- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2001

A potential long holdout by the Washington Redskins' top two draft selections could threaten their impact this season.

The first-round pick, receiver Rod Gardner, and the second-round pick, cornerback Fred Smoot, both appear far apart in contract talks as rookies report today. NFL sources yesterday said the Redskins haven't even presented formal offers to either player during ongoing negotiations. The Redskins want a five-year deal with Gardner instead of the four-year pact he wants and low-balled Smoot's signing bonus.

Coach Marty Schottenheimer expects both players to attend the three-day rookie camp starting tomorrow at Redskin Park but doubts either will sign before veterans report to Dickinson College on Sunday. Unsigned players are permitted to participate in precamp practices but can't report to training camp.

"I don't see anything happening here in the next few days," Schottenheimer said. "We want them here, but you don't necessarily have control over it. They have the matter of choice."

Meanwhile, cornerback Deion Sanders may wait until Tuesday's major league baseball trading deadline before reporting to camp. Sanders could be promoted to the Toronto Blue Jays from their Class AAA Syracuse team if Toronto, as reported, deals an outfielder.

"Right now, I'm still a baseball player, and that's still my focus," Sanders told ESPN.com. "A lot could happen between now and [next week]."

The Redskins could fine Sanders up to $5,000 a day or could seek to void his contract for reporting late. Sanders doesn't have to report to camp if he's on a major league roster, so waiting two days to determine his baseball future is a measured gamble. Sanders is batting .237 for Syracuse.

Schottenheimer declined comment on the team's options with Sanders, saying he'll wait until Sunday before deciding.

The Redskins signed receiver Darnerian McCants, a fifth-round draft pick, to a three-year, $1.004 million deal with a $110,000 bonus. McCants joined defensive tackle Mario Monds, a sixth-round pick, as the only signed rookies, though quarterback Sage Rosenfels, a fourth-rounder, may sign today.

That only five first-round picks leaguewide have signed has hampered negotiations with Gardner. The closest to Gardner (15th overall) are Carolina linebacker Dan Morgan (11th) and Detroit offensive tackle Jeff Backus (18th). Both signed five-year deals, with Morgan getting $8.25 million and Backus $6.673 million.

The Redskins would prefer a five-year deal, but a four-year contract with an option for a fifth season is possible. How much of the contract is guaranteed money also is a hangup, as well as the bonus. The 15th overall pick last year Denver cornerback Deltha O'Neal received a $4.55 million bonus. Gardner will seek a 10 percent raise to $5 million, more than the Redskins will offer.

Gardner opens camp as Kevin Lockett's backup but is expected to start this season. However, a lengthy holdout could hamper his rookie season. Last year, LaVar Arrington missed one week and didn't start the first three games.

"You fall behind exponentially," Schottenheimer said of holdouts. "It becomes more and more difficult. Your lack of familiarity with what you're doing hampers your natural skills. Your mind is working, and it slows you down."

Schottenheimer was "very pleased" with Gardner's offseason progress but was reluctant to project the rookie's impact.

"I can't sit here and predict how quickly he'll put all the pieces together," Schottenheimer said. "Everybody develops at a different pace, and it's not necessarily related to physical skill. It's the ability to take all this information and process and do it at the speed you have to do it in this league.

"I've seen guys that are very, very bright and because they want to do it perfect fail to get it done for a period of time. Sometimes the guys that jump up and do it quickest may not be the brightest, but they don't care [about failing]. They're just playing ball."

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