The Washington Redskins will end defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson's season by placing him on the injured reserve list today, club officials said. Wilkinson may have played his final game for the team Thursday in Dallas, where he tore a calf muscle. NFL sources said yesterday that Redskins officials are leaning strongly toward releasing him in the offseason.
The club placed punter Bryan Barker on the injured reserve list yesterday. Barker said he was told by a neurologist this week that he was suffering from a subdural hematoma -- a collection of blood in the brain -- after his nose was broken in the Thanksgiving loss to the Cowboys. Doctors refused to clear the veteran punter to play until the blood subsides in four to five weeks because another blow to the head could result in a serious or even fatal brain injury, Barker said.
Barker indicated he expects to recover fully and plans to resume his NFL career next season, saying: "The main injury is the bleeding in the brain. It takes time for the blood to dissipate. Once that's gone, I'm 100 percent. What I do for a living is my hands and my feet and my eyes, and everything there is 100 percent. I just need to wait for my brain to heal."
Three Redskins players suffered season-ending injuries in the Dallas game, with middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter set to undergo surgery soon to repair a torn right anterior cruciate ligament. When they face the New York Giants on Sunday at FedEx Field, the Redskins will be without Wilkinson for the first time since the club acquired him before the 1998 season in a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals. But he has played much of this season with a wrist injury, and Redskins officials seem to believe that his play has slipped from a year ago. He has been credited with only 17 tackles and doesn't have a sack.
Sources said that while the Redskins hope to re-sign defensive tackle Daryl Gardener -- he is eligible for unrestricted free agency in March -- they are making plans for next season that don't include Wilkinson, 29. It's unclear whether the Redskins' stance on Wilkinson would change if they are unable to retain Gardener. Wilkinson's contract runs through the 2006 season and includes a salary of $3.5 million for next season. The Redskins perhaps could wait until June to release Wilkinson to improve their salary cap situation for next season, delaying most of the cap hit for letting him go until the 2004 season.
Wilkinson was not at Redskins Park and was not available to comment yesterday but said earlier this week he knows that offseason changes to the defense are coming. He said he was disappointed by the unit's inconsistent play this season, adding that he thought the organization needed to do its best to keep defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis and as many key defensive players as possible.
"Guys have fought and tried to make the most of the season," Wilkinson said. "We just haven't been able to capitalize on the opportunities that we've had."
Carl Powell is scheduled to start in Wilkinson's place Sunday.
Barker suffered an open nasal fracture while retrieving the ball on a blocked field goal attempt for which he was the holder. He underwent surgery at Baylor University and spent a night in Dallas before returning home Friday night, he said, and had hoped to punt again this season before talking to doctors on Monday about the bleeding in his brain.
"Originally they said it's very common with a head trauma like this, and I had a small amount of it," Barker said. "They weren't overly concerned down in Dallas, and they allowed me to get on a plane and come back. I wasn't concerned about it at all. When I got here and visited with the doctors here, they explained to me just how serious a second shot to the head might be this soon after the first one, and they used words like life-threatening and life-ending, so I had to listen to them."
A 13-year veteran, he called his injury "just a very bizarre, freak situation" and said it won't cause him to retire or even wear a more substantial face mask when he plays. He was hurt when he was struck by the knee of a Cowboys player in the scramble for the ball. A national television audience saw an ugly-looking injury as Barker walked off the field, but he said he wasn't in a great deal of pain and had only minor discomfort yesterday.
"It definitely looked a lot worse than it felt," Barker said. "Taking the initial shot, it felt like my eyes were exploding out of my head. But in terms of a headache or throbbing pain, I've never really had that. The worst pain I've had was landing in the plane on Friday, coming down from altitude . . . . I just remember coming off to the sideline. I had a lot of blood coming out. My first thought was maybe I could get it to stop bleeding and put some tape on it, and I could get back out there. But the first words I heard were, 'We need to get you in an ambulance to the hospital. You've got an open nasal fracture.' "
Barker said he had to sit in the tunnel at Texas Stadium for a while because a police car wouldn't start, then was taken to the wrong hospital. Doctors told him he had the worst open nasal fracture they had seen, but his surgery at Baylor was conducted by a specialist renowned for his work with cosmetic facial procedures.
"To this day, people are shocked that I don't have black eyes and a lot of swelling in the face," said Barker, who had splints in his nostrils and a bandaged nose. "Even my family, they were surprised when I came home that I didn't look worse . . . . They [doctors] have assured me that once the blood goes away, then I'll be just as good as anyone who's never gone through this. And it will allow me to go to the doctor a second time and maybe make an upgrade to my face."
The Redskins already had signed rookie punter Craig Jarrett to replace Barker, who struggled before getting hurt. Two days before the Dallas game, Barker said, he had dinner with long snapper Ethan Albright and talked about all that had gone wrong this season.
"We talked about all the weird things that have happened this year and said hopefully it's done," Barker said. "We couldn't imagine anything else happening, and then this happened. So I'm not going to talk about this being the end of my unlucky 13th season. I'm going to come in here and try and get healthy and look forward to next year."