they don't sign him, to decide to use one of their three first-round draft picks on a replacement.
Either way, a holdout would be likely. That is a scenario the Redskins remember all too well from 1997, when franchise player Sean Gilbert, a defensive tackle, sat out the entire season. Washington finished 8-7-1 and just missed the playoffs. Having Gilbert instead of waiver-wire types at defensive tackle certainly could have made the difference.
Imagine the offense without Davis in 2000.

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