Whisper Room

It once looked to be a done deal: Daryl Gardener stated his intentions throughout the season to re-sign with Washington. It doesn't look like a slam dunk anymore.

There's no doubt Gardener played well this past season, after the Redskins had signed him in August. He was the Defensive MVP, combining tenacity and quickness to go along with his impressive frame.

And he played 15 games despite a back that had bothered him greatly the past two seasons, as well as in the summer.

Now Gardener says he'd consider going to Cincinnati, where Marvin Lewis is now the head coach. Gardener liked playing for Lewis--who seemed to be among those lukewarm to the idea of signing Gardener last summer.

But it's not just Gardener who might change his mind. From what we hear, the Redskins are wary of re-signing Gardener to a lucrative long-term deal. They still have concerns about his back and fear that this might have been his last season fully healthy. They understand the risk of re-signing him, which is greater than when they originally signed him.

Also, they wonder if last season's success stemmed as much from playing for a new deal as anything.

But this is clear: it's not that they don't want him back, it's that they want to make sure it's a smart deal. Imagine the uproar if they sign him to a big contract only to have his back go out in camp. Then again imagine the uproar if he goes to Cincy and has a Pro Bowl season. Welcome to the Redskins dilemma.

. . . The Redskins are pleased with the progress of receiver Cliff Russell, who is recovering from reconstructive knee surgery this past August, and can't wait to see him in training camp this summer. They liked what they saw of him in limited duty last summer, whetting their appetite for 2003.

Russell's speed is necessary, but his presence won't stop them from pursuing another receiver--they know they need a No. 1 wideout with speed opposite sturdy Rod Gardner.

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