Question Marks Remain

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 17, 2006

As former Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington packed up his belongings at Redskins Park yesterday, he was optimistic that he would remain in Washington next season despite a tumultuous tenure with the team, while quarterback Patrick Ramsey, another former first-round pick, stuffed his bags into a U-Haul attached to a pickup truck, and left the facility for what may be the last time.

Arrington has spoken several times recently with owner Daniel Snyder, team sources said, and said he is willing to consider restructuring his contract to remain with the team.

As for Ramsey, earlier this season, team and league sources said he and Coach Joe Gibbs agreed that the Redskins would trade or release him in the offseason if he desired; Gibbs declined to comment on any previous private conversations with the player, but said he and Ramsey met yesterday, made no final decisions on his future and agreed to speak again shortly. Gibbs also said he believes rookie quarterback Jason Campbell could have performed well if forced into duty in 2005, and is progressing.

With the nucleus of the Redskins already under contract for 2006, decisions on Arrington, 27, and Ramsey, 26, will be among the biggest personnel issues facing the club, which rallied for six straight, late-season wins to reach the second round of the playoffs and post an 11-7 overall record. The Redskins will immediately seek contract extensions for many assistant coaches, who are entering the final season of their three-year deals, Gibbs said. "I want to get that done," he said, adding that several assistants have pulled themselves from consideration for other jobs. The team will have to release several players and alter the contracts of others to get under a projected $95 million salary cap by March 1. (Washington's 2006 figure now stands at $113 million, league sources said.)

Arrington, once the very face of the organization, was benched and pulled from regular playing duty much of last season. He has the highest 2006 salary cap figure on the team, $12 million, has lashed out at the organization on occasion, clashed with linebackers coach Dale Lindsey, and suffered through injuries the past two seasons. His once-close relationship with Snyder has suffered, particularly over a hearing regarding Arrington's claim that $6.5 million was removed from his contract, but Arrington is hopeful that he will remain with the organization that drafted him second overall in 2000.

While trading or releasing Arrington would provide cap relief beginning in 2007, retaining him and converting his $6.5 million roster bonus (due by July 15) to a signing bonus would actually benefit Washington's 2006 cap situation (he would count roughly $7 million rather than $12 million), and Arrington said he would be open to discussions about other ways to trim his cap number as well. Arrington asked for permission to seek a trade once before the season and again when benched for two games in September, league sources said, but since then has been adamant about remaining here.

"I'm hoping to see what we can work out," Arrington said of his contract. "I want to remain a Redskin. With the communication we've established of late, I'm optimistic. I've started seeing things a lot clearer."

When asked if the team would be willing to exercise Arrington's option and keep him here, Gibbs said: "I think today was probably awful quick to be talking about some of that. We'll proceed ahead these next few weeks and we'll be thinking about all those things as we go."

Ramsey, selected 32nd overall in 2002, was here before Gibbs arrived; the coach immediately acquired veteran Mark Brunell and traded three picks, including a first-rounder, to move up and take Campbell in the first round last year. Ramsey started the season opener, was yanked after 19 minutes, and never started again. He has made just 24 starts in four years here, and, with one year left on his rookie contract, badly wants a chance to start again, while Gibbs is enthusiastic that Campbell could play in 2006.

"I feel confident had Jason been thrust into things this year, I think he would have played and played well," Gibbs said. "We've seen a lot out of him, and now he needs to play. I was laughing when I told him, 'Okay, take the hat off and throw it away; you're ready to go to work to earn your money.' "

The New York Jets inquired about trading for Ramsey in September. Miami and Oakland are two other options for him, and several general managers said Ramsey likely would yield a mid-round pick in return. Ramsey would not commit to wanting to leave or return, and chose his words carefully, but is determined to play football next season.

"That was my concern when everything took place [being benched]," Ramsey said. "I'd like to play. If I'm going to develop as a quarterback in this league and play well, I think it needs to start at some point soon."

Gibbs said: "Patrick and I had a good talk and he felt a little bit like I did. Hey, the season's just over with and he hasn't had much chance to sit and think about anything and I haven't, either. So what we agreed to do is just continue to talk over these next few weeks."

The Redskins are expected to seek another starting wide receiver after Santana Moss was a one-man army for much of 2005. "I've got the strong feeling next year that will happen," defensive end Phillip Daniels said of adding a receiver. The team also could pursue depth at tight end and on the offensive line, and Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, spoke on several occasions about adding a young defensive end. Washington also could seek upgrades at punter, place kicker and return specialist.

The team has few prominent free agents to re-sign, with starting safety Ryan Clark and tight end Robert Royal topping the list; team officials have already been in negotiations with both, and want to retain both. Running back Rock Cartwright hopes to stay as well, but said he would not be surprised if Nehemiah Broughton fills his role next season. Agents for several Redskins have been told that final negotiations likely will be on hold until the team gets closer to the $95 million salary cap. Gibbs met briefly with all the free agents yesterday to express interest in keeping most of them, particularly Clark, Royal and Cartwright.

The Redskins could restructure the contracts of several players with hefty base salaries -- Brunell ($4 million), tackle Jon Jansen ($4 million) and guard Randy Thomas ($3.5 million) -- and their 2006 cap numbers could be significantly decreased if the players agree to convert that salary to guaranteed bonuses. The team also has a host of players due hefty roster bonuses, such as Arrington, cornerback Shawn Springs ($3.1 million) and tailback Clinton Portis ($3 million), but those bonuses can also be converted, allowing the team to spread a cap savings over four years as well.

Still, it could prove difficult for the Redskins to add any top-tier free agents, and they will face difficult decisions with a group of veterans that includes defensive backs Matt Bowen and Walt Harris, place kicker John Hall, wide receiver Taylor Jacobs and offensive lineman Cory Raymer, among others, given the need to create cap space. Overall, Gibbs's priority will be to keep as much of this team together as possible.

"Everybody told me when I got back that with the salary cap you can't keep a team together," Gibbs said. "I don't believe that. So we're going to work extremely hard to try and keep everybody together."

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