- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

The Washington Redskins opened an aggressive courtship of controversial defensive tackle Darrell Russell yesterday, flying him from Los Angeles to Chicago to meet with owner Dan Snyder over dinner, team officials said.

Vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato boarded Snyder’s private jet Monday night to accompany Russell to Chicago, where the NFL owners’ meetings begin today.

Giving Russell the same whirlwind treatment afforded players like Randy Thomas and Brandon Noble at the start of free agency, the Redskins planned to bring him back to Redskin Park today and perhaps close a quick deal to bolster their no-name defensive interior.

Some in Russell’s camp, however, were said to want to take the signing process slowly. Several other teams were said to have expressed interest, including Miami and Tampa Bay. The latter is coached by Russell’s former coach in Oakland, Jon Gruden.

Russell also was in the process of changing agents from Leigh Steinberg to Gary Wichard, NFL sources said. But sources said Steinberg would waive the mandatory five-day waiting period before a player’s new agent can begin negotiating.

Ultimately, Washington appeared to have the inside track to the talented but troubled defender selected second overall in 1997 and named to the Pro Bowl in 1998 and ‘99.

Russell, after being reinstated from 11/2 years of suspension Monday, cleared waivers as expected yesterday and became an unrestricted free agent. No team wanted to take on the remainder of his $10million salary this season and hefty contract in coming years.

Instead, the Redskins hope to sign Russell cheaply, as they did defensive tackle Daryl Gardener in the 2002 preseason, and let him prove himself to the league. Gardener did that for Washington and then scored a six-year, $33million contract from Denver.

But with Gardener, the Redskins were gambling on a reputed bad attitude; with Russell, there are two drug-related suspensions by the NFL and a since-dropped charge that he drugged a woman and videotaped two friends raping her.

For that reason, Redskins players were divided Monday over whether the club should sign Russell. Some players felt he could be a disruptive or perhaps even dangerous influence on a roster that has avoided major legal trouble in recent years.

Coaches and club officials weren’t able to comment on Russell on Monday while he remained property of the Raiders. Yesterday coaches were unavailable while game planning for Sunday’s contest at Dallas, and Cerrato was unavailable while traveling with Russell.

Team sources said the Redskins weighed a low-cost gamble on Russell’s background against what he could provide to a defensive interior that has held up against the run but generated no push into the backfield. The lack of interior rush has made it easier for opposing quarterbacks to step up into the pocket and avoid sacks by Redskins defensive ends.

Russell compiled 281/2 sacks for Oakland from 1997 to 2001, including 191/2 in 1998 and 1999 combined. On Monday, Redskins defensive end Regan Upshaw, who played alongside Russell in Oakland in 2000 and 2001, called him “one of the best athletes [he has] ever seen at the three-technique.”

The three-technique is the defensive tackle position that plays on the outside edge of the guard. Generally it is reserved for quicker, pass-rushing defensive tackles.

“He’s big,” Upshaw said. “He’s fast. He runs like a deer. He’s bouncy. He’s explosive. He can pass-rush. He can play the run. He can be all that you can possibly be at the three-technique in the NFL.”

Of Russell’s background, Upshaw said, “He’s had off-the-field problems; we all know about it. If he’s got himself together off the field — and everybody’s got problems in life — then I don’t see why not [sign him]. You’d be getting Darrell Russell for a steal.”

Besides legal trouble, Russell had a reputation in Oakland for consistent tardiness to meetings and practice and for failing to take responsibility for any of his difficulties.

In an interview with USA Today published yesterday, Russell said he has “something to prove” and added, “I’ve learned my lesson. I’m ready to do something positive.”

Of his problems, he said, “It’s a mixture of bad luck and putting yourself in situations where maybe you shouldn’t be, especially if you’re in the profession I chose. It would have been easy to go around hating life and everyone around me, but I just chose another path. I had to question myself: Was I this bad person? And I had to take responsibility for my actions. Whether I did anything or not, I put myself in the situation where the chances of something negative happening was really high.”

Note — The Redskins signed cornerback Calvin Carlyle and waived linebacker Orantes Grant.

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