Fullback John Riggins apparently is willing to remain out of football until an arbitrator decides his long-delayed grievance against the Redskins, even if it means missing another season, it was learned yesterday.
His case is scheduled to he heard by May 27, and it is likely that a final decision will not be announced until after training camp begins in mid-July.
Riggins and the National Football League Players Association are so incensed over the continued postponement of the arbitration hearing, originally scheduled for this month, that the two parties are expected to charge the Redskins later this week with asking for delays in the case to gain leverage over their star running back.
Ed Garvey, NFLPA executive director refused to discuss the Riggins matter yesterday. A spokesman said Garvey wanted to wait until a formal press briefing.
Redskin counsel Larry Lucchino denied last night that the team had asked for delays. "No one is more anxious than the Redskins to get this issue resolved," he said. "This whole grievance scheduling is a give and take process and this has been the only date that both sides have been able to agree on."
As the relationship between the Redskins and Riggins grows worse more strained, it becomes more unlikely that he will ever play again for Washington.
If he does decide to resume his career, it most likley will be for another club, but only if that new team will guarantee the remainder of his $300,000-a-year contract. But Riggins has been known to change his mind suddenly. He could rejoin the Redskins unannounced even with the arbitration pending.
Riggins continues to decline interview requests.But is was learned that he has agreed to listen to direct trade pitches from other clubs, although he has made no commitment to the Redskins that he would accept a trade.
Riggins maintains he has a no-trade clause in his contract. The Redskins, however, say that he does not have such trade approval.
The Redskins have been trying for weeks to get in touch with Riggins, who originally walked out of last summer's training camp demanding that the option year of his contract be changed to a one-year, $500,000 guaranteed contract.
Riggins would not talk to new Coach Joe Gibbs, but finally chatted briefly last week with General Manager Bobby Beathard. He told Beathard he was "ambiguous" about returning. Beathard urged him to make up his mind before the draft April 28 and 29, so that if he wanted to play for another team they could begin trade talks immediately. The Redskins feel they could gain high-round draft choices in exchange for Riggins. The club does not have second, third or fourth round pick in this year's draft.
However, sources familiar with Riggins' feelings say he considers the arbitrator's decision crucial to his future and is hesitant to make any moves until the grievance is decided.
Riggins and the NFLPA filed a grievance last September, charging that the Redskins were denying the player the right to pursue his livelihood by placing him on the "left camp-retired" category. Players on that list cannot play for any other club in the league the rest of the season.
The grievance was heard first by the Players-Club Relations Committee, which deadlocked, 2-2, sending the case to binding arbitration. During those hearing, Riggins said for the first time that he wanted to resume playing last season.
Although the arbitration has no direct effect on this season -- Riggins is on the Redskins' regular roster again -- he believes that if he wins the case, he will be awarded his $300,000 salary as compensation, thus negating the final year on his original contract. He then would be technically a free agent, entering the option year of that contract his upcoming season.
Sources close to Riggins said he would immediately request that his option year be renegotiated, which is standard club policy. At that point, he would renew his request to have the final year guaranteed, which he says is more important to him than additional money. The Redskins could retain rights to Riggins by picking up his option and giving him a 10 percent salary raise.
If Riggins loses the arbitration, he would still have one year plus the option year left, the same situation that existed when he walked out of training camp.
Sources close to Riggins said the fullback is convinced the Redskins are trying to back him into a corner by delaying the arbitration hearing as close as possible to training camp.
"If the Redskins think John will back down when he gets close to the start of another season, they are wrong," said one source. "He is willing to sit out again, even if it means another $300,000."
Riggins has been working out regularly and now weighs 230 pounds, 20 pounds less than he weighed during the winter. Friends are convinced he wants to play again, but only under the right circumstances.
Even if Riggins doesn't play again the Redskins still owe him $800,000 in deferred payments. However, neither side agrees when those payments, which will be made in $100,000 increments, should start.