- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2001

The Washington Redskins expect to open their pre-training camp practices today with their top three draft picks unsigned.

First-round wide receiver Rod Gardner, second-round cornerback Fred Smoot and fourth-round quarterback Sage Rosenfels did not reach contract agreements yesterday, the day before workouts begin at Redskin Park for rookies, quarterbacks and veterans returning from injuries.

Meanwhile, participating players reported to Washington. Among them was Rosenfels, who hopes to complete a deal within the next day or so and join 48 others in the on-and off-field sessions.

An agreement also might be close for Smoot, whose negotiations have been viewed as having significant hurdles. Agent Zach Hirsch said last night that he had submitted a proposal to the Redskins and was ready to have Smoot fly from Jackson, Miss., to Washington if the club accepted it.

"If they like it, he'll be on a plane tomorrow and at [the 10 a.m.] practice," Hirsch said by phone.

Gardner is further from a deal, but league sources said he probably will not end up a holdout when full-squad camp opens Monday in Carlisle, Pa.

There has been quite a bit of confusion about whether unsigned rookies are allowed to participate in these pre-camp practices and classroom sessions. Coach Marty Schottenheimer was told by the NFL Tuesday that they could; he then received a league document yesterday that said they could not.

Ultimately, it appears unsigned players cannot participate because the workouts are considered an early start to training camp, according to the document Schottenheimer received. Some teams, by contrast, hold rookie minicamps before training camp, in which unsigned rookies can participate but quarterbacks and injured veterans cannot.

The nuance was of little consequence to Gardner, the 15th overall pick out of Clemson. He spent the day in Atlanta, where he trains with Gus Pritchett and has some family. Reached there by phone, Gardner sounded eager to come to terms but indicated that he won't leave Atlanta until a deal is complete.

"I want things to get done as soon as possible so I can get out on the field," Gardner said. "Things are coming along. When my agent [Joel Segal] gives me the word I'll go. I'm just waiting for things to unfold."

Segal could not be reached for comment.

Gardner's contract, if it holds to the form of current mid-first round signings, should be for four years with an option for a fifth, league sources said. The option would come next spring and include a large payment, almost like a second signing bonus, that the team is virtually compelled to pick up.

Thus the "signing bonus," in this structure, actually consists of two payments. The system was created to lower salary cap figures in deals subject to the "Deion Sanders rule" big-bonus, low-salary contracts, often those of high draft picks. The rule takes prorated signing bonus out of a contract's back end and puts it into the front end, raising early cap figures and, at least theoretically, suppressing the signing bonus.

Schottenheimer continued to show little concern about potential holdouts.

"I've always been of the mind that you coach the ones that are here," Schottenheimer said, "because throughout the course of every season, you're going to lose a player here or there, and you still have to win. We'd like them here, but we don't control all of that."

Notes The end of the Deion Sanders saga appears in sight. "We're within a week to 10 days of having some information on Deion," Schottenheimer said, echoing a sentiment Redskins officials expressed to others in the league… . Free agent defensive tackle John Holechek canceled his visit to the Redskins, agent Brian Kelly said.

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