Washington Redskins officials have become receptive to allowing veteran linebacker Ken Harvey to play one more season for the team at a reduced salary, sources close to the situation said yesterday. That leaves the matter to Harvey, who now must decide whether he wants to continue playing.
Meanwhile, the Redskins may be on the verge of dropping out of contention to sign free agent running back Lawrence Phillips. Their interest in Phillips seems to be cooling while he and his representatives move forward more rapidly in their negotiations with other clubs. The Redskins apparently will focus instead on signing free agent defensive end Charles Haley and reaching agreement on a contract with their first-round draft choice, cornerback Champ Bailey, before training camp opens in 11 days.
Bailey's agent, Jack Reale, hinted yesterday it will require more than $2 million per season for Bailey to agree to a five-year contract. The Redskins seem intent at this point upon signing Bailey to a five-year deal worth less than $2 million per season. Reale and Bailey have prepared several contract scenarios for the Redskins, sources said, and now the sides will attempt to narrow the gap.
Harvey, 34, said yesterday he hopes to know whether he'll play for the Redskins this season after speaking with General Manager Charley Casserly and Coach Norv Turner on Thursday or Friday.
"I'm just at the stage of trying to figure out what's going on," Harvey said.
According to sources, Redskins officials told Harvey recently they would like for him to retire or agree to a financial settlement that would accompany him being waived by the team. But team officials now are willing to invite Harvey to training camp if he's willing to play for a greatly reduced salary, sources said yesterday.
The question, sources said, is whether Harvey really wants to continue playing following a 1998 season in which he had two sacks and suffered a season-shortening knee injury. The Redskins are planning to have youngsters Shawn Barber, Derek Smith and Greg Jones as their starting linebackers.
"The one overriding statement the Redskins have made is that they want to be fair to Ken," Steve Baker, Harvey's agent, said yesterday. "I've been more focused on Ken trying to decide what he wants to do. Whatever he does, it's not about money. It's about whether he feels he can be a productive member of the team."
Harvey said last week he would like to play another season for the Redskins. Baker indicated on Monday that Harvey realizes he would have to accept a reduced salary to play this season. If Harvey plays this season, it could be for as little as one-fourth of the $2 million he was to count against the salary cap this year. Casserly declined to comment yesterday, and Turner was not available.
Turner spoke to Phillips by telephone on Monday, sources said, and Redskins officials may arrange for him to visit Redskin Park next week. Team officials seem convinced, however, that Phillips will sign elsewhere. Meanwhile, Haley's agent, Kurt Robinson, has told team officials that the Redskins are Haley's top choice, but it doesn't appear a deal is imminent.
As for Bailey, the Redskins want him to sign a five-year contract and appear willing to offer him as much as $1.9 million per season. The St. Louis Rams signed the player selected immediately before Bailey in April's college draft, wide receiver Torry Holt, to a five-year deal worth $10 million, with a $5.4 million signing bonus.
Bailey's camp is arguing that the Redskins were prepared to choose Bailey with the pick just before the Rams' selection before trading down, and Reale said yesterday that Bailey shouldn't have to earn less than Holt.
"Given the variety of rookie [salary] cap issues this year that teams haven't had in recent years, there should be less reliance on comparisons to the deals for the players picked around them," Reale said. "These deals require a lot of craftsmanship."
Asked whether he thinks an agreement will be completed in time for Bailey to be on hand at the opening of the Redskins' training camp, Reale said: "I wouldn't hazard a guess."
Bailey, according to sources, is seeking a deal worth between $1.8 million and $2.4 million per season over five years, depending upon the size of the signing bonus. The more money the Redskins would pay as a signing bonus, sources said, the lower Bailey's demands would be in terms of the total value of the contract. Sources said Bailey's camp likely would agree to the low end of his contract demand -- $9 million over five years -- only if he receives a signing bonus of more than $7 million, far more than the Redskins have indicated so far they're willing to offer.
Bailey's side has raised the novel possibility of no signing bonus and a contract that's fully guaranteed for five seasons, sources said, and if the two sides can't use incentive clauses or other means to bridge the gap on a five-year deal they perhaps would turn to discussing a four-year contract that would be less lucrative to Bailey but would make him eligible for free agency a year earlier.
Redskins Notes: Trainer Bubba Tyer said defensive end Anthony Cook, a free agent signee during the offseason, could be limited early in training camp after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery recently. Cook's status will be reevaluated next week, Tyer said.
Tyer said he thinks guard Tre Johnson will be close to fully healed from his knee surgery by the time training camp begins. Orthopedist James Andrews called Johnson's knee 80 to 90 percent healed after examining Johnson recently and Johnson has been progressing in agility drills, Tyer said.