Now that the Redskins' plans for cornerback Jeris White are on hold while he decides whether to report to training camp, Ray Waddy suddenly has another reason to look forward to Saturday's scrimmage against the Colts in Annapolis.
"I wanted to make a good impression, anyway," Waddy said today, "but it certainly wouldn't hurt for me to have a really good afternoon. If he (White) reports, fine, we'll compete. If he doesn't, I guess I can't be upset about it."
Waddy was the No. 3 cornerback and nickel back as a free-agent rookie on last year's team, but the acquisition of White from Tampa Bay for Danny Buggs put his position in jeopardy.
But without White, Waddy emerges as an important factor on a club relying heavily on shifting personnel according to game situations, especially on passing downs.
One reason the White trade was consummated was the club's uneasiness about Waddy's long-term ability. But the second-year man from Texas A&I has emerged as one of the standouts in the early days of this camp. And his development couldn't come at a better time for the team.
White isn't scheduled to report here until Saturday, so the Redskins officially are still saying he could show up despite a contract dispute. But few expect him to appear then, especially after his agent, Howard Slusher, told General Manager Bobby Beathard today that Washington's final contract offer wasn't good enough.
"Howard said he would talk to Jeris, but he said it wasn't enough money," Beathard said. "I don't expect them to accept it, but you never know.
"But I told them it was our final contract offer. That's as far as we could go. If they couldn't accept it, then I was sorry. But we have a salary structure to worry about."
White, a 5-foot-10, 188-pound, six-year man from Hawaii, was making about $90,000 as a starter with Tampa Bay, according to sources. He had asked the Bucs for more money prior to entering this, the option year of his contract.
He reportedly is asking the Redskins for $130,000-$140,000 a year. Cornerback Lemar Parrish is earning $141,000, putting him among the top two or three highest-paid corners in the NFL. But league sources say that Parrish's contract was improved in the offseason by Washington and, based on that fact, White feels he is not out of line asking for such a large contract raise.
Beathard feels he shouldn't be paying White, who never has made all-pro, more than Parrish or cornerback Joe Lavender, who is in the $110,000 range.
If White decides to play out his option this season without a new contract, he will get an automatic 10 percent raise, hiking his salary to $100,000. He would then be a free agent next season.
"Jeris is a high-principled person," said one source. "He feels that if he asked for money at Tampa, why shouldn't he also ask for money with Washington? What difference did the trade make.
"He doesn't want to come to camp and risk getting hurt. He wants a contract. He has done well enough in real estate investment to sit out the whole year if it comes to that. When he makes up his mind, he stays with it." w
White, who will be fined $500 a day if he doesn't report, had been expected to challenge Lavender for a starting spot. At worst, he would have been a fine nickel back. But the secondary coach, Richie Petitbon, said he didn't think the Redskins' plans would be affected that much by his absence.
"We were pretty good last year without him and we'll be pretty good this year with him," Petitbon said. "It wouldn't be the end of the world if he didn't show up. He is a good one, but he isn't going to make or break us. Waddy did a good job for us last year and he has had an excellent early camp.
"If White doesn't come to any of the camp, I don't want him. He is going to miss too much. There is no athlete in the world who can afford to miss training camp, especially one new to the team."
While Redskin officials concede White is a more developed corner than Waddy, they still maintain Waddy's maturity since the end of last season has made White's possible loss easier to handle.
"Ray was too small last year," Coach Jack Pardee said. "It was too easy to bump him down. But he's put on five more pounds (from 174 to 179) and it's made a big difference. When he gets bumped now, he bounces back."
Despite such apparent optimism, there is no doubt White's absence cuts into the Redskins' secondary quality. If White had become a starter -- he is considered better against the run than Lavender -- that would have freed a cornerback for a possible trade. And he also would have made the secondary quicker and even more experienced than last year.
Waddy says he is trying to keep his mind off all the White dealings and concentrate on covering rookie wide receiver Art Monk in practice.
"When I first heard about the trade for Jeris, it was on my mind for a day or so," he said. "I wondered why it was necessary, but then I decided I couldn't do anything about it, so I forgot it.
"That's the same now. My job here doesn't really change whether he comes or not. I just feel very confident about the way I'm playing and I want to continue to feel that way."
Waddy had problems last year with missed tackles, with keeping his feet and with his strength. After working on an offseason weight program, both Petitbon and Pardee think all three headaches should be reduced.
"Ray could start for half the teams in the league just on his coverage ability alone," Petitbon maintained. "But people would just run him over and he was falling down too much.
"But look at it this way, not many rookies can play their first year, much less help us like he did. He just naturally has to be better this year."
Waddy was just another obscure free agent who seemingly had little chance to make the final roster. But he used the opening scrimmage against Baltimore to grab an interception and turn in a couple of other flashy plays. From that point, he became a serious contender.
"Now things are so much different for me," he said. "Being here this week has really helped. I can refine my skills and work on my weaknesses and prepare myself when the rest of the veterans show up. I've found that I'm playing on instinct now, instead of thinking every time I move. That's one reason I probably look better."
He also is smarter. Last year he was trying to knock down much bigger backs with a smashing blow -- and he lost most of the collisions.
"Now I'm just going to get them down and not go for the collision," he said. "I've got to realize it's a game of survival out there, especially when you weigh 179."