Tailback Stephen Davis said yesterday there is a good chance his seven-year tenure with the Washington Redskins will be over after this season, although he would like to stay. The Redskins, according to NFL sources, are leaning strongly toward releasing the two-time Pro Bowl running back in the offseason for salary cap reasons, perhaps without even trying to renegotiate his contract.
Defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, meantime, said he is certain that he will remain with the club. Gardener's one-year contract is set to expire and he is eligible for unrestricted free agency in the offseason, but Gardener vowed yesterday to return. Sources said the team is only in the early stages of contract negotiations with Gardener but club officials have told him that they intend to re-sign him.
"When I came here, I said I'm a Redskin, so I'm a Redskin," Gardener said at Redskins Park. "When you look at free agency, who's the number one defensive tackle out there? I'm going to be a Redskin, point blank."
Davis was much less certain about his future, saying: "There are some teams out there. If it doesn't work out here -- I hope it can, but if it doesn't -- a lot of teams out there need a running back."
Davis, 28, is the first Redskins runner to have three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. But he would count slightly more than $11.4 million against the salary cap next season, and Coach Steve Spurrier has made it clear that he intends to have a passing-oriented offense. Sources said yesterday that the Redskins have not completely ruled out reworking Davis's contract and retaining him, but they believe it's likely that they will release Davis and go with less expensive running backs better suited to Spurrier's offensive style.
"Most [running backs] don't want to be in an offense where you're going to throw the ball as much as Coach Spurrier does," Davis said. "But I can't worry about that. I'm under contract. If it gets worked out, it gets worked out. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I'll move on and try to help another team win."
Davis said he doesn't understand his role in Spurrier's offense. He had only 12 carries in Sunday's 27-21 loss to the New York Giants at FedEx Field, but produced 70 rushing yards and a one-yard touchdown run. He also had his longest run of the season, 33 yards. For the season, he has 796 yards and seven touchdowns on 205 carries. Over the previous three seasons, Davis averaged 326 carries and 1,385 rushing yards.
He said in training camp he knew he would get fewer carries but he thought the Redskins would throw the ball effectively enough that he would have more room to run. It hasn't gone as hoped, though, and he's averaging only 3.9 yards per carry.
"I thought it would" work out better, Davis said. "But it's [Spurrier's] first year here, and he's doing the best he can. He's been doing something for a very long time his way, and you can't knock a guy for that. He's won a lot of games. . . . As a team, we couldn't execute on both of them. Sometimes we had problems running. Sometimes we had problems throwing the ball. . . . I think I've done all right. I could have done better. You see some of the running backs playing today, you would like to have that opportunity. But that's how we've been playing, and you really can't worry about it."
Spurrier said: "We're not blaming anybody. But if you look at what we've done run-wise, we haven't really gained a whole bunch of yards at times. Obviously, if we were running for six or seven yards a pop, we'd keep doing it."
Davis has played through a knee injury, but said he's healthy now and believes he has "a lot left" even as he approaches the stage of his career when running backs begin to slow down. He called his season "frustrating," and said he hopes the Redskins release him early in the offseason -- to give him a better chance to get a good job for a good contract elsewhere -- if they're going to release him.
"If you're going to do something, do it and get it over with," Davis said. "Don't have me waiting in the wings. But the thing is, they won't do that. . . . The thing I have to do is, stay patient and see what happens. . . . It's a business. I can't dwell on it. I just have to move on. I think with the type of person that I am, I can do that. . . . I get frustrated, but anger and blowing up at people, that's not me."
Redskins officials declined to comment publicly on the contract situations of Davis and Gardener. They have begun talks about a contract extension with Gardener's agent, Neil Schwartz, but have not yet exchanged detailed financial proposals, sources said. Gardener indicated there is no deal in place, saying, "You'll know about that before I will."
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder was the catalyst behind the Redskins signing Gardener, 29, to a one-year, $775,000 contract in July after he was released by the Miami Dolphins, and sources said that the Redskins have targeted Gardener and right tackle Jon Jansen as the prospective free agents they most want to keep. Gardener has stayed healthy and has been one of the team's best defensive players. Now he apparently is seeking a lucrative multiyear deal but seems willing to provide some protections for the Redskins in the deal in case the back problems that have plagued him in recent years sideline him again.