Now that John Riggins is back, the Redskins should trade him.
Get rid of him. He deserted the team last year and doesn't deserve to be welcomed back.
What? Too Harsh? Maybe. Maybe John Riggins loves the Redskins. If he is sincerely contrite, maybe the fullback will agree to play for half the salary of his old contract and split the other half with his offensive line. Maybe he wants to play that badly.
Probably not. He didn't want to play at all last season, remember. He was in the last two years of a six-year deal worth $1.83 million. Not bad wages for a 31-year-old fullback, even a 1,000-yard rusher. But he wanted to renegotiate. Renegotiate, spelled b-a-n-d-i-t-r-y. He tried to hold up Jack Kent Cooke, who properly told Riggins to get lost. And now, having failed Greed 101, Riggins is working on his doctorate in gall.
Still disarmingly flippant, handsome as the night is long, a marvelous physical creature who with a year's rest may be stronger than ever, the laughing man-child walked into Redskin Park yesterday.
He says he wants to play football.
It would be nice to believe him, but we have believed him before. Always quick with a funny line, he now jokes about being broke. "I'm bored, broke and I'm back," he said at a press conference yesterday. He had two TV microphones hooked to his collar. ". . . I miss the little kiddie atmosphere. You have to grow up if you quit football."
To keep faith with their loyal veterans who live up to their contracts without trying to rob the owner, the Redskins should trade Riggins. It wouldn't be easy, because Riggins' contract includes the right to approve any trade.
If any NFL team believes Riggins really wants to play -- he retired last July, remember, saying he didn't want to get hurt and be a crippled senior citizen -- the Redskins should trade Riggins for a No. 1 draft choice. Or Riggins for a No. 2 two years from now. Or for the rights to a Yugoslavian place-kicker yet unorn.
Here's why. Santa Claus may cross me off his list for this, but I think Riggins is at this voluntary minicamp for one reason only: to impress the arbitrator at next week's hearing. Riggins denies such a dark accusation of exploitation, saying his appearance here so near the hearing date is a coincidence.
"I'm back to play football," he insisted.
The arbitrator's hearing next week is to decide if the Redskins Own Riggins last year's pay of $300,000. The Redskins claim Riggins retired and so they owe him nothing; Riggins say he wanted to play, but the Redskins, out of spite, put him on a "left camp-retired" list that made it impossible for him to play anywhere.
The facts seem clear. The first day at Carlisle last July, Riggins walked out of camp. Then, in the fifth year of his contract, worth $300,000, he wanted the option year guaranteed at a raise to $500,000. The guarantee was to ensure that if he were injured or didn't make the team, he would be paid, anyway. When the Redskins told Riggins they would not renegotiate, Riggins said he didn't want to play, anyway, because it was a good way to get hurt and end up a crippled old man.
It was only after Riggins repeatedly said he would't ever play again that the Redskins put him on the "left camp-retired" list.
This accomplished two things. It kept Riggins from playing for a Redskin opponent, and it took him off the payroll. If Riggins were bluffing in yet another attempt to squeeze money from the Redskins -- he had walked out briefly the year before, returning with the memorable line, "I went fishing, but nobody was biting" -- then the Redskins effectively called his bluff by making the retirement official.
Soon enough, Riggins realized that retirement meant the Redskins didn't have to pay him anything. Suddenly, he missed football.Suddenly, he wanted to play dear old football. He even showed up at the Redskins' hotel in St. Louis, and walked into the locker room after the season's last game. He missed the cheering, he said. I tell you, Amos Alonzo Stagg didn't love football any more than John Riggins once the mailman stopped carrying those heavy paychecks to the fullback's house.
It might hurt the Redskins to trade Riggins, because he is the big running back they need. He is, in fact, the big running back they needed last season. A good case can be made that Riggins' absence transformed the Redskins from a playoff contender to a 6-10 team, costing Jack Pardee his job.
But it says here that Riggins' desertion outweighs his talent. He should not be rewarded with a $300,000 contract after making life miserable for the organization that already had paid him $1.2 million in four seasons.
Always unpredictable, Riggins may now have lost all credibility. First he retires; then he unretires. He quit because he didn't want to be a crippled old man; now he says he wants to play because, who knows, he may never get to be 50. A newspaperman said to a Redskin veteran yesterday, "Riggins is here today, right?"
The Riggins-weary veteran said, "The question is, where will John be in September?"
The Redskins should let the question of Riggins' undependability be somebody else's problem.