- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, who revived his career with the Washington Redskins just 1 years ago, is almost certain to retire in coming months because of the degenerative condition in his back, a source familiar with the situation said yesterday.

Gardener flourished in Washington in 2002 under defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, elevating the defense and earning the club’s player of the year award. But he never settled in with the Denver Broncos after signing a six-year, $33 million contract and apparently won’t get another chance.

Agent Neil Schwartz was reached yesterday but declined comment. However, a source with knowledge of Gardener’s situation said the defensive tackle’s back flared up in late May, shortly before he was released by the Broncos and signed by the Cincinnati Bengals, who are coached by Lewis.

Gardener had an MRI in Miami, where he played for the Dolphins from 1996 to 2001, and Dr. Gary Gieseke, the spine specialist who operated on him, told Gardener he probably should stop playing.

“It’s over,” the source said of Gardener’s career, “unless there’s some sort of miracle or something.”

Gardener, 31, had back surgeries in 2000 and 2001 and missed the early part of his year with the Redskins. However, a pain-killing shot led to a stunning turnaround in 2002, and Gardener played Washington’s final 15 games with extraordinary results — 52 tackles and four sacks.

He wreaked havoc on offensive lines and drew double-teams, freeing teammates to make big plays. The Redskins defense ranked fifth in 2002, then slid to 25th last season after Lewis and Gardener left.

The Redskins tried to re-sign Gardener for 2003, but they couldn’t agree to terms as the team balked at paying big money for a tackle with back issues and reputation for off-field problems.

Gardener lived up to that dubious reputation in Denver. He injured his wrist in a preseason fight outside an International House of Pancakes and drew the ire of coach Mike Shanahan. He played just five games and had just eight tackles and no sacks.

Lewis hoped to reunite with Gardener, but apparently more disks in Gardener’s back have degenerated. He could jeopardize his ability to walk if he continues to play. The source said a Bengals team doctor concurred with Gieseke’s recommendation.

Gardener has yet to file retirement papers with the league but is expected to do so in the near future.

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