- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Washington Redskins defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson is willing to restructure his contract to stay but isn't pleased with many of the club's decisions in recent years.
Wilkinson said in an interview yesterday that several factors, including the departure of defensive line coach Ricky Hunley, have made him reconsider leaving the Redskins, something he eagerly anticipated late last season.
But he added that Washington's perennial rebuilding has frustrated him and eroded the franchise's status as a choice destination for free agents.
"After awhile, just like any corporation, people get upset and see what's going on," Wilkinson said. "This used to be one of the highly touted places to be a part of. That's not the case anymore. They may think they are, but they're not. Free agents are looking at a lot of other places before looking here. And that changed all within the last three or four years."
Leaving the Redskins was all but a certainty in Wilkinson's mind late last season. Heavy rotation on the line left him with "barely … over 20 snaps" in some games, and his relationship with the coaching staff particularly Hunley was awkward.
The problems started last offseason when new coach Steve Spurrier questioned Wilkinson's decision not to participate in offseason workouts. Spurrier's comment wasn't a problem per se, Wilkinson said, but starting with that time Wilkinson was never able to feel comfortable.
"I understand what [Spurrier] was saying," he said. "As the head of the team, he wants his troops here. But they kind of laid the foundation right away when they started bad-mouthing guys in the papers. … I thought the whole approach to last year was a little rocky during the offseason. Especially with Ricky Hunley."
Wilkinson knew his $5.2million salary cap figure in 2003 probably would lead to his release (cap accounting rules make it far more likely after June1). He was determined not to rework his contract to avoid it.
"I just didn't fit in the whole scheme of things," Wilkinson said. "I felt I didn't belong on the team. I got along with everybody on a professional level, and that's all you can do. But I felt it was my time to move on."
Now things have changed. Hunley left to join Marvin Lewis' new staff in Cincinnati, and Wilkinson's children, who apparently were tired of Redskins losses and wanted him to move on, now would like him to remain a Redskin.
"Yeah, I'm open to it," Wilkinson said. "A couple months ago I would have told you my plans were to go to [one of the NFL teams in] Florida, number one, or go to Baltimore, number two. More than likely I would have shot to Baltimore because I would have been able to stay [in the area]. My heart was in Florida, but I knew I would have to go to Baltimore."
If Wilkinson stays, he wants the Redskins to be more committed to retaining their younger players. He cited the departures of Kenard Lang, Shawn Barber, James Thrash and N.D. Kalu, adding, in reference to them and some departed veterans, "You've got to keep your core guys."
"That's one of the biggest things that got away from us," Wilkinson said. "We had good core players, but they were [darn] good people, too. They made sure when we did our off-the-field activities that everybody was there. That grew on the team, and it made us stronger. … If you don't have that kind of trust and togetherness and brotherhood, you can forget it."
Asked if that has been lost in recent years, Wilkinson replied, "Absolutely. We've found a way to screw it up."
Whether the Redskins approach Wilkinson about staying remains to be seen. The club once again has a tight cap situation, and cutting Wilkinson after June1 would save $3.6million.
A complicating factor is fellow defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, who appears increasingly unlikely to re-sign. If he doesn't, there might be more interest in reworking Wilkinson's deal. However, Wilkinson is rooting for Gardener to come back and believes the tandem could be special.
"Absolutely," Wilkinson said. "If me and Daryl Gardener were able to work the way he was playing last year and the way I'd play under the right circumstances we could be unstoppable. It's just a matter of me being healthy."
Wilkinson believes he now is. His wrist was badly sprained in the second week of the season and didn't recover until recent weeks. And his calf, torn in the Thanksgiving Day loss at Dallas, was better a few weeks after the season ended.
A workout regimen of four days a week now is Wilkinson's focus. He hopes to play at 305 or 310 pounds in 2003 far below the 340 or 350 he weighed last year. He said the decision, though, is "80 percent" for his health outside of football with only a little based on adding on-field quickness.
Notes The Redskins are close to a deal with defensive lineman Carl Powell, a key reserve last season. Agent Jerrold Colton said a contract should be finalized in the next day or two. … Washington has had informal conversations with the representative for kick returner Jermaine Lewis, a former standout at the University of Maryland. Agent Ken Landphere said no workout has been scheduled.


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