CARLISLE, Pa. -- The Washington Redskins said goodbye to Mo Elewonibi yesterday and appear ready to say hello to Heath Shuler.
By waiving Elewonibi and his $500,000 contract, the Redskins freed money under the salary cap to sign Shuler to what they hope will be an eight-year deal for about $19 million, which would be the richest rookie deal in NFL history.
Although general manager Charley Casserly stressed that the deal isn't finished, Shuler's agent, Tom Condon, was at the offices of the NFL Players Association in Washington going over many of the complicated clauses in the contract. The Redskins hope it can be completed in a day or two.
"I think it's the most complicated contract we've ever done," one team source said.
Under the framework agreed on, Shuler, who will get a signing bonus of about $5 million -- one of the hang-ups is that he wants to top Marshall Faulk's $5.1 million signing bonus -- that will be prorated at $625,000 a year for eight years.
He'll then be able to void the contract after three years during which he would receive about $950,000 in base salary the first year and a 25 percent increase to $1,187,500 and $1,425,000 in the second and third years. That means his compensation for the first three years -- including the $5 million signing bonus -- would be $8.56 million or $2.85 million a year, topping the previous three-year record set by Drew Bledsoe of the New England Patriots last year of $2.78 million.
The Redskins then would have the option to buy back the fourth and fifth years of the contract at about $4 million a year, making it a five-year, $16.56 million deal worth about $3.3 million a year.
The last three years of the deal would then be voided, and Shuler would become a free agent in 1999. But that's the year the cap is lifted and a player must have six years of experience instead of four to qualify for free agency. That means Shuler, who would have five years of experience, would then be a restricted free agent and the Redskins could retain him by matching his best offer.
Now that an eight-year structure has been agreed on, the key is to get final agreement on the numbers.
"I'm kind of holding my breath," said coach Norv Turner, who wants to get Shuler practice time before the first exhibition game at Buffalo next Monday night.
Derrick Lassic of the Dallas Cowboys, who was the team's starting running back while Emmitt Smith held out last year, was lost for the season when he injured his knee Saturday night in an exhibition game against the Minnesota Vikings.
His departure leaves Lincoln Coleman and Mark Mason, a free agent from Maryland, as the top candidates to be Smith's backup.
The Buddy file
Buddy Ryan, the Arizona Cardinals coach, criticized Denver Broncos coach Wade Phillips for settling for a one-point conversion at the end of regulation time in a game the Broncos lost in overtime to the Los Angeles Raiders, 25-22.
"I thought that was dumb [in an exhibition game]," Ryan said. "You go for two, and if you win, you go home. If you lose, you go home."