In a day of surprising developments for the Washington Redskins, veteran running back John Riggins said he feels "great" and wants to play again this season, but two-time all-pro wide receiver Charlie Brown has cleaned out his locker and might not be back.
Brown, 26, surprised Coach Joe Gibbs in a telephone conversation yesterday morning when he told him of "some things there that are bothering him," Gibbs said. He refused to elaborate, except to say Brown has no contract problems.
Brown, like all veterans, was to have a physical yesterday at Redskin Park as part of the team's week-long minicamp. He and veteran free safety Mark Murphy, who has been engaged in a contract dispute for several months, instead became the team's most notable no-shows.
Five other veterans, including defensive tackle Dave Butz, probably will miss the minicamp. Butz, a free agent, has yet to sign a contract.
Brown and Murphy might have played their last games with the Redskins; Gibbs termed their situations "pessimistic."
Riggins, meanwhile, speaking publicly for the first time this year, said he had no pain in his back or hip while running to stay in shape in the offseason and that he has no plans to retire.
"As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to play," he said as he showed up on schedule for his physical, dressed in neo-Australian outback khakis.
Brown, who missed the equivalent of 10 games last season with injuries to his hamstring, ankle, fibula and knee, could not be reached for comment last night.
It's likely at least some of his concern lies in his playing time. In the Redskins' 23-19 loss to Chicago in the National Football League playoffs last December, he played sparingly, caught no passes, and complained about it.
Gibbs answered by saying Brown, who had a mildly sprained left knee at the end of the regular season, "never said to me, 'Hey, I'm 100 percent.' "
Gibbs said he knew Brown wanted to play against the Bears. "I just didn't feel that it was the way to go," he said.
Last season, Brown, a three-year veteran out of South Carolina State, caught 18 passes. In 1983, he led the team with 78. The search for reasons for the sharp drop led some within the Redskins organization to question privately his toughness.
Brown fought back. "My only reaction," he said, "is I can't play because I am hurt."
During the offseason, his name often has been linked with trade rumors, and he wondered aloud on a winter trip with the Redskins' basketball team if he was trade bait.
General Manager Bobby Beathard has said no, several times. Now, however, Gibbs said there is a "good chance" negotiations with Murphy and Brown would not be successfully completed.
Murphy, another former all-pro player who missed nine games because of an injured knee last season, wants some or all of his contract guaranteed, according to sources.
He has been accepted to law schools at Georgetown, George Mason and Catholic universities and is considering quitting football and going to school.
Gibbs said of losing Brown and Murphy: "It's sad, if it does go that far."
The Redskins told reserve wide receiver Alvin Garrett and reserve running back Rick Kane that they will not make the team, and are trying to help them find a spot with another team, Gibbs said.
Garrett, who missed 13 games with a sprained ankle last season after catching 25 passes in 1983, caught only one pass for five yards in 1984.
"We just felt he would have a better opportunity with someone else," Gibbs said.
Butz met with Jack Kent Cooke, the Redskins' owner, and was unable to agree to a contract, Gibbs said. Butz, an 11-year veteran, would not comment on his negotiations as he left Redskin Park.
Reserve defensive end Tom Beasley, like Butz a free agent, is not expected to attend for the same reason, Gibbs said.
The other three veterans will miss the minicamp for health reasons: tight end Clint Didier may have mononucleosis, Gibbs said, and is home in Washington state; defensive end Tony McGee is still recovering from offseason surgery on his left knee, which is experiencing "irritation," McGee said, and wide receiver Rich Mauti did not pass his physical due to a back problem.
But Riggins' arrival and subsequent statements seemed to smooth some of the day's roughest edges for the Redskins.
"Everybody seemed to be in doubt about it, but I told Joe (Gibbs) that I wanted to play and that I intended to play," Riggins said of the 1985 season. "At this point in time, I feel the same way."
Riggins, who will turn 36 in August, said it was not his back that caused him problems during the 1984 season, in which he gained 1,239 yards.
"I've been to a specialist, and he says there is nothing wrong with the back itself," Riggins said. "I think, probably what the problem was, was I had bursitis in my hips and it was one of those situations where I just never could really get over it.
"I've had plenty of time to rest now and I'm ready to go back to work. The important thing is that I don't think there is any danger of permanent damage to myself if I continue to play."
Riggins, a free agent, met privately with Cooke yesterday morning at Redskin Park. Cooke said the meeting went "beautifully." Riggins called it "interesting."
No agreement was reached on a salary, Riggins said. "No, I just said it was interesting."
He expects to meet Cooke again "sometime in the future," he said.
Cooke would not comment further on the meeting.
Before the veterans began reporting for their physicals, the Redskins received their first bad news when cornerback Tory Nixon, the team's top draft choice, hobbled from the field with what was later diagnosed as a mildly strained left hamstring.
He will likely miss the final practice sessions this week.
Running back Lionel Vital, the team's fifth draft choice (in the seventh round), suffered a slightly more severe strain of his right hamstring and is expected to miss the rest of minicamp, too.
Running back George Rogers, whose performance on the treadmill did not satisfy the Redskins, said he will stay in town until June 7 to work out in the Redskins' weight room . . . Quarterback Joe Theismann refused to make it official, but all indications are he will be talking more than he did in 1984. "You reach one extreme, then to reach an equilibrium, you sometimes have to go to another extreme," he said, smiling. Theismann, who kept mum except when talking about football last season, shared an interesting item yesterday. He revealed that he cracked two ribs under the pressure of Chicago's intense rush in the playoffs, but said he is fine now.