By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 6, 2006
After a lengthy series of negotiations, the Washington Redskins reached an agreement to allow former Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington to become a free agent immediately in exchange for providing the team with salary cap relief. The Redskins issued a statement just before midnight announcing the deal, and Coach Joe Gibbs will hold a news conference this afternoon to discuss the decision.
Arrington's relationship with the franchise soured in recent years, and many around the NFL predicted he would not be with the team for the 2006 season. Arrington, 27, a three-time Pro Bowler who was once the face of the organization, was benched for much of the early part of last season and has clashed with the organization in recent years over his contract and the handling of various injuries. Arrington, the second overall pick in 2000, missed almost all of the 2004 season because of injury, Gibbs's first year back with the team, and was not an every-down player in 2005 even when on the field.
A contract grievance concerning a $6.5 million bonus Arrington claimed was excluded from the eight-year, $68 million deal he signed in late 2003 lingered into last season, and he and linebackers coach Dale Lindsey did not foster a strong relationship, various team sources said. Arrington anticipated being released by the Redskins later this offseason, according to sources close to the player, and, if faced with that prospect, wanted to become a free agent during the most active period in March rather than later on, when rosters are largely set and teams have spent the bulk of their salary cap.
Negotiations between Arrington, whose flair for big plays won him a legion of fans, and team officials have lasted several weeks, sources said, and Arrington long maintained that he would be willing to help Washington's salary cap situation if the deal made sense for him as well.
The Redskins are about $20 million over a projected $94.5 million salary cap, and have restructured the deals of at least seven players to create more cap room in the event an extension to the labor agreement between the league and its players is not reached. In many of those deals, which are void should an extension of the collective bargaining agreement take place, players were granted free agency earlier than their original contract stipulated, sources said, and Arrington wished to gain that status now, rather than after the 2007 or 2008 season. Arrington's deal is not contingent on the CBA negotiations in any regard.
Arrington carried the team's highest 2006 salary cap figure -- $12 million -- and it would have cost the Redskins $12.2 million to cut him prior to his contract's restructuring. Should the NFL and the players' union extend the CBA before Wednesday's deadline, then the Redskins could have cut Arrington after June 1 and reduced his 2006 cap total to $5.1 million, with the remaining $7.1 million counting in 2007. Arrington also had a $6.5 million signing bonus due July 15, and sources close to the player said he fully anticipated being cut before that date anyway, and was willing to sacrifice some guaranteed money in future years on his existing contract in order to reach this agreement with the team.
"This is not really what he wanted to do," said a source close to Arrington, "because he loves the area, he loves the fans and the community and loves his teammates. But at this point, it made sense for LaVar and is in the best interest of the Redskins and his family to go in this direction at the time."
All contract restructurings require trade-offs, and Arrington did not appear to be in Washington's long-term plans after a tumultuous 2005 season. He was benched for several games and limited to a play or two in others, with journeyman Warrick Holdman playing in front of him. Arrington's last Pro Bowl season came in 2003, after which he signed his record contract extension, and at the time he was likely the most popular athlete in the area. He entered those contract talks on close personal terms with owner Daniel Snyder, but they soon began to grow apart as it became clear to many by early last season that Arrington would not be in Washington long enough to get that 2006 roster bonus.
Redskins Note: Guard Derrick Dockery signed a qualifying offer from the team, he said, making him a restricted free agent and giving the Redskins the right to match any offer made to him by another team.