- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2002

A pass-oriented offense that has running back Stephen Davis headed for his fewest yards and carries since becoming the feature back in 1999 makes his return to the Washington Redskins unlikely.

Davis will earn $8million in salary and bonuses in 2003 to nearly double his current salary cap number to $11.4million. Contract talks for a new deal have been fruitless, and sources close to Davis said he is resigned to playing elsewhere next year although he would prefer to stay.

Davis has even joked about the situation in recent weeks, though he refused yesterday to discuss his future. Vice president of football operations Joe Mendes also declined comment, in keeping with his policy of not discussing contracts.

The Redskins could save $5.2million against the salary cap by releasing Davis when free agency begins March4. While the team has most of its key starters under contract for next season aside from unrestricted free agent offensive tackle Jon Jansen and defensive tackle Daryl Gardener Davis' release could help the Redskins sign or retain several prominent players that might better help the team's continued rebuilding. Jansen is not expected to return, but Gardener indicated he'd like to stay. Regardless, Davis will cost $6.2million against the cap next year.

Davis' loss has been expected since he signed a blockbuster nine-year, $90million deal in 1999 that was essentially a four-year contract before dramatically escalating in 2003. The Redskins prepared for losing Davis when they drafted Ladell Betts in the second round earlier this year. However, Davis' three straight 1,300-yard seasons, two team single-season rushing marks and two Pro Bowl berths has made him irreplaceable. Davis trails Larry Brown by only 318 yards for the second most in franchise history behind John Riggins.

However, Davis has been unable to gain Steve Spurrier's confidence enough to change the coach's Fun'n'Gun's reliance on quarterbacks. Although Davis missed 2½ games with a sprained knee, he's averaging fewer than 18 carries for 73.4 yards a game. Davis is on course to finish with 196 carries for 1,027 yards, which are 130 carries and 357 yards below his average over the past three years.

The Redskins' 58.6 percent ratio of passing plays is the highest since 1988. Spurrier said he won't depend on Davis regularly to remedy the NFL's No.26th offense.

"I don't think any one player can carry our offense," he said. "No one player can carry an offense on any team I've ever played on."

Davis has lobbied for more chances in recent weeks, but after getting 24 carries against Green Bay on Oct.20, he had a total of only 35 runs over two games. Although Spurrier dictated more runs than passes in three straight games and won two, the offense is still pass-oriented. Spurrier will change quarterbacks for the fourth time this season Sunday when Danny Wuerffel opens against St. Louis.

"Surprised? Not really. But whatever's called, we just have to go do it," Davis said. "We have to be more balanced. Getting more of the run is hard to say, but we have to execute no matter what we do."

Davis bristled when asked if no longer being the offensive core bothered him.

After being the core of the team for three seasons, Davis clearly is troubled by his new role. He spoke carefully when responding to questions, not wanting to directly criticize Spurrier.

"How hard is it? Hard. Very hard," Davis said. "The only thing I can do is produce. I can't worry about being the focal point of the offense."

But several teammates openly questioned why the Redskins didn't run more in losses to Jacksonville and the New York Giants the past two weeks. Spurrier conceded poor play-calling when the Redskins threw 51 passes against Jacksonville but defended throwing regularly in the rain at New York.

"It's hard when you lose games the way we lost them," Davis said. "We have to be professional about it and try to get better and win the game."


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