The Washington Redskins restructured the contract of LaVar Arrington yesterday to clear about $4 million of salary cap space for next season and have begun talks with his representatives about a long-term contract extension designed to keep the Pro Bowl linebacker with the team for the remainder of his career, NFL sources said.
The Redskins also reworked the contract of defensive end Renaldo Wynn to carve out about $1 million of additional room beneath next season's $75.007 million salary cap. The moves gave the Redskins the cap space they needed to file their seven-year, $35 million contract offer sheet with wide receiver Laveranues Coles with the league office yesterday, giving the New York Jets one week to decide whether to exercise their right to retain the restricted free agent by matching the offer.
The Jets appeared poised to retain running back and kick returner Chad Morton today by matching the Redskins' five-year, $8 million offer to the restricted free agent. But that situation became muddled last night when, according to sources, the NFL Players Association filed a grievance on behalf of Morton and his agent, Leigh Steinberg, disputing a ruling by the league that the Jets are not required to match a provision in the Redskins' offer that would void the final two seasons of the contract.
It was unclear last night how long that could delay the resolution of the matter. The Jets' seven-day window to decide whether to match the Redskins' offer to Morton expires today. The Redskins had been making contingency plans to try to sign wide receiver Jermaine Lewis, an unrestricted free agent, to serve as their kick returner if the Jets retain Morton. The approximately $5 million in cap savings they created yesterday gives the Redskins flexibility to make other moves. They could sign a punter -- perhaps veteran Tom Tupa, an unrestricted free agent -- and add to their depth.
The contract restructurings completed with Arrington and Wynn put the Redskins about $6 million beneath the salary cap. If they acquire Coles, he would count $2.31 million against the cap next season.
Arrington had more than $5 million of his salary for next season guaranteed -- meaning that the money was given to him as, in effect, a new signing bonus that could be prorated over the remaining four seasons of his contract for cap accounting purposes. That reduces his salary cap impact for next season but increases it in future seasons. He could count more than $10 million against the Redskins' cap in 2004 and more than $11 million in 2005.
But sources said the Redskins don't intend to lose Arrington and have moved to address the situation by opening talks with agent Carl Poston on a new deal. The two sides are in the preliminary stages of discussions about a contract extension, sources said, and hope to complete a deal in the coming months. Arrington's current deal runs through the 2006 season, but contains a provision to void the final season and make him eligible for free agency following the 2005 season.
He has reached the last two Pro Bowls and team officials regard him as one of the club's most indispensable players. The Redskins will focus on Arrington and Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, whose contract expires following the 2003 season, after they finish the work of assembling next season's team, sources said.
The Jets have until next Wednesday to decide whether to match the Redskins' offer to Coles, which includes a $13 million signing bonus. Morton's situation now could be headed to arbitration. The Redskins included a mechanism in their offer, which includes a $2.5 million signing bonus, to void the final two seasons of the contract, creating a sizable salary cap hit after three seasons. According to sources, the Jets received an interpretation from the NFL management council that they could retain Morton without matching that provision, but Steinberg and the union contend otherwise.
Redskins Note: Running back Stephen Davis, released by the Redskins last month, reached a tentative agreement with the Carolina Panthers on a five-year, $15.5 million contract, including a signing bonus of $2.5 million.