LaVar Arrington and the Washington Redskins reached a settlement yesterday, ending a contract dispute that stretched 17 months and strained relations between the team's front office and its star linebacker.
The resolution came after several postponed arbitration hearings stemming from a grievance Arrington filed against the Redskins in March 2004. Arrington had contended that the Redskins cheated him of $6.5 million in bonus money as part of an eight-year, $68 million contract extension signed in December 2003. The Redskins contended they had not, and Arrington eventually dropped the arbitration case.
"We were almost in arbitration a couple of times, but everyone thought that it was in everybody's interest to reach a settlement," Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said in a telephone interview. "If you leave it up to an arbitrator, you have no control of the situation. We have a duty to represent the player, and that's what we did."
Under the deal, an amendment was added to Arrington's contract stating that if he makes the Pro Bowl two of the next four seasons he would be allowed to void his contract and become a free agent. The Redskins would then have the option of paying him $3.25 million to keep him -- a figure that would count against the salary cap.
In addition, Arrington could earn $1.6 million more if he participates in 98 percent of special-teams plays, which is highly unlikely.
Arrington could become a free agent in 2007.
"I am grateful to Coach [Joe] Gibbs and to my attorney Steve Brown," Arrington said. "And I am specially grateful to [agent] Carl Poston, who has been with me and will always be with me; and to my family, my teammates, and my fans for the support and the roles they played throughout the whole process. I look forward to the focus on me being turned back to football."
The matter appeared closed in late July when both sides agreed to the framework of a settlement. But they couldn't finalize the deal until Wednesday. The resolution became official last night, when documents were signed by all the parties at Redskins Park.
Entering the 2004 season, Arrington had made the Pro Bowl three consecutive times. Arrington was not named last season after suffering a bone bruise that forced him to sit out 12 games. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound linebacker, who underwent two knee surgeries, is expected to play in tonight's preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, taking the field for the first time since last season.
Despite Arrington's accusations, under Virginia law, the signed contract left the linebacker with a high standard of proof to show fraud or intent to deceive. Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson said repeatedly that the team would not settle the case. Yesterday, Swanson referred questions to team vice president Vinny Cerrato, who said: "It's good to get it behind us, and now he can just concentrate on football."
The latest arbitration date in July had seemed inevitable. But settlement talks were spurred after Arrington dropped the case and telephoned Gibbs about concerns over his future with the Redskins, sources said. Gibbs played a pivotal role, including holding a meeting separately with Arrington's representatives in his office at Redskins Park.
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder "wanted to do whatever Joe wanted," Upshaw said. "And Joe was willing to say he didn't care about the [salary] cap. He was more concerned about the player."
Said Brown: "I want to express my gratitude to Coach Gibbs because he was absolutely vital in getting this matter resolved." Arrington held a two-hour meeting with Upshaw, Gibbs and Snyder on July 27. Upshaw, working with NFLPA team counsel Richard Berthelsen, formed the framework of the resolution. Team counsel Norm Chirite negotiated for the Redskins with Brown. Another arbitration date was tentatively scheduled for Sept. 20.
"We are glad this matter has finally been resolved and that the Sept. 20 hearing could be averted," Berthelsen said. "This settlement would not have been averted without Gene Upshaw's efforts in getting LaVar and Dan Snyder together last month at Redskins Park. We are pleased that it's over for all parties involved."
Before that meeting, the Redskins had stopped marketing Arrington as the face of the franchise and considered releasing him the first year a salary-cap hit wouldn't be too unwieldy, according to team sources. But Cerrato dismissed that information. "That's not even worth responding," Cerrato said.
The disputed contract was negotiated by Poston and Eric Schaffer, Washington's salary-cap specialist. Arrington contended that $6.5 million in guarantees due to be paid in the 2006 season were missing. Arrington accused the club of purposely removing the guarantees from the final draft he signed at Redskins Park under deadline pressure. Poston conceded that he didn't read the contract's final draft because of the looming deadline.
Arrington originally filed the grievance through Don Petersen, a Detroit-based attorney, and was assisted by Berthelsen. The Redskins were aided by the NFL's management council. But the situation was complicated by Poston's distrust of the NFLPA, said two sources familiar with the situation. In July, Arrington hired Brown, and made a request to postpone a July 18 arbitration hearing.
A hearing was first scheduled for Sept. 21, 2004, then moved to late July of that year to avoid marring Gibbs's first season back with the Redskins. The hearing was switched to Nov. 2, 2004, then postponed indefinitely after a scheduling conflict.
Snyder "was adamant about the position of the Redskins and the reputation of the Redskins," Upshaw said. "There were certain things he wasn't willing to budge on. But he said all along that it would get resolved."