From owner to players, the name of the Redskins game is money

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Washington Redskins are the NFL's best football team, but their real game seems to be Moneyball.

As the Redskins attempt to become the second team since 1979 to repeat, the real theme for this season seems to be the Dash for Cash.

Owner Jack Kent Cooke has set the tone. Since the end of last year, he has raised ticket prices $5 across the board for the second straight year, and he has switched radio stations, even though the new one isn't on the air yet.

He also was one of the owners who shot down the plan to give the TV networks an $8.5 million rebate next year in exchange for a two-year extension. When the owners did vote a $1 million rebate to keep the 17-week schedule, the Redskins were one of two teams (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the other) that voted no.

Now, Cooke wants the D.C. Armory Board to give him a $900,000 break on his lease, even though he's threatening to build a stadium in Virginia. If Cooke doesn't get the break, he's threatening not to play his games at RFK Stadium this season.

The one flaw in this threat is that there's no other stadium in Washington. Cooke has floated the idea of playing at Memorial Stadium, but nobody is taking that idea seriously.

Meanwhile, the players, who gathered at Redskin Park for mini-camp Friday, are on the verge of doing some hardball negotiating.

Cooke has been spoiled because general manager Bobby Beathard usually didn't draft players on the first round and coach Joe Gibbs was successful with so many no-name players. Gibbs won the Super Bowl last year without having a player among the NFL's 25 highest-paid.

That's going to change this year. The Redskins traded up to get Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard with the fifth pick in the draft, and Howard is going to want a bundle of cash. Then there's quarterback Mark Rypien, whose agent, Ken Staninger, said Rypien would be worth $8 million a year if the NFL had free agency.

You can bet Rypien will want to top Dan Marino's $4.43 million salary and become the highest-paid player in the league.

Then there's Darrell Green, who will want to become the highest-paid defensive player in the league, and Jim Lachey, who will want to become the highest-paid offensive lineman in the league.

They are among the unsigned. Then there are those such as Gary Clark and Wilber Marshall, who have a year left on their contracts, but have said it's time to renegotiate.

Clark said he will settle for being among the top five highest-paid wide receivers and recently said: "I think management knows the players will have some bitterness if they don't take care of the players who got them where they want to go."

Cooke is not likely to be amused by all this. Remember, this is the owner who let Hall of Famer John Riggins sit out the 1980 season in a contract dispute.

Cooke lets Gibbs spend money to stockpile players on the injured reserve list and bring in Plan B players, but he watches the payroll closely. In Evan Thomas' biography of the late Edward Bennett Williams, "The Man To See," Beathard, who was hired by Williams as Redskins general manager, is quoted as saying: "Williams was first-class. Cooke was nickel-and-dime cheap."

The man caught in the middle this year will be Gibbs. He doesn't handle negotiations, but he's the man the players talk to.

Gibbs even could laugh last week when he was asked if Howard's big rookie contract will cause problems with the veterans. Gibbs will have so many problems that one more won't make any difference.

"I've quit worrying about it," Gibbs said, with a smile. "I took two weeks off after the Super Bowl, and I came back in here and everybody who came in the door was mad. There wasn't a guy who came back there who got paid enough, who had enough bonus [money]. Everybody was upset. I figure, 'Go ahead, draft whoever you want. Nobody is happy, anyway.' "

Gibbs can laugh about it now. It may not seem so funny in Carlisle, Pa., this summer.

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Was the price right?: The Redskins got the glamour player of the draft when they traded up to get Howard, but it's difficult to tell if they paid too high a price for him by trading away their second first-round choice.

In the first place, they might have gotten Howard with the sixth pick. Although the Redskins were convinced the Green Bay Packers were going to take Howard, the Packers also liked cornerback Terrell Buckley. Because teams routinely try to disguise their real intentions -- Diogenes would not be welcome in any NFL draft room -- nobody really knows whether the Packers would have taken Howard.

Even if they had, the Redskins could have drafted tight end Derek Brown, who was taken by the New York Giants, and gotten a cornerback at the end of the first round.

Because the Redskins didn't get a cornerback high in the draft, assistant coach Richie Petitbon will spend another season trying to hide Martin Mayhew in the secondary.

Meanwhile, Howard will help as a kick returner this year, but he's not likely to make a big impact as a receiver for a couple of years. Ray Handley, the New York Giants coach, doesn't seem worried about the Redskins throwing to Howard. He's seen the alternative.

"We're looking at it that every time they throw to Howard, that's another time they don't throw to Clark," Handley said jokingly.

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Belichick's power: It's uncertain whether coach Bill Belichick's management style was a factor in Ernie Accorsi's decision to resign as executive vice president of the Cleveland Browns last week. Accorsi said it wasn't, and he seems to be ready for a new challenge, but he's not the type to leave with any parting shots.

In any case, there's no doubt that Belichick has become one of the most powerful coaches in the league. As owner Art Modell said, "The principal point man for trades and acquiring talent will be Bill Belichick."

Along with pro personnel director Mike Lombardi, who's a confidant, Belichick will run the organization.

The question is whether the job is too big for one man. With the exception of Bill Walsh, one-man bands usually don't work these days. Remember Ray Perkins in Tampa Bay? Both the Redskins and Giants have won with a general manager-coach tandem sharing duties.

Even Modell conceded Belichick must cut back.

"He's not going to run around the country scouting 200 players ever again," Modell said. "He'll be a wreck before he starts the season. He's done it two years in a row, and that's it."

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Expansion update: Every time commissioner Paul Tagliabue talks about expansion, he seems more pessimistic than the last time.

Although he's said that the league can expand without a collective bargaining agreement, he seemed to tie it to one in an interview on ESPN during the draft.

"Well, I think expansion is jeopardized . . . without a labor agreement, because the more we talk to prospective cities and owners in those cities, the tougher it is to see how they can come up with their business plan if you don't have some arrangements in place for getting the players and keeping them with a team," he said. "At the same time, I think putting a price on the franchise is tough unless you can know what your labor situation is. So I think the two are hand in glove. We can add 100 jobs if we can expand. That should be part of a labor agreement, too."

Tagliabue overlooks that the league didn't have a collective bargaining agreement when it added Seattle and Tampa Bay in 1976, and they put together a business plan.

Tagliabue also said he still thinks he can get a collective bargaining agreement without going to trial June 15 in the antitrust suit filed by the players.

Incidentally, Tagliabue hasn't convinced the teams there'll be a draft next year. There were 22 trades made during the draft. None involved 1993 draft picks.

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