- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

The Washington Redskins' urgency to re-sign defensive tackle Daryl Gardener probably increased yesterday when the Buffalo Bills used the franchise tag on wide receiver Peerless Price.
Price, 26, had 94 catches for Buffalo last season and was set to be the class of an otherwise weak group of unrestricted free-agent wide receivers. There were strong indications that Washington was preparing to make a run at him and add some star power and much-needed speed to coach Steve Spurrier's receiving corps.
But the franchise tag essentially takes Price off the market, forcing any team that signs him away from Buffalo to forfeit two first-round draft picks.
The upshot is that with no star wideouts in free agency the New York Giants' Ike Hilliard and Tennessee's Kevin Dyson now lead the class the Redskins must look even more closely at using their No.1 pick, 13th overall, on a receiver.
That means the top pick is less likely to be used on a defensive tackle, a strong position in the draft and perhaps Washington's biggest need if Gardener goes unsigned. Fellow defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson underperformed last year and is in danger of being a post-June1 cut this summer. Top reserve Carl Powell also is unsigned.
However, talks with Gardener are expected to intensify in coming days at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, NFL sources said.
A brief flurry in negotiations early this month ended with the Redskins pulling a late switch and trying to tie Gardener's entire signing bonus to the future health of his back. Gardener apparently has cooled down after exiting those talks frustrated, and there is optimism a deal can be reached.
However, it appears significant progress must be made soon. Gardener's comments in recent weeks have indicated that he will depart if he remains unsigned in the days before free agency opens on Feb.28. Denver is expected to be a strong contender for him, and he has said he would like to play for Cincinnati or Dallas.
Meanwhile, the Redskins probably will wait until next week to cut running back Stephen Davis and safety Sam Shade.
Spurrier yesterday said he wasn't aware of any plans to release Davis and Shade today, when the waiver wire resumes and a freeze on rosters ends. Others in the organization and around the league indicated that early next week would be the soonest to expect the moves.
The Redskins must trim an excess of between $5million and $6million before Feb.28 to comply with the $74.9million salary cap. They were believed to be a few million dollars closer to the cap in recent days, but final calculations of escalators and incentives from 2002 and forthcoming tender offers for 2003 leave overage estimates in excess of $5million.
Releasing Davis will save $5.2million of cap space and cutting Shade will mean another $1.6million. Those moves will be a start as Washington gets under the cap and positions itself to pursue free agents.
Note The Redskins reportedly are a strong contender to play in the NFL's season-opening Thursday night game. Last year's Thursday night opener, between San Francisco and the New York Giants on ESPN, was the first such game and a big success. According to the Hollywood Reporter, ABC is leaning toward Dallas-Washington or Dallas-New York Jets this year.

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