John Riggins want to play in the National Football League next season, but the Redskins are holding up his return by stalling attempts to settle his grievance against the club, the NFL Players Association charged yesterday.
Although friends of Riggins have felt he wanted to end his one-year retirement, yesterday was the first time there has been a public admission he wants to resume his career.
Riggins' feelings were conveyed by Ed Garvey, NFLPA executive director who talked to the player this week in conjunction with a press conference Garvey held yesterday to criticize the Redskins for their actions in the grievance case, which has been stalled in arbitration since late October. An Arbitrator is scheduled to hear agruments May 27.
Whether Riggins' desire to return will affect his present status is another question. It is unlikely he will rejoin the club until the arbitration is decided and Garvey also believes he would be reluctant to accept a trade even if a deal did not cancel the arbitration.
There are indications, however, that the Redskins are stepping up efforts to trade Riggins before the draft. He has told them he will listen to deals, but may not agree to one. Sources say he would especially like to play for Bum Phillips, coach of the New Orleans Saints.
Washington, which appears convinced Riggins will never play here again, would like to obtain a high draft choice or choices for the veteran, at least a No. 2. But its bargaining power is diminished since Riggins wants a renegotiated contract (he is making $300,000 a year) and appears to have veto power over a deal, a matter the Redskins dispute.
"If the case is heard May 27, then we probably won't see a decision until the end of August, and that is where we started this whole thing last year," Garvey said. "The Redskins and only the Redskins are holding this up. They have no intention of settling it, because they are being stubborn for their own good.
"They figure the closer they get to training camp (which starts the middle of July), the greater financial squeeze they will put on John. He'll be forced to come back or risk losing another year on his contract."
Garvey charged that Larry Lucchino, Redskin counsel, turned down three different arbitration dates in March and April before agreeing to the May 27 time. Lucchino denied last night that Washington was trying to stall the grievance.
Any chance of Riggins rejoining the Redskins while the arbitration is pending is hindered by his contract demands. Sources say he still wants the option year of his contract guaranteed, the major reason he walked out of training camp last season. And the Redskins maintain they will not guarantee anyone's contract.
Riggins feels he cannot plan his future until learning the arbitrator's decision. If the arbitrator finds in his favor, it would probably negate the final year of his contract, leaving him with just his option season. He then believes the Redskins would be willing to negotiate a new pact.
Having just the option year remaining, according to NFLPA lawyers, also could eliminate his desire for a guaranteed contract. "He's always wanted a contract guaranteed just in case of injury, and not if he got cut," said Garvey. "With only one year left, he wouldn't need a guarantee anymore."
Garvey admitted there was nothing the NFLPA could do to force the Redskins to arbitration earlier than May 27. "We just have to hope public pressure might do it," he said. "They really don't have any financial incentive to settle with him. Whether they win or lose, they still make money, but John is the one who is going to be the big loser."