Cornerback Champ Bailey and his representative have asked the Washington Redskins for a four-year contract that, including incentives, would be worth about $3.2 million per season, sources close to the situation said yesterday. With the Redskins insisting upon a five-year deal and offering about $1.9 million per season, team officials are facing the possibility of opening training camp this weekend without their first-round draft choice.
The team has scheduled a visit for unrestricted free agent cornerback Ryan McNeil at Redskin Park this week. But the Redskins would prefer to sign Bailey soon and have him ready to start opposite Darrell Green by early in the season, if not at the outset. Redskins officials loved what they saw from Bailey during the team's summer minicamp, and Coach Norv Turner said yesterday it's "critical" that Bailey not hold out.
"We want to be in a position to ask a lot out of Champ Bailey," Turner said. "The only way that's going to happen is if he has a full and complete training camp. It's critical for him to be there. He made good progress when he was here before, but that's not going to matter if he misses a significant amount of time during training camp."
Redskins General Manager Charley Casserly and Bailey's Atlanta-based agent, Jack Reale, declined to comment yesterday on the specifics of the negotiations.
The Redskins would use Darryl Pounds as their starter if Bailey isn't ready and they don't sign McNeil. McNeil, 28, is an established NFL starter who has spent two seasons with the St. Louis Rams after four seasons with the Detroit Lions.
The Bailey negotiations are the Redskins' most pressing business as they prepare to greet rookies and selected veterans at their Frostburg, Md., training camp on Sunday. The rest of the veterans are due to report July 28, and that -- not Sunday -- now appears to be the team's realistic target for completing negotiations with Bailey. He's the only player picked by the Redskins in April's college draft still unsigned.
At this point, the contract discussions seem to be at a standstill, with both sides firmly entrenched in their bargaining positions. The player picked immediately before Bailey in the draft, wide receiver Torry Holt, signed a five-year, $10 million contract with the Rams that includes a $5.4 million signing bonus. The Redskins, sources said, want Bailey to sign a five-year deal worth approximately $9.5 million.
But Reale, according to sources, is insisting that he shouldn't be penned in by Holt's contract because, he maintains, Holt signed for less than market value. Reale is arguing that Bailey should be worth more than the seventh slot in the draft because the Redskins were prepared to select him with the fifth pick before trading down, and he is pointing out that the team would have to spend much more than $2 million per season to acquire a starting cornerback on the free agent market.
It's unclear how far Reale and Bailey will move from their early contract demands, but there have been indications that they might agree to a five-year deal under certain circumstances.
One way for the sides to bridge the gap could be with incentive clauses -- some of which could be tied to Bailey receiving some playing time at wide receiver, as he did at the University of Georgia. Team officials have said that they won't consider using Bailey as a wide receiver or kick returner until he's completely comfortable as an NFL cornerback.
The Redskins don't want to agree to a four-year deal, but Bailey and Reale ultimately might make some salary concessions to get a contract that would make Bailey eligible for free agency a year earlier.
Redskins Notes: The team announced the signings of three players from the NFL Europe league -- defensive tackle Troy Bailey, linebacker Matt Finkes and center Juan Porter.
CAPTION: Unsigned Champ
The Redskins face the possibility of starting training camp without first-round draft pick Champ Bailey.