If cornerback Darrell Green wants to play an 18th season in the NFL next year at age 40, Washington Redskins officials intend to welcome him back, team sources said.
Green, whose contract runs through the 2002 season, declined to say yesterday whether he plans to play next season. But he certainly didn't talk like someone on the verge of retirement.
He said he believes he's having a Pro Bowl-caliber season, and added: "I don't want to be a charity case and I can honestly say, I am nowhere near a charity case. If I had to, I could look the owner or the coach in the eye and say, 'I am a charity case. Play someone else in my spot.' But I am nowhere near that."
Coach Norv Turner provided an endorsement of his veteran cornerback.
"Darrell is a very good corner," Turner said yesterday. "Darrell may not be the same guy that he was four or five years ago, but he's still better than most that are playing."
Turner declined to talk about Green's future, saying his concern is the remainder of this season. But several Redskins officials who spoke on the condition that they not be identified said they believe Green is good for the team and the welcome mat will be out if Green wants to play next season.
Green and veteran kick returner and running back Brian Mitchell have been under intense scrutiny recently. Some observers have wondered whether both players are entering the final few games of their careers. Green said he has had little problem dismissing such talk.
"I've played 17 years," he said. "When I look at what I'm doing now, I'm having an all-pro year. I can take you down every play I've had. I've been in Pro Bowls with the same type of year."
Most of those people from outside the organization who are judging him don't know what they're talking about, Green said.
"I've played 245 games," the seven-time Pro Bowler said. "I've been in three Super Bowls. I've seen everything. I know this game better than you and just about anybody else. It's about knowing what equates to success and what's not success."
The Redskins began the season believing their pass defense would be among the strongest in the NFL, with Green and rookie Champ Bailey starting at cornerback. But they have the league's 29th-ranked pass defense. Turner conceded that Green has had more passes thrown his way this season, in part because of Bailey's presence on the other side of the field.
"People generally are throwing the ball more in this league," Turner said. "We've been ahead in games where, I think, people are going to throw it and they're going to throw it wherever they can throw it. Champ made some big plays early, and some people have taken some shots over there [toward Green]. But Darrell has held up fine."
Green went through his season virtually play by play yesterday in a hallway at Redskin Park, and stressed that he's not slowing down or making any more mistakes than he has in previous seasons.
"I'm not defending myself," he said. "I don't need to. I could start for almost every team in this league for the next five to 10 years. How are you judging it? Are you judging it against what Darrell used to be? Are you judging it against the league? I'm not worried about what everyone thinks of me. I'm worried about being successful at what I do and trying to win games. I'm worried about my [charitable] foundation and trying to maintain a public relationship with the community so I can help these children."
He acknowledged recently that the sun is setting on his brilliant career. But he continues to refuse to reveal his retirement plans--plans that are tied to when he can raise $10 million for his children's foundation as well as to football concerns. Green said yesterday that he will not hang on beyond when he is capable of being a starting, productive player.
"I had a plan when I got here, and I have a plan now," he said. "I can reach the finish line. People say, 'When are you going to retire?' I already know that. Part of that plan is to continue to be successful. When I reach the finish line, they won't have to drag me out of the game. I could play five more years in this league [but] I'm not driven that way. If I can't make the finish line, I'll tell you."
CAPTION: Darrell Green (28): "I don't want to be a charity case and I can honestly say, I am nowhere near a charity case."