These are strange times for the Washington Redskins.
Hamstrung by the new free-agency signing rules and facing the likelihood of a salary cap next year, the Redskins -- noted for their ability to get key players in the past -- now are looking at the possibility of unloading one.
The Redskins, attempting to lower their payroll and build for the future, have put linebacker Wilber Marshall on the trading block.
"We've talked to teams and Wilber's name has come up," general manager Charley Casserly said yesterday. "If someone made us an attractive offer, we'd have to consider it."
Although Casserly cautioned that it's unlikely the Redskins can swing a deal -- trades are the exception in the NFL -- the fact that they're willing to trade Marshall shows how times have changed.
The Redskins got Marshall under the old, restrictive free-agency system by giving the Chicago Bears two No. 1 draft picks and Marshall a five-year, $6 million contract in 1988. At the time, it made him the highest-paid defensive player in the league.
Under the new, liberalized free-agency system, Marshall was one of the eight NFL players designated as a franchise player who can't move until he's traded.
Marshall wasn't happy about the designation and tried to get it overturned in court. Federal Judge David Doty turned down his first request, but said Marshall can file an objection when he holds a hearing April 16. Marshall said he has nothing against the Redskins, but wants a chance to test the market.
Casserly said that Marshall's court action had nothing to do with the Redskins' decision to see if they could swing a trade for Marshall.
He wouldn't discuss the reasons for attempting to trade Marshall, but they're somewhat self-explanatory.
The Redskins had to offer Marshall the average of the top five linebackers in the league -- $1.635 million a year -- when they designated him a franchise player.
But he can negotiate for more and he's likely to become a holdout if he doesn't get much more. He was Washington's highest-paid player when he joined the team in 1988 and he's likely to try to regain that status by asking for $1 more than the $3 million quarterback Mark Rypien is earning.
If Reggie White of the Philadelphia Eagles gets more than that from the Redskins or another team -- and it now appears likely he will -- Marshall's salary demands probably will escalate.
Meanwhile, if the salary cap kicks in next year, the Redskins will be allowed to spend only about $30 million. Last year, they spent
TC $34 million, so they have to start looking at the possibility of cutting back.
If they could trade Marshall for draft choices, their payroll would be lower because of the new salary limit on rookies and the rookies wouldn't be eligible for free agency before their fifth season. Young players also would help the team build for the future. Marshall, by contrast, will turn 31 next month.
That's why the Redskins have to explore a trade.
Also, the Redskins continue to be hamstrung by their status as one of the second four (of the top eight) teams, which limits their bidding.
They can't spend between $1 million and $1.5 million on a new player and can pay only one more than that.
For example, over the weekend tight end Ferrell Edmunds got $1.45 million a year from the Seattle Seahawks, and running back Rod Bernstine $4.6 million for 3 years, or slightly more than $1.5 million a year, from the Denver Broncos.
The Redskins aren't allowed to sign a player in Edmunds' range and if they had bid for Bernstine, they couldn't have signed any other player over $1.5 million and would have been out of the bidding for White.
They also have to wonder how many of their own free agents will give them a chance to match their best offers. Several of them -- including Martin Mayhew, Tim Johnson, Jumpy Geathers, Fred Stokes and Gary Clark -- are being pursued by several teams. The New York Giants are the latest team to show an interest in Clark.
Last week, Mayhew suggested the Redskins may have made a mistake by not signing more of their free agents last season. At the time, the Redskins thought their demands were too high. Now, the players are likely to get more than they asked of the Redskins because the bidding has escalated. Mayhew said they may lose some of them if other teams make "monster" offers.
"You can't look back," Casserly said of Mayhew's comments.
Right now, the Redskins are having enough problems looking ahead.