Heath Shuler spoke with his feet yesterday in his bid to get a $3 million-a-year contract that would make him the highest-paid rookie in this year's draft.
Shuler, the third selection in the draft, escalated the bargaining war with the Redskins when he declined to go on the field at Redskin Park for a voluntary workout in preparation for the opening of training camp tomorrow.
The Redskins are offering Shuler about $2.6 million a year, which is similar to the contract signed by Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson, the first player selected in the draft.
Although Tom Condon, Shuler's agent, didn't return phone calls, a source familiar with the negotiations said that Condon believes Shuler should get more than Wilkinson because he's a quarterback and the cornerstone of new coach Norv Turner's rebuilding program.
Condon wants a $6 million signing bonus in what would appear to be a six-year deal, but would have three "voidable" years so Shuler could negotiate a new deal in his fourth season. As a result, he would make about $9 million in the first three years.
General manager Charley Casserly declined to comment on the talks. "You can't predict these things," he said. Shuler also said he didn't want to talk about his contract.
Of Shuler's absence from the field, Turner said, "The guy it's obviously hurting the most is Heath."
Second-round pick Tre Johnson and offensive lineman Joe Patton also declined to participate in the drills, although Patton and tight end Kurt Haws, a fourth-round pick, came to terms last night.
Quarterback Gus Frerotte, the seventh-round choice, is expected to come to terms today, leaving Shuler and Johnson as the only unsigned rookies.
The Redskins hope they'll break the logjam with Shuler because they waived defensive back Brad Edwards and his $825,000 salary after he declined to take a pay cut. They have to cut another $800,000 from the veteran payroll to have enough money to sign Shuler and Johnson.
Edwards was upset that the Redskins waited so long to tell him they wanted him to take a cut.
"I think they're a professional organization, but they handled this in an unprofessional manner, doing it so close to training camp," he said. "If it'd come two or three months earlier, maybe it would have been easier to understand. It's not a money issue, it's principle, and sometimes principles have a high price. I may not even work this year."