The Washington Redskins followed the new NFL free-agent trend yesterday when they declined to designate a franchise player and named cornerback Tom Carter a transition player even though he has three years left on his contract.
In the new bargaining agreement hammered out last year, the owners and players -- after much debate -- agreed each team could designate one franchise player at any time and three transition players -- two last year and one this year.
It turns out, though, that skyrocketing salaries are making teams reluctant to name franchise players because they must be paid the average of the top five players at their position -- ranging from $5.3 million for a quarterback to $931,000 for a kicker.
That's why when teams started announcing their protected players yesterday -- the NFL will announce the entire list today -- Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Green was the only player to get a franchise designation.
It just happens that tight end is the second-lowest-paid position behind kickers. The top five tight ends average $1.4 million.
Tom Donahoe, Pittsburgh's director of football operations, said that tight end and kicker are the two bargain positions on a team.
"A lot of teams won't use their designations because the tender numbers have gone through the roof," he said.
Since the kicker numbers are at the bottom of the scale, Pittsburgh and the Detroit Lions designated their kickers, Gary Anderson and Jason Hanson, as transition players.
The New York Jets named their tight end, Johnny Mitchell, a transition player.
Transition players must be offered the average of the top 10 at their positions when their contracts expire. They can solicit other offers, although the teams can match them.
Another factor is that Anderson's contract doesn't expire until after this season and Hanson and Mitchell are under contract until 1995.
When their contracts expire, the teams can lift the transition designation if they don't want to pay them a top 10 figure.
That's what the Redskins will face with Carter, who's under contract through 1996. Depending on what type of player he is then, the Redskins can decide if they want to meet the top 10 figure for cornerbacks, which is currently $1.8 million.
A year ago, the Redskins designated Wilber Marshall a franchise player, but eventually traded him to the Houston Oilers when he demanded $2.9 million. This year, it would have cost them $2.8 million to designate a linebacker a franchise player -- an increase of more than $1 million in one year.
Among the other players to get the transition designation around the league were offensive linemen Erik Williams of the Dallas Cowboys, Willie Roaf of the New Orleans Saints and Will Wolford of the Indianapolis Colts, defensive backs LeRoy Butler of the Green Bay Packers, Cris Dishman of Houston and Maurice Hurst of the New England Patriots and defensive end Eric Curry of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The naming of the protected players sets the stage for the opening of the free-agent market on Friday.
One of the most coveted players will be Miami Dolphins quarterback Scott Mitchell.
The Redskins, who didn't have much success in the free-agent market last year when Carl Banks, Al Noga, Tim McGee and Rick Graf failed to have much of an impact, hope to rebound this year.
If they pass on Mitchell and go for either Trent Dilfer or Heath Shuler in the draft, the Redskins figure to look at several players, including wide receivers Anthony Miller of the San Diego Chargers and Tim Brown of the Los Angeles Raiders, Buffalo offensive lineman Howard Ballard and defensive linemen Clyde Simmons of the Eagles and William Fuller of the Oilers.
New head coach Norv Turner also is expected to be interested in a player or two from his former team.
Among the Cowboys who are available are three starting offensive linemen (Mark Stepnoski, Nate Newton and Kevin Gogan), fullback Daryl Johnston, linebacker Ken Norton and quarterback Bernie Kosar.
Turner, meanwhile, has offered the wide receiver coaching position to Terry Robiskie, the tight ends coach for the Los Angeles Raiders.
Turner has one offensive opening left on his staff because Dick Coury turned him down to take an offer from the Oilers.