ASHBURN, Va. -- Owner Jack Kent Cooke made a $14.45 million investment in the Washington Redskins' future yesterday signing the team's last three holdouts -- veterans Jim Lachey and Darrell Green and top draft choice Desmond Howard.
Howard, the Heisman Trophy winner, became the team's highest paid rookie ever by signing a four-year, $5.9 million deal. Green signed a three-year, $4.5 million deal that made him the highest-paid defensive back in the NFL, and Lachey signed a three-year, $4.05 million deal that made him the highest-paid offensive lineman in the league.
The $14.45 million total of the three contracts -- not counting hundreds of thousands in incentives -- is just $1.55 million fewer than the $16 million franchise fee that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Seattle Seahawks paid to enter the league in 1976.
In today's uncertain market, though, the Redskins considered it almost a bargain because they have Lachey and Green locked in for three years and Howard for four.
"It's very important for the franchise in the long run," said general manager Charley Casserly.
The length of the contracts were a major issue. For example, Lachey started out wanting a one-year deal while the Redskins originally countered with a four-year offer. With the players trying to win free agency in court, the Redskins wanted to lock them up.
Howard got a $2.8 million signing bonus and will get yearly salaries of $550,000, $750,000, $850,000 and $950,000. Steinberg also said he got the best incentive package he ever negotiated.
Both Lachey and Green started out shooting for the $1.83 million range that Lawrence Taylor gets as the league's highest-paid defensive veteran. Lachey felt he should get paid in that range because he blocks the Taylors of the league.
In the end, though, with the regular season just two weeks away, Green was happy to average $1.5 million and top Pittsburgh's Ron Woodson ($1.45 million) as the top defensive back. Lachey was pleased to average $1.35 million and top Houston's Bruce Matthews ($1 million) in the offensive linemen's derby.
"As a player you really don't have any leverage," Lachey said. "If they say that's all you're going to get, that's all you're going to get. You can't squeeze any more water out of the rock. Sure, everybody would like to make $5 million a year like Cal Ripken or $6 million, but, hey, this situation is different. I'm happy with what I've got."
Since the NFL players don't have free agency, they don't have the leverage that baseball players have.
Lachey and Green also readily admitted that they got a lot of money in anybody's league.
"You have to look at the big picture. The dollars they're talking about, [most] people don't make in a lifetime. If you kind of look at it that way, take the money and be smart about it, you should be comfortable," Lachey said.
Green said: "In 32 years of life, I'm overpaid with life. I'm overpaid with the love of a family. I'm overpaid with this salary. I've 'N overpaid with the thrill and exhilaration of playing now 10 years in the NFL and Super Bowls. People say, 'Hey, that's Darrell Green.' I'm overpaid in all respects."
Meanwhile, coach Joe Gibbs was just excited about having his entire team together for the first time since they got their rings right before training camp opened.
Talking about what it was like to have his players out, he said, "It's like being at home with the family and somebody is missing at the end of the table."
All the tension during the contract talks was quickly forgotten by both sides.
Two weeks ago, Gibbs had suggested that Howard had missed so much time as a rookie that he should "come back next year."
Gibbs conveniently forgot about that and decided he must have said something else.
"I doubt if I said, 'come back next year.' I would have said something more along the lines of, 'Hey, it's tough for a guy to have this happen this year'. It makes it tough to make a big contribution," he said.
Howard brushed off the comment.
"I realize Coach Gibbs is a heck of a coach. He didn't get that way by being a passive individual. He got that way by being very straightforward and I think demanding of his players. I think he was just ventilating frustration that his players weren't in camp. It's very understandable," Howard said.
All three players practiced for the first time at the team's new facility, and both Green and Lachey will play Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings.
It's uncertain if the Redskins will play Howard on Saturday, but he thinks he can make a contribution fairly quickly.
"If I take a kickoff return for a touchdown, I think my teammates would consider that a significant contribution," he said.
Steinberg announced that Howard will fund a scholarship at both his high school in Cleveland and his college alma mater, the University of Michigan. He also will contribute $1,000 to needy children for every Redskins victory.
NOTES: Besides signing the three holdouts, the Redskins were busy with roster moves. They lopped four more players off the roster, signed long snapper Mike Raab because John Brandes will miss this week with a knee injury, and traded WR Joe Johnson and DL George Hinkle to the Minnesota Vikings. Johnson was expendable as the sixth wide receiver once Howard arrived, and Hinkle was a Plan B signee who didn't play well enough to make the team.
Redskins roster moves
Injured reserve (2) G Mark Adickes (back)
Clarence Vaughn (knee)
Waived (1) CB Calvin Holmes
Waived injured (1) TE Dennis Ransom (knee)
Roster exemptions (4) CB Darrell Green
WR Desmond Howard OL Jim Lachey
Traded (2) WR Joe Johnson, DE George Hinkle to Vikings for sixth-round pick that will be upgraded to a fifth if one of them plays 50 percent of the time
Signed (1) Free-agent long snapper Mark Raab