Redskins sign Russell for rest of season

Updated: October 30, 2003, 12:33 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

In a marriage of convenience, one meant to boost Washington's undermanned defensive front and allow Darrell Russell to reclaim a once promising career, the Redskins have signed the formerly banished veteran tackle, ESPN.com has learned.

The one-year deal, agreed to after Russell huddled with Redskins owner Dan Snyder in Chicago Tuesday night and then met with Washington coaches early Wednesday, carries a base salary of $1.5 million. But prorated over the remaining nine weeks of the season, it is worth just shy of $800,000.

Russell was reinstated by the NFL after 1 seasons away from the game, as reported by ESPN's Chris Mortensen on Sunday, and then released by the Oakland Raiders on Monday. Even before his release, Oakland had granted the Redskins permission to speak with Russell and gauge his interest in joining the team.

Once the former first-round draft choice cleared league waivers, a formality since no club was prepared to assume an existing Raiders contract, the Redskins moved quickly. On Tuesday, Snyder arrived in Chicago for a league owners meeting via his private jet, then dispatched the plane to Los Angeles, where Vinny Cerrato, vice president of football operations, picked up Russell and his new agent, Gary Wichard.

Less than 24 hours later, the deal was struck, and Russell was back in the NFL, declaring he is ready to make a speedy contribution to a slumping defense.

"It's a second chance for me, a chance to do something constructive, both for me and for the Redskins," Russell told ESPN.com in a telephone interview. "In a sense, I'm greedy, and the Redskins are greedy, too. So we can take advantage of that selfishess, I think. I'm grateful they are giving me the chance."

Snyder told ESPN.com earlier on Wednesday that he felt Russell was in "better shape than most people would think for a guy who hasn't played [since 2001]." Russell echoed those sentiments. After passing a stringent team physical exam, Russell is expected to start practicing immediately.

The Redskins will wait to see Russell in practice before determining when he will return to the playing field. No one should be surprised, however, if Russell is in uniform for the Redskins' game at Dallas Sunday. If his return is against the Cowboys, there will be some irony involved, since Bill Parcells traded down in the first round of the 1997 draft, when he was coach of the New York Jets, and avoided choosing Russell.

Russell, 27, becomes the seventh different defensive tackle acquired by Washington since the end of the 2002 campaign. The Redskins lost both starters from last season, releasing Dan Wilkinson in camp, and allowing Daryl Gardener to move on to the Denver Broncos as an unrestricted free agent. Clearly, the team feels that Russell can help address what has been a glaring problem area.

"Obviously, we feel he can help us, and help us now," Snyder said.

There were a few other teams involved in the bidding for Russell, most notably Tampa Bay, but he felt very comfortable with the Redskins, who did not make a major issue of his past off-field problems.

The Bucs, who tried to keep their involvement with Russell below the radar, apparently viewed him as a possible replacement for Warren Sapp, who is in the final year of his contract and eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring.

Said Wichard: "In all the discussions with the Redskins, they never really spoke about the past. Their whole outlook was that they were moving forward, that this was a chance for Darrell to move forward, and that was it. If the commissioner felt Darrell was sufficiently ready to come back to the league, well, that was enough for the Redskins people."

Russell tested positive for the designer drug Ecstasy in 2001, and he began that season serving a four-game suspension, but the sanction then was elevated to an indefinite one. While under league suspension, Russell was charged with drugging a woman with GHB, the so-called "date rape drug," and videotaping two friends allegedly raping her. But all 25 counts in that case were dropped in Sept. 2002 for lack of evidence.

Before his suspension, the former Southern California star, and the second selection overall in 1997, appeared in 75 games, starting 65, and had 229 tackles, 28 sacks and five forced fumbles.

The stint in Washington will provide Russell a chance to demonstrate his skill level after nearly two seasons away from the game, and then to go onto the open market as a free agent after this year.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

ALSO SEE