The Washington Redskins signed veteran punter Brian Hansen yesterday to replace injured Pro Bowler Matt Turk for Sunday's road game against the Dallas Cowboys.
The team released veteran guard Rod Milstead to create a roster spot for Hansen, who had been out of the NFL for nearly a year and said he considered himself retired until Redskins director of player development Joe Mendes telephoned him on Wednesday.
Club officials seemed to be leaning toward giving the punting job back to Turk once his broken finger heals sufficiently. But some team officials, according to sources, remained upset with Turk, for showing what they believe was bad judgment in playing pickup basketball earlier in the week.
"We'll see how Brian punts in [Sunday's] game, and after the game we'll evaluate where we are," Redskins Coach Norv Turner said.
Turk, who underwent surgery on his finger Wednesday, told team officials the injury occurred during Sunday night's win at Arizona. But the Redskins believe otherwise. Sources said they believe that Turk may have violated his contract by playing in the basketball game and are considering fining him or withholding his pay for this Sunday's game. Such an action could result in grievance against the team by Turk through the players' union.
Some Redskins staff members have not ruled out the possibility of cutting Turk if Hansen punts well Sunday.
Following yesterday's practice at Redskin Park, Turner declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding Turk's injury or the possibility of the team taking disciplinary action against him.
"What matters to me is, our punter isn't playing," Turner said. "We had to release a player to add another punter. Any time you go into a game with another punter, you have some concerns."
Turk was not available to comment. His brother Dan, the Redskins' long snapper, said Matt Turk told him on the airplane ride home from Arizona late Sunday night that he had hurt his finger during the game.
"I don't know why they're convinced it didn't happen during the game," Dan Turk said. "On the plane, he said he did something to his finger. That's all I know."
Milstead said the players don't know what to believe.
"I can't really say anything about that because I don't know," Milstead said. "According to him, it happened on the field. If it happened off the field, only he knows for sure."
Matt Turk likely will be placed on the Redskins' inactive list Sunday, Turner said. It was unclear yesterday whether Turk will accompany the team to Dallas today. Turk has played in three consecutive Pro Bowls but has struggled this season.
Hansen, who turns 39 on Tuesday, outkicked another NFL veteran, Mike Horan, yesterday after four punters failed to impress Redskins officials on Thursday. Now Hansen gets the daunting task of punting the ball to Deion Sanders on Sunday.
"I think [Hansen] is the best guy we worked out," Turner said. "He got good hang time. He punted with good accuracy, so I think we'll be able to do what we want to do in terms of where we kick the ball."
Said Hansen: "We'll try to neutralize Deion any way we can, whether it's with hang time or some directional things or whatever. He's capable of doing something with any kick."
Hansen, a 14-year NFL veteran, was cut by the New York Jets last November and hadn't been signed by a team since then. He had been working for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Sioux Falls, S.D. He hadn't punted a ball since June before Mendes's phone call, he said.
"It's like my golf game," he said. "After I lay off for a while, sometimes I can come back and hit the ball better than ever."
He said he did some kicking on Wednesday after Mendes called, but figured the Redskins would sign one of the punters they looked at on Thursday. That didn't happen, and he arrived Thursday night.
"I was happy doing what I was doing," Hansen said. "I wasn't actively looking for a team. I just figured everyone had written me off. I was surprised when Joe called."
Hansen has punted for the New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns and the Jets. He has a career average of 42.3 yards per punt.
The Redskins hope to re-sign Milstead next week but are afraid he might be claimed by another team off waivers.
Milstead, who was born in Washington and grew up in the area, started 11 games for the Redskins last season but had been on the team's inactive list for each of the first five games this season.
Still, he's a positive influence in the locker room and the Redskins love having an experienced player as a backup.