- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

Time is starting to run short for the Washington Redskins after yesterday's crucial round of talks to re-sign defensive tackle Daryl Gardener again fell short.
There remains optimism that a deal can be struck in coming days, but further negotiations were not scheduled as of last night. Free agency begins Friday, and Gardener made it clear that if he doesn't re-sign before Friday, then he wants to sign elsewhere.
Yesterday's talks took place in Indianapolis, site of the NFL Scouting Combine. Redskins owner Dan Snyder again negotiated with agent Neil Schwartz.
"We unfortunately were not able to come to a deal," Schwartz said. "I'm still cautiously optimistic that something can happen."
The onus was on the Redskins yesterday after they capped the previous round of talks in early February with a proposal that frustrated Gardener.
Back then, Washington hoped to make Gardener's entire signing bonus contingent on the future health of his back. The lineman underwent surgery in 2000 and 2001 and missed time last preseason and early in the season to back spasms. He eventually recovered to earn the team's most valuable player award.
Gardener is looking for a $5million signing bonus with no contingencies and $15million over the next three years. His plan is loosely based on what he was scheduled to be paid over that time span before being cut by Miami last summer.
Expectations of such a contract in free agency leave Gardener unwilling to settle before the market opens. In the last round of talks, he rejected Washington's offer of about $12million over the first three years with the signing bonus contingency.
Gardener's re-signing is considered a key issue for the club because there are so many questions along the defensive line.
Fellow starting tackle Dan Wilkinson is in danger of being cut after June1 because of his $5.2million salary cap figure. Top reserve Carl Powell is unsigned. And right end Bruce Smith turns 40 in June and is not viewed as a starter this season.
Furthermore, Washington is determined to upgrade its receiving corps, and a mediocre group of unrestricted free agents at that position means the club will be tempted to spend its first-round pick, No.13 overall, on a wideout like Florida's Taylor Jacobs.
On the defensive line, there are growing indications the Redskins are interested in Philadelphia star end Hugh Douglas. There are a number of other attractive free-agent options at both end and tackle.
At wide receiver, Arizona's David Boston is the class of the group but an uncertain fit for the Redskins. Otherwise, Washington probably would be looking at the New York Giants' Ike Hilliard and Tennessee's Kevin Dyson.
Other free-agent focuses for the Redskins later this week will be guard, special teams and perhaps safety. However, Washington won't be under the salary cap until it cuts running back Stephen Davis and safety Sam Shade, and the club will be constricted by a tight cap situation again this offseason.
Denver is expected to make a strong bid for Gardener if he doesn't re-sign. He also has expressed interest in playing for Cincinnati and Dallas.


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