Defensive tackle Daryl Gardener threatened to cut off contract negotiations with the Washington Redskins after a near deal that would have kept him off the free agent market unraveled yesterday. But the Redskins made a revised contract offer last night in a meeting between team owner Daniel Snyder and Gardener's agent, Neil Schwartz, and Schwartz said the deliberations would continue.
"We had a long discussion," Schwartz said. "I was cautiously optimistic that we were going to get something done [yesterday]. Unfortunately, we're still negotiating."
The Redskins moved closer to Gardener's asking price with last night's proposal, sources said, and remain hopeful of completing an agreement to prevent him from being an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 28. But the two sides continued to have significant differences on the financial terms of a long-term deal.
The sides have been discussing a five-year contract with a signing bonus of around $5 million, and at times yesterday it appeared that Gardener and the Redskins would agree to a deal. The talks broke down, however, on the issue of a potential second-tier option bonus that would give Gardener, 29, a significant payout after three seasons if his troublesome back remains healthy, and sources said that Gardener told Snyder just before exiting Redskins Park early last night that he would play elsewhere next season. But the Redskins didn't give up, and Snyder and Schwartz left around 8 p.m. together to meet over dinner.
Gardener arrived in town on Wednesday, saying he was frustrated with the lack of progress in the deliberations and he wanted to jump-start the talks and complete a deal by the end of next week. Gardener and Schwartz met on Thursday at Redskins Park with Snyder and Joe Mendes, the Redskins' vice president of football operations. The sides swapped contract proposals, and when Gardener and Schwartz returned to Redskins Park shortly before 5 p.m. yesterday for another round of talks, they seemed hopeful that an agreement was imminent.
But it didn't happen, and Gardener was prepared to walk away from further discussions with the Redskins until being convinced to wait on the outcome of last night's meeting between Snyder and Schwartz.
According to sources, the Redskins were offering Gardener a five-year deal worth about $20 million, with a $5 million signing bonus and a minimum salary next season to limit the impact against the team's salary cap. That proposal would have paid Gardener about $11 million over the next three seasons. The club upped that three-year total to nearly $12 million with last night's revised offer, sources said, and indicated a willingness to increase the signing bonus, provided that the money would be refundable if Gardener is sidelined by back troubles.
Gardener's camp, according to sources, is seeking about $15 million over the next three seasons, including a $5 million option bonus payable after the 2005 season if Gardener remains healthy. Under Gardener's proposal, the amount of the option bonus that the Redskins would owe him would decrease for each game he misses over the next three seasons because of a back injury, sources said.
Gardener had a history of back problems before the Redskins signed him to a one-year, $775,000 contract last July following his release by the Miami Dolphins because of a feud with Coach Dave Wannstedt. He was plagued by back troubles in the preseason and missed one game early in the regular season, but stayed in the Redskins' lineup thereafter and played so well that his coaches and teammates were miffed when he wasn't selected to the Pro Bowl.
If Gardener becomes a free agent, his suitors probably would include the Cincinnati Bengals, who recently hired former Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis as their head coach, and the Denver Broncos, who tried to sign him last summer.
The Redskins endured similarly tumultuous negotiations with right tackle Jon Jansen before signing him in December to a six-year, $25 million contract extension. That deal had an $8 million signing bonus.