The Washington Redskins never have had a franchise player under contract. They could have two this season in halfback Stephen Davis and receiver Joey Galloway.
Arbitrator Nicholas Zumas ruled Thursday that Seattle wide receiver Galloway was eligible to be an unrestricted free agent Friday. The Seahawks promptly slapped a $4.095 million franchise tag on Galloway with the intention of trading him soon because he angered coach/general manager Mike Holmgren with his holdout and rejection of a seven-year, $35 million contract last season. Seattle wants to clear salary cap room to re-sign defensive end Phillip Daniels.
The Redskins, who had discussed a trade for Galloway during his holdout, could dangle the 12th or 24th choice in April’s draft and/ or restricted free agent receiver Albert Connell. Washington is believed to be the leading suitor for Galloway, with Baltimore, Dallas and Philadelphia next in line. NFL sources said Cleveland isn’t likely to be very involved in the Galloway sweepstakes at the cost of relinquishing the first pick in the draft.
Neither Galloway nor Connell, who was tendered Thursday at $1.027 million (with a first-round draft choice required as compensation to Washington by the team that signs him to an offer sheet), can be traded while unsigned so their prospective new teams would have to work out contracts in advance of a deal.
As expected, the Redskins declared NFC rushing champion Davis their non-exclusive franchise player after half-hearted contract negotiations remained at an impasse. Washington player personnel director Vinny Cerrato said last night that the team will not negotiate again with Davis’ agent, Steve Weinberg, until mid-July.
Davis is guaranteed the franchise figure of $3.532 million but is seeking an eight-year, $51 million deal with a $10 million signing bonus. That contract would actually lower his cap number by $1 million this year.
Last month Davis rejected Washington’s $15 million, five-year offer that included a $3 million signing bonus and recently turned down a six-year, $31 million proposal that included a $5 million signing bonus.
Weinberg said the Redskins’ current offer would pay Davis $10 million over the next three seasons, $6 million less than his proposal. Davis couldn’t be reached for comment, but Weinberg said his client was “very upset” about being franchised.
The non-exclusivity of the franchise tag means that Davis can shop for a team willing to give him the contract he wants and give the Redskins its top pick in the next two drafts.
Weinberg is hopeful that Detroit, Kansas City, the New York Giants and Arizona will make a push for Davis. But NFL sources cast severe doubt on that happening, and Washington coach Norv Turner, who suffered through a yearlong holdout by franchised defensive tackle Sean Gilbert in 1997, remains optimistic that the team will re-sign Davis.
If Galloway winds up in Washington, the Redskins would have both of the receivers they coveted in the 1995 draft. Washington used the fourth pick overall on 6-foot-3, 220-pound Michael Westbrook because the Colorado receiver was more in the big, physical mold of Michael Irvin, who had starred for Turner in Dallas.
The 5-foot-11, 188-pound Galloway went to the Seahawks with the eighth choice. However, Westbrook missed 16 games with injuries during his first four years while averaging 37 catches and three touchdowns. Galloway missed just one game while averaging 65 catches and nine touchdowns.
Those 65 catches and nine touchdowns are the figures Westbrook posted last season as he finally started every game and led the NFL with 18.3 yards per catch, just ahead of Connell, who had 62 catches and seven touchdowns. Galloway, 28, caught 22 passes with one touchdown and a 15.2-yard average after returning from his holdout for the final six games.
Galloway also was Seattle’s top punt returner in 1995, 1996 and 1998, so if he comes to Washington, that would likely end record-setting return specialist Brian Mitchell’s 10-year Redskins tenure. Fullback Larry Centers assumed much of Mitchell’s pass-catching duties last season, and restricted free agent James Thrash was sharing kickoff return responsibilities by the end of 1999.
Even if they cut Mitchell, the Redskins would eat up the $5 million hike in the cap by replacing Connell with Galloway and quadrupling Davis’ pay from the $934,000 he made in 1999. That wouldn’t leave much money to accomplish the rest of their offseason goals.
Among the 33 Redskins who will be granted some level of free agency Friday are eight starters: Connell, middle linebacker Derek Smith, defensive ends Marco Coleman and Anthony Cook (Washington has the right of first refusal on his offers), center Cory Raymer, guard Keith Sims, offensive tackle Andy Heck and free safety Leomont Evans. The Redskins hope to re-sign all of them except Heck and Evans.
Smith, Thrash and fellow restricted free agents Brett Conway, Ndukwe Kalu, Eddie Mason, Brad Badger and Barron Tanner were tendered at the $472,000 minimum. If any signs an offer sheet, Washington would receive compensation commensurate with the round each was chosen except for Thrash, who wasn’t drafted. The Redskins also tendered Mike Sellers, Tim Denton, Doug Brown and Derrius Thompson, who can’t negotiate with other teams because they’re exclusive-rights free agents.
Washington didn’t tender linebackers Twan Russell (restricted) and Malcolm Hamilton (exclusive rights).
Notes Tight ends coach Mike Pope, whose contract had expired but whom the Redskins wanted back, took the same position with the Giants Thursday. Pope, who had worked for the Giants from 1983 to 1991, had never cut his ties to the New York area.
The departure of Pope, Turner’s seventh assistant to leave or be let go in the past month, might mean jobs for both yesterday’s Redskin Park interviewee, Kirby Wilson, and today’s, Dave Atkins. Wilson, who had been New England’s running backs coach, and Atkins, who had coached Minnesota’s tight ends, were the candidates to replace departed running backs coach Bobby Jackson. However, Atkins might now be in line to take over for Pope.