Although he is more than 100 miles away and not required to come any closer for another week, running back John Riggins sent a scare through the Washington Redskins' organization on an intriguing first day of preseason practice.
Riggins, one of three unsigned free agents, apparently took the Redskins by surprise when he said in a television interview Thursday that, on the basis of what they are offering to pay him, he could play "four or five games," not the regulation 16.
Coach Joe Gibbs said today he hoped Riggins "was joking," adding, "I hope that's no indication of what happens or how he is thinking."
General Manager Bobby Beathard said he would have no comment. Unlike most of the Redskins, Riggins negotiates directly with owner Jack Kent Cooke.
And Cooke, who will drive to the team's Dickinson College training site Saturday, presumably to discuss several contract negotiations, said he "hasn't seen John Riggins in two to three weeks."
But, as important as they are, Riggins' negotiations don't seem to be nearly as complex or confusing as those of wide receiver-kick returner Jamie Harris, the Redskins' seventh-round draft pick who walked out of camp this morning in a huff after complaining the Redskins weren't going to pay him enough.
Harris, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound split end at Oklahoma State who the Redskins were considering for their special teams, left after he refused to sign a contract he and his agent agreed upon earlier this week, Beathard said. The agent, Phil Tannenbaum, denied today that there ever was agreement on a contract.
The contract called for a $35,000 signing bonus, a salary of $75,000 for 1985, $95,000 for 1986 and $115,000 for 1987, plus a $10,000 bonus for making the roster this season and $5,000 for making it next year.
Harris, who brought a list of contract figures he obtained from the National Football League Players Association into a 40-minute meeting with Beathard Thursday night, said he wanted more.
Harris and Tannenbaum are upset with how the player's 1987 salary compares with another seventh-round pick's figures, and with a contract signed by a Redskin rookie free agent that apparently gives the free agent a higher 1985 salary than Harris, Tannenbaum said.
But Beathard and Dick Daniels, the director of player personnel, who also attended the meeting, said Harris' bonus and incentives more than make up for the discrepancy and told him he would have to sign if he wanted to practice today.
"He has the third-highest contract in the seventh round, after two players from the Los Angeles Raiders," Beathard said. "His agent never told him that."
Toward the end of the meeting, Beathard said he told Harris that he was "obsessed" by money, not football.
"I told him, 'You seem more worried about what everyone else is making than about making the team,' " Beathard said.
"I don't think he was any more ready to play football than the man on the moon."
When Harris refused to sign, Beathard told him to meet with Gibbs. Gibbs said he never showed up. The Redskins say they then made sure Harris had a ride to the airport to fly home to Texas. But Tannenbaum said Harris went to a relative's home near Carlisle.
To Beathard, the story ends there. He called Harris a player who "seems to be unhappy all the time, always looking at the bad side." He said the situation was "crazy" and that he did not expect Harris, the Redskins' fourth choice in the draft, to return to the team.
To Tannenbaum, the story is only beginning. He said he will fly from his home in Houston to Harrisburg, Pa., Saturday morning, then drive to Carlisle to meet with Beathard. Asked if he believes he can straighten out his client's situation, he said, "Absolutely."
But Beathard said he didn't know Tannenbaum was coming. "I'm not planning on talking to him," Beathard said.
The only way Harris could return, Beathard said, would be to sign for a smaller amount than the Redskins offered.
"We would never offer Jamie Harris the same contract," Beathard said. "Not after this."
Contracts have become the omnipresent issue here. Cornerback Tory Nixon, the Redskins' top draft choice and 33rd player selected overall, remains unsigned. He is asking for a four-year package worth about $1 million; the Redskins are offering about $900,000.
Beathard and Larry Muno, Nixon's agent, continue to talk by phone, and it appears they now may negotiate through the weekend.
That's not good news for Joe Gibbs. "Missing all this valuable work . . . means there's less of a likelihood he's going to make an impact for us," Gibbs said in his strongest statement yet on Nixon's holdout.
Along with Riggins, the other two unsigned veterans are kicker Mark Moseley and defensive tackle Dave Butz.
Butz, reached at home in Belleville, Ill., tonight, said he has heard "absolutely no word" from the Redskins since June 29.
All three are expected to report with the veterans July 27 if they have signed. Butz, like Riggins, said he won't report if he has not signed.
In his interview on WJLA-TV, Riggins joked that the Redskins "want to pay me more than I really want to take."
He also said, "If I decided to report and then take out a fishing pole, it would open a whole can of worms."
On a more serious note, he said he felt "fit and ready" and is "looking forward to playing.
"If I'm healthy, I can still carry the ball 20 or 30 times a game."
Riggins could not be reached for further comment. A recording says his phone has been temporarily disconnected.
Two rookie free agents were dropped from the roster. Guard Scott Zalenski, from Ohio State, failed his physical exam, and tackle Tom Hartman, from Virginia Tech, was placed on waivers.