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Redskins holdouts go eye-to-eye, but Cooke unlikely to blink Owner well-known as tough negotiator


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Sharon Pratt Kelly, the mayor of Washington, recently called Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke a "billionaire bully."

The Redskins have a different name for him: Mr. Cooke.

When former quarterback Joe Theismann, one of the few players who was allowed to negotiate directly with the owner, was asked why he called him Mr. Cooke, he said, "Because he's Mr. Cooke."

The fact that all the Redskins from coach Joe Gibbs on down refer to him as "Mr. Cooke" is an example of the combination of fear and respect with which the Redskins treat the owner.

When Cooke arrives at practice, he couldn't get more deferential treatment if he were the president. There's no standing on the sidelines for Cooke. There are always chairs brought out for him. Gibbs will leave the field to sit with him.

Even though he has proven he will spend the money it takes to win, Cooke is not a man to be trifled with. He pays the salaries of all the players Gibbs stashes on the injured reserve list, and he's building a new training complex even though the Redskins' current one is only 20 years old.

But when Cooke draws a line, it apparently is not to be crossed.

That explains why the Redskins have had few holdouts during the years even though they didn't have one of the 25 highest-paid players in the NFL when they won the Super Bowl last season. When Cooke let John Riggins sit out the season in 1980, he showed how tough he could be.

For the first time since the Riggins holdout, he faces another serious challenge.

Although quarterback Mark Rypien appears ready to end his holdout in time to make the trip to London Tuesday night, the other three holdouts -- offensive lineman Jim Lachey, cornerback Darrell Green and rookie Desmond Howard -- seem more determined to battle Cooke.

It's noteworthy that neither the players nor their agents have made any inflammatory comments about Cooke. They don't want to risk infuriating him.

The owner can afford to be tough with Howard. The Redskins have Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders. Howard could sit out the season, and the Redskins won't be affected.

Lachey and Green are a different story. The Redskins probably won't be a serious Super Bowl contender without them in the lineup.

Lachey plays the critical left tackle position, where he protects Rypien from blindside blitzes that can cause him to fumble. Green is the cornerback who makes the defense go by being able to play the best opposing receiver one-on-one.

While it could be argued that Rypien isn't the best quarterback in the league and should be happy with the $3 million he's being offered, there's not much doubt that Lachey and Green are the best at their positions.

Lachey says he feels that because he blocks the Lawrence Taylors and Pat Swillings, who each make about $1.8 million, he should be in their pay category. If they get that much for rushing the passer, he feels he should get that much for protecting the passer. He doesn't want to be paid slightly more than $1 million like the other best offensive linemen.

Green also says he feels he shouldn't be paid like the best cornerbacks, such as Ron Woodson, who makes $1.45 million. He wants to be paid as one of the best defensive players. He also wants money in the Taylor-Swilling category.

Cooke pays the going rate, but doesn't set standards. He's told them if they don't sign by Aug. 17, he'll start reducing their offers by 1/16th (a game check) a week. Aug. 17 is when the team returns from London, and the team starts its serious push for the season on Sept. 7.

The two sides are eye-to-eye. Which side is going to blink first? Cooke is not noted for blinking.

After all, there's the Riggins precedent. But Gibbs wasn't the coach when Riggins sat out. If Gibbs tells Cooke he can't win without them and the players hold firm, will Cooke back off the threat of reducing the offers? Or will he risk the season and bet the players will crack?

Nobody knows. Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking toward the Aug. 17 deadline. This may wind up being a better duel than any of the Redskins games this year.

Late Redskins game

Coverage of last night's Redskins-Jets game in East Rutherford, N.J., is not in this edition because of its late finish. A complete report can be found in later editions of The Sun, and all editions of tomorrow's Sun. For the latest sports results, call SUNDIAL at (410) 783-1800, ext. 5001 (in Anne Arundel County, call [410] 268-7736, ext. 5001).

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