With a final decision now expected in the next 48 hours, free agent Reggie White is now "leaning" toward signing with the Washington Redskins, a source close to the negotiations said last night.
White, the Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman who is the most coveted prize in this year's free agent market, has been struggling for several days with the decision of whether to play for either the Redskins or the San Francisco 49ers.
The Redskins, who earlier balked at paying White more than $3.5 million a year, made the decision a little easier yesterday when they moved "very close" to the four-year, $16 million deal White wants, a source said.
If all things were equal, White might pick the 49ers because he thinks they have a slightly better team and he's not sure what direction the Redskins are going now that coach Joe Gibbs has resigned.
But the Redskins have sold them on the idea that it will be business as usual with Richie Petitbon as the head coach and that White's presence in the defensive line can enable them to overcome the loss of three players -- linemen Jumpy Geathers and Fred Stokes and cornerback Martin Mayhew -- to free agency.
The Redskins also have the edge for geographical reasons.
"It would be less disruptive for his family to move from Philadelphia to Washington than to move all the way across the country," a source said.
The source also stressed that White is so torn that his decision isn't final and he still could decide to go to the 49ers.
A decision could come by tonight, but White may wait until tomorrow to finalize it.
Neither White's agent, Jimmy Sexton, nor Redskins general manager Charley Casserly would comment on the negotiations.
But when Casserly was asked if the Redskins had gone to $4 million, he said he didn't want to discuss that, a non-denial that was a tip-off that owner Jack Kent Cooke has decided he wants to pay the price to get White.
The 49ers are hampered in the bidding because they can only offer $2.7 million the first year under the new free agency rules.
But the 49ers have gotten around that with a creative offer of a $4 million bonus in a five-year contract. Although only $800,000 -- the pro-rated share of the bonus for the first year -- would count under the new rules, the 49ers could put $5.9 million in White's hands the first year -- the $4 million signing bonus and a $1.9 million base salary.
The 49ers, though, would be limited to paying White $2.4 million the second year.
The Redskins, by contrast, are under no limitations.
* A group of Redskins is lookingfor more information about the new legal settlement between the owners and the players.
Tight end Terry Orr, a spokesman for 17 of the Redskins, said they have joined the group of players from around the league who want to present their objections to Judge David Doty when he holds a hearing in Minneapolis on April 16 to approve the settlement.
The hearing is considered a formality because Doty was a driving force in achieving the settlement when the owners were balking at some of the provisions.
"We want to be fully aware of everything that's in the document and what it all means," Orr said. A spokesman for the NFL Players Association, noting that few Redskins bothered to show up when the union recently held a meeting on the settlement, said it could probably answer the players' questions.
Linebacker Wilber Marshall previously objected to his designation as a franchise player although Doty has refused to overturn it. Marshall will present his objection again at the April 16 hearing, but it's unlikely that Doty will change any parameters of the settlement.