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End of a football affair

How Arrington went from favorite son to leaving D.C.

Posted: Wednesday March 8, 2006 1:40PM; Updated: Wednesday March 8, 2006 5:33PM
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LaVar Arrington decided to forego $4.4 million from the Redskins in order to become a free agent.
LaVar Arrington decided to forego $4.4 million from the Redskins in order to become a free agent.
Simon Bruty/SI
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LaVar Arrington had been the face of the Washington Redskins and the most popular sports figure in the nation's capital. The outside linebacker loved the community and organized countless charity events. Yet, at 27, Arrington forfeited $4.4 million for the opportunity to leave.

Arrington's decision had salary-cap ramifications beneficial to both sides. However, the denouement to this two-year soap opera was personal as much as business.

Arrington's days were numbered once he accused owner Daniel Snyder of cheating him in an eight-year, $68 million extension signed in December 2003. Arrington contended that the club purposely removed an agreed-upon $6.5 million in guarantees from a final draft he signed at Redskins Park under deadline pressure. Arrington filed a grievance against the Redskins in March 2004 and a resolution came after several postponed arbitration hearings.

Although Arrington had patched up some aspects of his relationship with the organization, too many wounds remained. The acrimony had been so deep that the club stopped featuring its former marquee attraction in its marketing campaigns. Then the defensive staff that came in 2004 bristled at his star power while emphasizing a no-name unit.

"It wasn't just X's and O's last season," one of the Redskins's top players told me this week. "A lot of it was personal. I don't know exactly where it was coming from, but it was bigger than any of us."

Arrington suffered a bone bruise in 2004 -- coach Joe Gibbs' first season back -- and missed 12 games. The linebacker's future became tenuous when the defense ranked third overall without him. After two surgeries, Arrington clashed with the organization over his contract and injuries. Despite regaining his health last season, Arrington played mostly spot duty, culminating a stunning fall from grace.

The recurring explanation was that Arrington was too undisciplined. It's a reputation that existed in 2002, when Marvin Lewis was Washington's defensive coordinator. Still, Arrington had made the Pro Bowl from 2001 to 2003. And he has withstood five head coaches -- and five defensive coordinators -- in six NFL seasons.

As a 6-foot-3, 255-pound outside linebacker with uber-athleticism and passion, Arrington will have several suitors -- perhaps including Washington's rivals, the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants.

Besides his football talent, Arrington is one of the most thoughtful, engaging and bright athletes I've covered in 10 years. He has the ideal personality to be a franchise player. However, I knew that there were irreconcilable differences after a contract settlement was reached last August. Shortly after my Washington Post story was posted on the newspaper's Web site, I received an unsolicited email from a high-ranking Redskins official, who declared that Arrington would never see an "extra penny" from the settlement.