It was Rod Gardner's midweek birthday party that led to problems for Sean Taylor. It was Rod Gardner's SUV that was stolen as he ARRIVED at a club at 12:10 a.m. the Thursday morning before the finale.

And it could be Rod Gardner who's headed out of town after the season. At least one Redskins veteran thinks so, saying ''there's already talk of that. It's time for him to go.''

It's not because Gardner is out partying. It's because he's enjoying the nightlife -- and not producing. Joe Gibbs has shown he can live with guys who enjoy nights out on the town. He had John Riggins after all. Not to mention Dexter Manley and Gary Clark, among others. They were considered core players. They were also considered guys who enjoyed having a good time.

Look at those called to court for Taylor's appearance Wednesday: Clinton Portis, Fred Smoot (who initially denied being at the party) and Gardner. All are, or have been, considered ''core Redskins''. No one can blame young millionaires for going out, but some teammates questioned their judgment at doing so on a Wednesday, when game preparations intensify.

After Taylor's initial arrest Gardner told one reporter that guys can go out and still play, using himself as an example. Little did he realize he'd just made a point for others, ignoring his decreasing productivity. Other factors can be blamed, but it's not as if Gardner is often wide open. He does do what is asked of him, blocking well and not complaining.

Several personnel executives around the league have said the Redskins don't need to bolster their receiving corps, liking what Washington has with Gardner and Laveranues Coles. But those closer to the team, and on it, would apparently disagree. At least when it comes to Gardner.

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