'Skins to lose Powell, Gardener?

It once appeared certain that Carl Powell and Daryl Gardener would re-sign with Washington. Now the only certainty is that both likely will test the free agent market, barring a last-minute turn in negotiations.<BR> The free agency period begins at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

''I'm not overly optimistic [about Powell staying in Washington],'' Powell's agent, Jerrold Colton said. ''It wasn't a big snag, but Carl is at a stage where he wanted to test the free agent market. Carl's fought hard to get to a level where he could be a free agent. This doesn't come along often so he wants to find his worth.''

As for Gardener, his name doesn't come up much anymore at Redskins Park says a team source. He wanted to sign a deal several weeks ago, but his volatile personality and owner Dan Snyder's ego proved a bad mix in negotiations.

''Daryl wanted to do this on his schedule and Dan tried to big-time him,'' said one Redskin employee. ''And they didn't make any headway at the combine. Dan had to give a little and Daryl has to give a little.''

Gardener got upset with management, failing to play off hard talks as ''part of the game.''

Thing is, as we've said all along, it's uncertain who will target Gardener. After all, other teams will have the same concerns as Washington.

''I wonder if what he ends up getting will be better than what we're offering him,'' a team source said.

But the Redskins will have problems along the offensive line if Gardener and Powell both leave. They could always restructure Dan Wilkinson's contract. But the club was irked by some of Wilkinson's comments to the Washington Times earlier this week.

''He just trashed us,'' a source said. ''But we have to get at least one of those players.''

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