Tailback Stephen Davis, who leads the NFL in rushing and is eligible for unrestricted free agency following the season, said yesterday he is just as confident as Washington Redskins officials are that he will be back with the team next season.
"I'm very confident," Davis said. "I feel if I just go out and do the things I'm capable of doing on the field, there will be something worked out. I want to be here."
Two days after Redskins officials vowed to resolve Davis's contract situation before he hits the open market, Davis said he is equally optimistic a deal will be worked out between the end of the season and the onset of the NFL's free agent signing period.
"I'm eager to be back," Davis said. "Right now, I'm just worried about getting prepared week in and week out, and helping the team win these last three games" of the regular season.
Guard Tre Johnson, one of Davis's most effective blockers and an emerging locker room leader, said he was encouraged to hear the club has made re-signing Davis a top offseason priority.
"He's definitely proven himself to be an integral part of this offense," Johnson said. "Not having him would mess up the flow. That's not really my territory, but I'm glad they're going to keep him."
Team owner Daniel M. Snyder said Monday that he intends to make Davis, 25, a career-long Redskin. Director of player personnel Vinny Cerrato said the team will continue to enforce Snyder's policy of postponing contract negotiations with players until after the season. But, Cerrato said, the Redskins intend to have Davis under contract before the beginning of the league's free agent signing period, scheduled for March 2. The regular season ends for the Redskins on Jan. 2.
Davis said he "definitely" agrees with the Redskins' decision not to negotiate during the season. His contract status has not been a distraction for him this season, he said.
"I've kept it to the side," Davis said. "I know as long as I handle things on the field, that stuff will take care of itself."
Davis was a restricted free agent last offseason but signed the Redskins' tender offer of $934,000. Some team officials believed they were close before this season to signing Davis to a three-year contract worth $3 million, but the deal wasn't completed. Agent Steve Weinberg met with Cerrato in early October and urged the Redskins to sign Davis to a contract extension during the season, but the team refused to negotiate then.
If the Redskins are unable to sign Davis to a multiyear contract before the onset of the free agent signing period, club officials apparently would consider making him the team's franchise player. That would guarantee Davis a salary of approximately $3.7 million next season. It also would virtually ensure that he would remain in Washington, since any team signing him as a free agent would have to give the Redskins two first-round draft selections.
Davis ran for 189 yards and a touchdown in last Sunday's 28-3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals to bring his totals for the season to 1,335 yards and 17 touchdowns. He sat out the Redskins' practice yesterday because of a sore toe, but he said he will play Sunday at Indianapolis.
"I'm feeling great," Davis said.
Davis, who won a starting job ahead of Skip Hicks during training camp, said he isn't surprised by his production this season, and Coach Norv Turner concurred.
"I hate to use the word surprise because it doesn't give Stephen the credit he deserves," Turner said. "Stephen has always been capable of having a big game. But until you've done it over an entire season, there's always going to be uncertainty for some people."