With the Washington Redskins due to receive their Super Bowl rings in a private ceremony today and due to begin their training camp in Carlisle, Pa., Thursday, there is rejuvenation in the Redskins bloodstream.
But that rejuvenation clots when you mention the name of Jeris White, the Redskins' unsigned 10-year cornerback.
"At this point, we have got a problem," Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday about White, who has five more years of National Football League service than the the combined total of the other seven cornerbacks on the Redskins roster.
There are three unsigned Redskins, besides White: running back Otis Wonsley, veteran running back Wilbur Jackson and rookie quarterback Babe Laufenberg. Jackson, a nine-year veteran, talks of a possible retirement. Laufenberg, drafted in the sixth round from Indiana, has received a contract offer from the Chicago Blitz of the U.S. Football League, but says he wants to sign with the Redskins.
The key precamp concern, though, is White, whose 129 consecutive regular-season games played streak is longest on the Redskins. Neither White nor Howard Slusher, his agent, are returning calls. Last season, White's base salary was $185,000, fourth highest on the Redskins behind John Riggins, Joe Theismann and Joe Washington. The average base salary for an NFL defensive back last season was $78,522.
Gibbs sees it this way: "I told Jeris from the start that I was going to talk to Bobby (Beathard, Redskins general manager) and that we would talk to Mr. Cooke (Redskins owner Jack Kent) and see if we could take our best shot early. Well, we've already done that and he is still not signed.
"When I talked to Jeris last (several weeks ago) he told me that Slusher is handling his negotiations and that he was committed to him. Jeris said he was happy here, but that he wanted certain personal things . . . I'm hoping we can get things worked out with him. If not, we'll just have to press ahead."
Because the scenario is beginning to look remarkably like the one prior to the 1981 season, when an unsigned White held out four weeks before signing, and also because Slusher has a history of advising his clients to hold out, Redskins officials say they expect a similar holdout this year.
Beathard said he sent a contract proposal to Slusher about two months ago, but since hasn't heard from the agent.
With a young cornerback corps of LeCharls McDaniel (a third-year reserve), Vernon Dean (a second-year player who starts opposite White on the right side) and five rookies, including top draft pick Darrell Green, Beathard said that the Redskins might seek a veteran cornerback from another team, depending on how thing work out in camp.
"It's something we'd have to look at. We're one experienced corner short right now," he said.
The Arizona Wranglers of the U.S. Football League owns territorial rights to White, from the University of Hawaii, but say they have no interest in obtaining him.
Meanwhile, Jackson, who had a base salary of $170,200 last year, has had injury problems the past two seasons. Now, he is a free agent who seeks a large enough signing bonus from the Redskins to protect him in case he gets cut or injured this season.
Ronald Simon, Jackson's Minnesota-based agent, says, "Call it a signing bonus or a reporting bonus or whatever. We're just looking for some compromise."
Wonsley, primarily a special teams player, made a base salary of $50,000 last year. Says William Overstreet, who represents Wonsley, "Right now, we're a total of $20,000 apart, cumulatively, on a three-year contract."
From his California home, Laufenberg, who is represented by his older brother Jeff, an attorney, said yesterday, "I want to play for the Redskins. I don't see any reason why things won't be worked out."
Though the Blitz offered Laufenberg a contract several months ago, Bruce Allen, Blitz general manager, says that interest since has waned.
"We're more interested in Joe Theismann," he says with a laugh.