- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2003

The Washington Redskins yesterday signed LaVar Arrington to a nine-year contract worth more than $60million, making the Pro Bowl linebacker one of the highest-paid players in the NFL.

The deal puts Arrington under contract for six additional years, through 2011, and helps the Redskins free up considerable space in 2004 and beyond. The extra room will be particularly significant in the coming offseason, when Washington intends to use the franchise tag on cornerback Champ Bailey and pursue other free agents.

“It was a big priority for us, for LaVar and for the organization to make him a long-time Redskin,” vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato said. “And it enables us to do things because of the cap room it creates, next year and beyond.”

The deal, according to sources familiar with the talks, includes $21million in bonus money, which could be considered among the most handed out in league history. Arrington is guaranteed of earning $15.5million in bonus money and is likely to receive the remaining $5.5million in 2006.

The contract, reported in some circles as eight years, technically is for nine because a $4.2million signing bonus is being committed to this season, which has just one day remaining. The deal also might be called a six-year extension because Arrington’s rookie contract was set to void after the 2005 season.

There also was some dispute as to the deal’s total value. Club sources put it at about $60million, while NFL sources claimed it was just under $80million.

By completing the contract before tonight’s season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Redskins were able to prorate a portion of bonus money into 2003 and use up the remainder of this season’s surplus cap room. Arrington’s $4.2million signing bonus is prorated over the contract’s first seven seasons, using up the approximately $600,000 Washington had under the 2003 spending limit.

Arrington, 25, who last week was named to his third straight Pro Bowl, would have counted more than $10million against the salary cap in 2004 and again in 2005. His cap number next season has been reduced by about $5million.

A new deal had been viewed as a long shot in recent weeks because Arrington was scheduled to earn so much money in 2004 and 2005 — about $15.5million. That figure now has been guaranteed, a big reason Arrington agreed to the deal. The approximate $5.5million in 2006 bonus money is essentially Arrington’s reward for skipping free agency that season.

According to his agent, Carl Poston, Arrington also was won over by the prospect of helping free up cap space to keep Bailey and potentially sign others free agents.

“LaVar’s a winner, and he wants to be part of a winning organization,” Poston said. “This shows his true commitment to the team. I think this also shows that [Redskins owner] Dan Snyder really wants to win.”

A benefactor of Arrington’s deal could be Bailey, who can become an unrestricted free agent after the season and whose negotiations have been at a standstill since August.

With Arrington’s new contract freeing up considerable cap space, Washington will have no trouble affording Bailey’s hefty franchise number while addressing other key personnel needs. There had been some speculation the Redskins might trade Bailey while he was franchised and sign another cornerback, moves that would have freed up millions in cap dollars. Now such a swap seems unlikely.

In addition, Arrington’s deal sets a benchmark for Bailey’s talks. In the preseason Washington offered Bailey a nine-year, $55million contract. It should be noted that in both instances, the eighth and ninth seasons of the deals are for cosmetic reasons only; teams can prorate signing bonus for only seven years (including 2003) or six years (beginning in 2004).

Entering tonight’s finale, Arrington has six sacks, 112 tackles (68 solo), seven forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. However, he also has been conspicuous at times in blown assignments. Overall, his performance is viewed as having dropped off from 2002.

While Arrington’s $21million bonus total appears to eclipse the mammoth bonus given out to the likes of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb ($20.5million) and Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis ($19million), NFL contracts aren’t so easily compared. In this case, Arrington is likely but not guaranteed to receive the final $5.5million of his bonus money.

Staff writer Jody Foldesy contributed to this article.

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