The widely anticipated departure of Stephen Davis became official yesterday when the Washington Redskins released one of the greatest running backs in franchise history.

Davis was among four Redskins waived as the club moved to get under the $74.8 million salary cap by Friday's deadline. Safety Sam Shade, tight end Walter Rasby and punter Craig Jarrett also were let go.

Davis, who will turn 29 Saturday, would have counted an unwieldy $11.42 million toward the cap while Shade's cap figure was $1.6 million.

The Dallas Cowboys -- and Coach Bill Parcells -- are expected to be among several teams with an interest in Davis.

With the departures of Davis and Shade, the Redskins are roughly $6 million under the salary cap. Before the releases, the Redskins had been $1.6 million over the salary cap.

"It's like putting a big puzzle together," said Vinny Cerrato, director of player personnel. "It's difficult because they've meant so much and done so much for the team. It's never an easy decision. But everybody knows this is a business."

The decision to release Davis, the team's third all-time leading rusher, was philosophical as well as financial. Davis's plowing style never meshed with the Fun 'n' Gun offense of Coach Steve Spurrier. Instead, the runner questioned the play-calling of the former Florida coach as the team finished 7-9 in Spurrier's first NFL season.

The Redskins plan to rely next season on Ladell Betts and Kenny Watson, tailbacks whose pass-catching abilities fit better in Spurrier's playbook. Davis could not be reached last night, but he was resigned to his departure before last season's finale

"It's tough to accept," Davis said in December, "but I can't do anything about it. This is the way the business works: It's funny. It's wicked. When you realize that, you just have to accept it. I've just got to keep my spirits up, regardless of what happens."

Davis rushed for 820 yards on 207 carries, his lowest totals since he became a starter. Davis's season ended on Dec. 15 in Philadelphia after he suffered a right shoulder injury against the Eagles. The seven-year veteran ended his Redskins career with 5,790 yards and 45 touchdowns on 1,383 carries.

The injury left Davis just short of Larry Brown, who has 5,875 rushing yards, for second on Washington's all-time list. (John Riggins leads with 7,472).

Owner Dan Snyder -- who had a good relationship with Davis -- declined to comment on the release. But according to a source, Snyder and Davis had an amicable conversation yesterday.

Spurrier was unavailable to comment because of a trip to Florida. But late last season, the coach alluded to Davis's impending release: "There comes a point that the coaches and owners and franchises can't be sentimental. You have to put the best team on the field that you can under the salary cap. That's the obligation that you have to your fans."

Shade, 29, an eight-year veteran, played four seasons in Washington. He was one of the most popular players in the locker room because of his selflessness.

"Since I've been here, I've seen all kinds of changes in this organization," Shade said last season. "From the entire marketing department, coaches, the training staff, the strength and conditioning program. I've seen so many changes. Why should I be different? Why should I feel like one day they're not going to ask me to leave?"

The Redskins have extra cap room to address needs, including wide receiver, guard, defensive line, a safety, backup running back and backup quarterback.

On Tuesday, the Redskins had agreed in principle to a three-year deal with reserve defensive lineman Carl Powell. However, according to a source close to Powell, the deal could not be finalized because of a disagreement regarding whether the tackle will start.

Powell's return was critical, especially after talks broke down between the Redskins and tackle Daryl Gardener. Gardener, the Redskins' player of the year, becomes an unrestricted free agent midnight Friday. Gardener has indicated that he will sign with another team. But according to a source close to Gardener, the Redskins will make a last-ditch offer before the clock strikes.

Staff writer Mark Maske contributed to this report.