- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

The contract dispute between the man who invented the linebacker position, LaVar Arrington, and the team that is fortunate enough to have him in uniform, the Washington Redskins, might be the best thing that could happen to both of them.

In fact, it might be the only thing that can salvage Mr. Linebacker staying in a Redskins uniform. Otherwise, Mr. Linebacker is damaged goods and might have to leave town to lead another team to a 28-36 record after four seasons. That would make Lawrence Taylor proud.

Mr. Linebacker is angry and hurt. He believes the Redskins have shortchanged him $6.5million in the contract extension he signed at the end of last season, a claim the team has denied.

The problem seems to be that the final deal that Mr. Linebacker — of late one of the judges of ESPN’s nightmare program “Dream Job” — signed was not the deal he thought he was signing. Mr. Linebacker and the guy who is supposed to make sure all the “I’s” are dotted and the “T’s” are crossed, agent Carl Poston, claim they were pressured by an imposed deadline to sign the nine-year extension because of salary cap considerations.

If that is the case, then the real “Dream Job” would be to have something to sell with Mr. Linebacker as the buyer.

The case is now before an NFL arbitrator who no doubt feels fortunate to be arbitrating a case involving Mr. Linebacker. But if he winds up arbitrating against Mr. Linebacker’s position, he will likely be added to growing list of people who are disappointing Mr. Linebacker.

What particularly seems to hurt Mr. Linebacker is that he feels betrayed by his good friend, Redskins owner Dan Snyder. The owner and Mr. Linebacker were reportedly chess partners on team flights and had long telephone conversations on a variety of subjects.

Basically, the owner wanted to sniff around jocks, and Mr. Linebacker wanted to sniff the owner’s money.

I guess those heart-to-hearts didn’t include the concept of signing a contract. But it’s likely that the performance of the Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, was one of those subjects — a very unhealthy situation but one that has undermined every coach who has worked for Snyder so far.

It is a situation that Joe Gibbs cannot tolerate.

Gibbs has to construct a wall between the owner and the players. He is the only coach so far hired by Snyder who has the leverage to do so because of who he is and, unlike Mr. Linebacker, what he has accomplished as a Hall of Fame coach with three Redskins Super Bowl championships.

He needs to take a page from another coach who came to Washington with fanfare similar to the return of Gibbs: Vince Lombardi.

When Lombardi came to coach the Redskins in 1969, the hype and expectations also reached biblical-like proportions, which Lombardi himself recognized when he declared, “It is not true that I can walk across the Potomac, even when it is frozen.”

Lombardi had the same situation with owner Edward Bennett Williams, who liked to be close to the players. The situation even came up in the news conference announcing his hiring when someone asked Lombardi if he would let Williams meet with the players.

“No, that won’t be necessary,” Lombardi said.

Apparently, Williams didn’t take Lombardi seriously, because the issue rose shortly after when Williams told Lombardi that quarterback Sonny Jurgensen had come to the owner’s office to talk to him.

“Wait a minute!” Lombardi screamed at Williams. “I want you to remember one thing. If you ever talk to the ballplayers or disrupt anything I’m trying to do here, you can find yourself a new coach. I’m the one who is the coach. I don’t want you to talk to anyone.”

Gibbs might have to do the same thing, although this contract dispute between the owner and Mr. Linebacker may do it for him. What has Mr. Linebacker confused is Dan Snyder acting like an owner and not his good pal.

As the Redskins take the field this weekend for their first minicamp under Gibbs, the coach needs to make sure that the owner does not interact with Mr. Linebacker, or any other player, or else it will undermine his authority.

If Mr. Linebacker kisses and makes up with Snyder, then he is more of a liability for Gibbs than an asset. The truly important relationship for a successful team — between the coach and his players — would be damaged, probably beyond repair. That is why this little contract dispute may serve a worthy purpose.

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