It’s Tuesday at the King Greenleaf Recreation Center, hard off N Street in Southwest Washington, and LaRon Landry is handing out some 500 turkeys to families in need. With his volunteers from Leadership for Life — his nonprofit for underprivileged youth in the District — Landry poses for pictures, gives hugs and makes most everyone smile on a dreary, gray day.
“This is a nice deal,” says Frank Landry, LaRon’s father, as his wife, Rhonda, hands out cloth bags filled with turkeys and side dishes. In the foreground, their son, the Washington Redskins’ hard-hitting safety known as “Dirty 30,” is now the soft-hearted father, who hugs his 6-year-old daughter, Trinity.
“I’m glad we could do this for everyone for the second year in a row,” LaRon says.
It’s a nice holiday scene: The star athlete giving back, communing with the city. It’s also a scene that might not happen a year from now, at least not in this town.
“If they want to re-sign me, they’re going to re-sign me,” Landry said. “If not, I’ll be gone.”
That’s not a threat; that’s just fact. Landry’s contract situation — he is a restricted free agent after this year — is already becoming a major litmus test for the Mike Shanahan-Bruce Allen management team.
Do they go against the grain of their recent history, re-signing important players cultivated by the franchise and taking care of their own? Or do they continue to do what they’ve done so often during Daniel Snyder’s tenure as owner and allow stars — from Antonio Pierce to Ryan Clark to, astonishingly, Brian Mitchell — go and shine for someone else?
The wild card is Landry’s health. He played just nine games a year ago after injuring his Achilles’ tendon against Philadelphia, the same Achilles’ that has sidelined him for parts of this season. But unless the training staff has deemed the injury a long-term concern, it’s fair to wonder why the team isn’t talking about an extension prior to free agency.
Do they really think they can use a franchise tag on him to keep him for one more season? Good luck. Landry isn’t your average living-large young player. He has saved much of his $17 million signing bonus. He doesn’t need to be held hostage by a team for one year at this juncture in his career. If the Redskins think they can do that to buy time, then they probably lose Landry.
Allen, as a policy, doesn’t comment on contract issues publicly, so who knows what the Redskins are thinking?
When healthy, Landry is arguably the team’s most impactful player. He’s a menacing playmaker who anchors the secondary like few strong safeties can.
If Shanahan and Allen aren’t going to commit to Landry before his deal expires, that sends a clear signal to anyone up for an extension down the road — from Ryan Kerrigan to Fred Davis — that not only are there no “Redskins for life,” there aren’t even any Redskins bookmarked for next season, no matter how good or accomplished you are.
“Look, I just have to focus on playing football and focus on getting healthy and my team will work it out,” Landry said. “But just being one of the elite players on the team . . . if they don’t want to re-sign me for whatever reason, that’s their business decision. But wherever I go, whatever the future holds for me, I love the game; I have passion for the game.”
He feels bad about carving the training staff a hole in their head during a Twitter binge about his lingering Achilles’ injury in August, adding: “Some of the tweets were a lot of frustration. Just venting. I don’t mean anything toward the organization as far as whether I’m staying or leaving. Just frustration.”
Given his choice, Landry clearly wants to be here. “I mean, I’d love to be a ’Skin,” he says. “I’d love to be a Washingtonian. This is basically my home now. With that said, I know anything can happen. But I’d love to come back.”
It’s wild how quickly an athlete’s existence changes, no? Thirteen months ago, Landry led the NFL in total tackles. He literally wrecked the soon-to-be-champion Packers at FedEx Field. He made 13 tackles, caused a fumble and secured a game-clinching interception in overtime. Remember his rookie season when Landry, who wears No. 30, and Sean Taylor, No. 21, were said to patrol the most dangerous place on the field of all, “Area 51?”
That seems like a lifetime ago now. A year and one nagging Achilles’ later, you get the vibe Landry feels the team doesn’t want him, that he’s as surprised as anyone the Redskins have had almost no communication regarding keeping what most everyone who follows the team believes was a major part of the foundation just months ago.
“As far as this being my contract year, I don’t really pay attention to it. But, you know, I do think about my career — what’s gonna happen next?” he says, handing out yet another turkey. “My job is to play football. I have a great agent and a great team, so I’m not really worried about what the front office says. We’ll see what happens.”
Throwing crazy millions at Landry this minute might be premature. But with this organization’s history of failing to compensate the players who carry water for them — while simultaneously breaking the bank for someone’s else’s star free agents — it’s fair to say this regime is gambling the way the old regime gambled with its own drafted talent.
It’s fair to say by this time next year LaRon could be LaGone.