Washington Redskins officials have grown increasingly receptive to the possibility of bringing back veteran running back and kick returner Brian Mitchell next season, sources close to the situation said yesterday. Mitchell said he would be willing to renegotiate his contract if that would help him remain with the Redskins.
Meantime, team officials are convinced that cornerback Darrell Green will play an 18th season with the Redskins next year at age 40, sources said. Green again refused to be pinned down about his plans as he prepares to play in Sunday's regular season finale at FedEx Field against the Miami Dolphins. Owner Daniel M. Snyder already has invited wide receiver Irving Fryar back for next season.
Also, Coach Norv Turner said he doubts that wide receiver Albert Connell will be able to play Sunday. Connell missed practice again yesterday because of his ailing left shoulder. Fryar could make his first start as a Redskin if Connell is unable to play.
The shape of the Redskins' roster beyond this season is coming into sharper focus now that the team has clinched the NFC East title and Snyder and Turner have said that Turner will remain in place next season. A seventh straight season out of the playoffs likely would have led to Turner's dismissal and an overhaul of the roster.
But with the club about to host at least one NFC playoff game, Redskins officials now seem willing to keep the veteran nucleus basically intact. The Redskins will be able to add to the mix with three first-round picks in next April's college draft, and perhaps with trades and free agent signings.
For much of the season, it appeared that Mitchell was being squeezed out of the club's plans. But, according to sources, Mitchell's improved play in recent weeks has led team officials to think he's worth keeping, particularly if he's willing to play for a reduced salary.
Mitchell, 31, is signed through the 2002 season and is to count $1.6 million against the salary cap next season. He said he would be receptive to a renegotiation if the team has salary cap problems.
"I'd be willing to renegotiate for the benefit of having the best team we can," Mitchell said. "I have no problem with that. Every time I've been a free agent, I've showed I was loyal to this team. This is where I wanted to be. You look at teams like San Francisco, and they kept a lot of guys who were willing to take less money to have a better team."
Mitchell feels his recent play should persuade team officials to keep him, but said he has not discussed the matter with anyone in the organization.
"I haven't heard from anyone," said Mitchell, who became the NFL's all-time leader in combined punt and kickoff return yards during Sunday night's overtime win in San Francisco. "The only way I can speak to that is with what I do on the field. I've proven I can still play. I can still do it."
Mitchell has spent his entire 10-year NFL career with the Redskins. He said he intends to play next season, preferably for the Redskins.
"I see better and better things happening for this team," he said. "I don't want to go to another team. I will if I have to, but I don't want to."
Team officials said that Green has not officially informed them about his plans for next season. But Green has not talked like someone on the verge of retirement, and sources said the Redskins' decision-makers believe it's virtually certain that Green will play next season. Green remained noncommittal, saying: "You will hear that when the time comes."
Green played in what may have been wide receiver Jerry Rice's final home game for the 49ers last Sunday. This Sunday, he will play in what might be the final game for Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, who was selected one spot ahead of Green in the 1983 college draft.
"I was on the field for Walter Payton's last game," Green said yesterday. "I'm going to be on the field for Darrell Green's last game. I think it's very special. . . . I consider [Marino] a friend. . . . I don't know if this is his last game, but it's been a great thrill."
Fryar, 37, has not accepted or declined Snyder's invitation to return. He has said he would like to remain with the Redskins, but will have to discuss the matter with his family.
"I haven't decided yet," Fryar said yesterday.
He has a $2 million salary for next season after coming out of retirement to sign a three-year, $6 million contract with the Redskins during training camp. Both sides called it a one-year arrangement at the time, but have reconsidered.
Fryar also left open the possibility of renegotiating if that's what the Redskins would need to do to retain him.
"Everything is negotiable," he said.
Fryar had said Turner's status would affect his decision about whether to postpone retirement once more. Fryar acknowledged yesterday that Snyder's decision to retain Turner increases the likelihood that he will play next season.
"It's one less thing I have to worry about," said Fryar, who is five catches behind Henry Ellard for sixth place on the NFL's all-time list. "It was one of the variables, and now it's eliminated."
Redskins Notes: Tailback Stephen Davis didn't practice yesterday but might test his sprained left ankle on the practice field today. Reserve safety Matt Stevens was sidelined yesterday because of a pinched nerve in his shoulder but probably will play Sunday, team officials said.