The Washington Redskins intensified contract negotiations with defensive tackle Daryl Gardener yesterday by offering the prospective free agent a multiyear deal that included a signing bonus of more than $4 million, NFL sources said.

The negotiations got the jump-start that Gardener said he was seeking when he arrived in town on Wednesday. Gardener met with club officials yesterday at Redskins Park, and sources said the two sides were within striking distance of an agreement.

The Redskins have made re-signing Gardener, 29, their top priority in the weeks before the NFL's free agent market opens Feb. 28. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency, but he has said repeatedly that he wants to stay with the Redskins. Team officials want to keep him after the gamble that they took in signing him last summer paid off handsomely.

Talks on a contract extension were dormant until Gardener showed up at Redskins Park on Wednesday and said he hoped to meet with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder in the coming days. Snyder was the catalyst behind the Redskins' move to sign Gardener last July to a one-year, $775,000 contract that included a $250,000 signing bonus. Gardener said he hoped to have a new deal done by the end of next week.

It seemed possible yesterday that an agreement could come even sooner, but the sides still had significant differences on the financial terms of the contract, sources said, yet seemed intent upon continuing to try to find a common ground.

Gardener was one of the Redskins' most productive players last season, with 71 tackles -- 24 more than any of the team's other defensive linemen -- and four sacks in his 15 games. He often was the most dominant player on a Redskins defense that ranked fifth in the league, and his coaches and teammates felt he should have joined linebacker LaVar Arrington and cornerback Champ Bailey on the NFC Pro Bowl squad.

Gardener came relatively cheap last year because he just had been released by the Miami Dolphins following a feud with Coach Dave Wannstedt and had a history of back problems. But he became a positive locker-room influence for the Redskins and remained healthy after missing a game early in the season because of a sore back. Still, any contract that Gardener signs with the Redskins almost certainly will contain provisions protecting the team against further back troubles.

Gardener, a seven-year veteran, suggested this week that he likely would sign with another team if he does not reach an agreement with the Redskins before the free agent market opens. The Cincinnati Bengals could be a top contender after hiring former Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis as their head coach.