By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
During the long flight back to Washington after the Washington Redskins' loss to Seattle in an NFC divisional playoff game two months ago, middle linebacker Lemar Marshall sat with LaVar Arrington, who told him that despite a tumultuous season, he wanted to return to the team in 2006.
Three days ago, Redskins safety Ryan Clark, a close friend, spoke to Arrington and did not have the impression that Arrington planned on walking away from the Redskins. At the end of the season, Arrington said he planned on being a Redskin this season.
The announcement yesterday that Arrington's six-year tenure as the Redskins' signature player was over after the linebacker bought out his contract for $4 million may have been seismic because of Arrington's stature and popularity. But it was still unsurprising to his teammates, veterans familiar with the icy side of business in a salary cap-driven world.
"He was the face of the Redskins, a guy they put a lot of pressure on to carry that out," Clark said. "You can't deny his talent. He was used to being LaVar Arrington. I told him if your name is LaVar Arrington, you have to be at the front of the action, not bagging groceries. He's a guy you expected to roll up in seven different black cars, all expensive. The fans will have to get a whole lot of new jerseys."
Arrington's salary and bonus would have counted $12 million against the salary cap this season and after two years of injuries and personality clashes, Arrington had to consider his future. The financial realities of Arrington's contract coupled with the uncertainty of the NFL labor situation as well as the climate of change surrounding the Redskins, kept yesterday from being a surprise.
"People always call this a game, but it's only a football game on Sundays," said wide receiver David Patten. "It's a little shocking. He was an integral part of this team. He meant so much to the fans and the community. It's a big hole. But you have to figure also that if he gave them money back he had to think he could find a better deal somewhere else."
Yesterday afternoon, Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs outlined two scenarios, one with Arrington returning to the Redskins in 2006 and another with him working out a deal to become a free agent. Gibbs was quick to point out that Arrington chose to become a free agent and buy out his contract, but it was unclear if Arrington was given the type of contractual assurances that would have allowed him to remain with the Redskins or risk being cut later in the summer, leaving him less time to catch on with another club.
"That a player gave back $4 million, that surprises me," Marshall said. "His presence will be missed, but that's part of the decision he felt he had to make for himself."
To some players, the breakup was strictly another example of the hard financial side of football. Patten noted that Isaac Bruce, the longtime St. Louis Rams wide receiver, had also been cut yesterday. Yet it was also clear that Arrington embodied a culture of star-driven flamboyance that the Gibbs regime has tried to discourage. Arrington clashed with assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams, who believed his greatest challenge with Arrington was to convince him to play within a team defensive concept. Arrington did not connect well with linebackers coach Dale Lindsey.
"That stuff was secluded," H-back Mike Sellers said. "As a teammate, he was good about keeping his mouth shut about things that bothered him. Most guys wouldn't have been able to do that. Some guys would've pulled a T.O.," Sellers said, referring to Philadelphia receiver Terrell Owens, whose problems with management clouded the entire Eagles season.