By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 29, 2006
In the defensive huddle at the Washington Redskins' final practice of the season yesterday, safety Adam Archuleta thanked his teammates for supporting him during what has been the worst, most trying year of his six-year NFL career. Then he told some at Redskins Park that he intends to leave town shortly after tomorrow night's season finale, perhaps even immediately.
Archuleta, 29, who has been benched for the second half of the season despite signing the biggest contract ever for a safety in March, said he is unsure of his future and whether the Redskins will bring him back, but knows that he wants to be part of a winning team. He has kept quiet since being pulled from the starting lineup for good on Oct. 22, but yesterday he spoke publicly for the first time and let it be known he has been hurt by the way the Redskins have treated him.
"It's been seven weeks and no one [on the coaching staff] has talked to me," Archuleta said. "No one ever gave me an explanation of why I'm not playing or what I need to do to play. It's humiliating. I feel humiliated. I feel like I've had my reputation dragged through the mud, with no explanation why."
Archuleta said he would prefer that coaches tell him he needed to improve his pass coverage or that his overall play has been poor, rather than be ignored. The coaches pulled him out of the starting lineup during a practice about two months ago, without giving him a reason, according to team sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity regarding Archuleta's status with the franchise.
Archuleta said he has felt like an outcast since. "They haven't said anything to me," Archuleta said of the defensive staff.
Archuleta said he did have a 10-minute meeting with Coach Joe Gibbs around the time of his benching, but he has had no recent conversations with Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense.
"I talked to Coach Gibbs briefly, and he told me to keep busting my butt and to fight through it, which is fair," Archuleta said. "He pulled me in to try to boost my confidence earlier in the season, which I appreciated."
Archuleta said that published reports in which he accused a member of the organization of having "lied" to him were false, and said such an exchange never took place. The safety said he was speaking hypothetically about the exit interviews that occur annually around the NFL this time of year, where pleasantries are often exchanged but concrete criticism is infrequent.
"I never said that anyone lied to me," Archuleta said. "I have no problem standing behind what I say, but that's not what I said."
Archuleta, a 2001 first-round pick of the Rams, received a $5 million signing bonus from the Redskins and has a $5 million option bonus due in March. Even if the Redskins cut him before then, Archuleta would be owed the second $5 million payment; his base salaries the next three years would be guaranteed at a sum equaling $5 million whether he is on the roster or not. Cutting him would cost the Redskins $9 million against the salary cap, although Washington could spread that over two years with about $1.5 million counting against the 2007 cap.
Last year, linebacker LaVar Arrington was benched for a portion of the season -- he eventually returned as a reserve -- and agreed to part with several million dollars of deferred bonus payments to gain his free agency. The Redskins could make a similar pitch to Archuleta, but given the nature of Archuleta's contract and the bitter taste of this season, getting him to agree to something along those lines would be difficult.
Williams has for weeks made few public comments about Archuleta's play or his status with the team, limiting his comments to phrases such as "he'll be playing" on special teams or that he's "had a good week of practice." Gibbs has sidestepped questions about Archuleta's diminished role, praising him for his work on special teams but revealing little beyond that.
Williams was directly involved in the recruiting of Archuleta, spending upward of 12 hours with him at Redskins Park last March and selling the safety on the team before he signed with Washington. But Archuleta struggled in the exhibition games and early in the regular season, along with the entire defense.
The technique the Redskins coaching staff taught to him in pass coverage was vastly different than how he played it in St. Louis, and his relationship with safeties coach Steve Jackson has been strained since early on, sources said. The Redskins have used the past few weeks to evaluate players for next season, yet Archuleta has not played with the defense even though veteran safety Troy Vincent was out for several weeks with a hamstring injury and despite the team's shortcomings on pass defense.
"Here's a guy who had the big number, the big expectations, all because of that big contract and he's been selfless about it even when you think that some of the things happening to him haven't really been too fair," one veteran said of Archuleta. "You watch how he's handled this whole thing and it says something. It says a lot about him."
Redskins Notes: Rookie safety Reed Doughty, whose son, Micah, was born premature and is battling chronic kidney failure, said that further testing this week went well and that dialysis was put off for at least another month. "It was good news," Doughty said. "Hopefully, he'll keep doing well and we can keep pushing it back by a month." . . . Reserve linebacker Khary Campbell (hamstring) was the only player to miss practice yesterday. He is questionable, while offensive linemen Jon Jansen (calf) and Casey Rabach (hand) are probable and intend to play.
Staff writer Howard Bryant contributed to this report.