- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Dan Wilkinson figured the Washington Redskins’ threat to release him if he didn’t take a pay cut was nothing more than an old-fashioned bluff. Yesterday he asked the club to show its cards.

Turns out the Redskins were holding a full house all along.

Washington made good on its threat, releasing the veteran defensive tackle and his $3.5million salary in a risky move that surprised nearly everyone assembled at Redskin Park for the second day of training camp.

“We couldn’t continue this any longer, didn’t need the distraction any more,” vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato said. “You only have so much money, and you only have so much cap space. For us to be able to do the things we need to do in the future with other people’s contracts, we could not afford to pay Dan Wilkinson the $3.5million.”

Wilkinson’s departure after five seasons with the Redskins (the longest continuous service on the roster) leaves the club with major defensive line questions five weeks before the season opener. Fourth-year veteran Jermaine Haley, signed during the offseason to serve as a backup tackle, will assume Wilkinson’s starting spot for now, but Cerrato said the club will monitor the free agent and trade markets in the coming weeks.

“We’ve got to be very patient. There’s nothing out there right now,” Cerrato said. “We’re comfortable with the guys [we have] now.”

Wilkinson’s $3.5 million base salary was one of the team’s largest. Given the 30-year-old’s declining production (only 17 tackles in an injury-shortened 2002) and the Redskins’ pending need to pursue long-term deals with cornerback Champ Bailey and linebacker LaVar Arrington, Cerrato said the club had no choice but to demand Wilkinson take a pay cut.

Washington wanted to drop Wilkinson’s base salary to $2million while still giving him the chance to recoup all of the $1.5million cut based on the percentage of snaps he played. Wilkinson and his new agent, Brig Owens, wanted the entire incentive to kick in if he was on the field for 60 percent of first and second downs. The two sides could never agree on the terms.

Wilkinson, who had been held out of the first two days of practice to keep him from getting injured, left Redskin Park after yesterday’s morning session with his fate still undetermined. By the time the afternoon practice got under way, he was nowhere to be seen and the club had announced his release.

Wilkinson’s teammates, who have for years affectionately referred to him as “Big Daddy,” were stunned by the day’s events.

“I never once in my mind thought that he wasn’t going to be on this team this year,” said Renaldo Wynn, who could at times fill the void by moving from defensive end to tackle. “I guess this is what [they mean] when they say it all comes down to being a business. This is, I guess, the dirty part of it. You hate to see it happen.”

Haley, who in three previous seasons with the Dolphins made nine starts, said he is prepared to take on his added responsibilities.

“I wish he stayed, because I liked the rotation,” Haley said. “You’ve just got to step up. … I’ve been in this situation before, so it’s nothing new to me. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Wilkinson doesn’t figure to be unemployed for long. The Lions have already expressed interest in him, while the Ravens, Patriots, Falcons and Jets all could show interest.

And even if he doesn’t find his way onto another NFL roster, Cerrato said the Redskins will leave their door open, provided Wilkinson agrees to the club’s original contract terms.

Barring a last-minute change of heart, though, Washington will enter the 2003 season without either of its two starting tackles from a year ago (Wilkinson and team MVP Daryl Gardener, who went to Denver as a free agent).

That, according to the senior-most member of the Redskins’ defensive line, is not an ideal situation.

“Obviously, I’m in support of having Dan Wilkinson out there, because there’s no replacing him,” Bruce Smith said shortly before the announcement was made. “We can’t lose both of those guys, Daryl and Big Daddy.”

Notes — The second day of training camp featured a handful of dazzling plays, several on passes from Patrick Ramsey to his deep corps of receivers, and a couple of injuries that looked worse than they proved to be.

Linebacker Kevin Mitchell was taken to Loudoun County Hospital in an ambulance following the morning session. Mitchell was suffering from cramps, but he returned to watch the afternoon practice and is expected to be back on the field today.

Running back Ladell Betts sprained his left elbow in the afternoon and is not expected to practice today.

Guard Tre Johnson missed both sessions with a sore Achilles’ heel.

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