- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2003

With this new contract extension, one that runs through 2011, LaVar Arrington and Dan Snyder are practically conjoined twins. They’re as tied to each other as Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear are in “Stuck on You.” Call it “Stuck on LaVar.”

It has always been thus for Snyder. For some Freudian reason — or perhaps just for credibility’s sake — he has this need to attach himself to star players. Before this season, that player was Darrell Green, Mr. Redskin (and, to a lesser extent, Bruce Smith). And now he has exchanged vows with Arrington, a huge fan favorite and the club’s most charismatic personality. Total price tag: More than $60million, including $21million in bonuses.

LaVar is a good player, don’t get me wrong. He’s made the Pro Bowl three years running, and his reputation around the league is such that he can get voted in even when he has, for him, an off season. But is he a winner? And just as importantly, is he a leader? If you’re going to pay a guy that kind of dough, declare him one of your cornerstones, it seems like he should be both those things.

And with Arrington, well, the early returns aren’t encouraging. For starters, he has never played on a winning team in the NFL. During his time here, the Redskins have gone 8-8, 8-8, 7-9 and, after last night’s 31-7 evisceration by the Eagles, 5-11. That’s eight games under .500 for his career, folks. We won’t beat him up too badly over that, though, because football isn’t a one-man game, and it’s hard to determine how much any player is responsible for a club’s lack of success.

The larger issue is Arrington’s leadership ability … or lack thereof. It’s reasonable to ask, at this point, whether he’s really part of the solution or just another part of the problem. After all, he had issues last season with Marvin Lewis, even though Marvin helped make him a more productive player, and last week he said it might be nice if he were consulted on personnel matters. LaVar Arrington, linebacker-GM.

Is this the way a Team Guy behaves, or is this the way a Self-Absorbed Star behaves? I don’t know about you, but I’d like it a lot better if LaVar were telling us he wants to intercept five passes next year (like Ray Lewis has this season) or rack up 11 sacks (like he himself did a year ago). His totals in those two departments this season were zero and 61/2.

Let’s face it, the Redskins are critically lacking in leaders. Their free-fall this season from 3-1 to 5-11 showed that. You don’t go 2-10 over an 12-game stretch, losing close game after close game, unless there’s no one on the roster capable of rallying the troops. And by “rallying the troops,” I don’t mean making a bunch of Knute Rockne speeches. I mean making the right play at the right time every now and then, the kind of play that turns defeat into victory (or keeps victory from becoming defeat).

Arrington had ample opportunity to do that during the Redskins’ prolonged skid. Practically every week their opponent drove down the field in the fourth quarter for the winning score and … where was LaVar?

Where was he when the Giants were marching 78 yards for the winning field goal in overtime? When the Panthers were going 71 yards in the last five minutes? When the Dolphins were driving 69 yards in the final quarter? When the Saints were punching in the winning touchdown with 9:38 to play? When the Bears were moving 51 yards for a field goal in the final seconds?

Where was the sack-fumble? The tackle for a loss on third-and-short? The tipped pass that gets picked off? Isn’t that what a $60million cornerstone player is supposed to do? Arrington never did anything to stop the bleeding, not when it really mattered. (In fact, the only Redskins defender who did was Fred Smoot, the lucky interceptor of a pass at the end of the Seattle game that bounced off the hands of the intended receiver.)

If you wanted to make even more of a case against Arrington, you could ask: How the heck did the last Penn State team he played for wind up in the Alamo Bowl — after starting out 9-0? The Nittany Lions were in position to play for the national title when Minnesota, no juggernaut, came into State College and upset them, 24-23. They responded to this adversity by dropping their next two games as well, with LaVar’s defense surrendering a total of 66 points. In other words, this isn’t the first time he’s been on a club that started spiraling downward — and he wasn’t able to bring his “all-world” talent to bear on the situation.

I use the quotation marks because I’ve always considered Arrington to be a tad overrated. He’s one of those defensive players who’s always looking for the “kill shot” — the big hit that gets shown, from five different angles, on “SportsCenter” — and this tends to make them seem better than they are. There’s a growing body of evidence, though, that suggests he’s not a linebacker to die for, only a linebacker to die with.

Here’s something that’ll make your day. LaVar said after the game that he “definitely plan on being a lot more vocal and a lot more active with the players [next season] and will try to help turn this thing around to the fullest.” Why he wasn’t “a lot more vocal and a lot more active” this season remains unexplained.

But then, it’s a moot point. The papers have already been signed. LaVar Arrington and Dan Snyder are married now — for better or worse.

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