INDIANAPOLIS -- At St. Elmo Steak House, this city's most famous traditional downtown eatery, the challenge isn't so much devouring the artery-clogging, 24-ounce T-bone as it is surviving the notoriously incendiary shrimp cocktail that has become the restaurant's trademark appetizer.
Just one bite into any of the six tiny crustaceans and sweat glands erupt. By the time a diner reaches the final shrimp -- which has been marinating for hours at the bottom of the ramekin, pickling in a briny mix of cocktail sauce, horseradish and what can only be surmised is some sinus-searing derivative of kerosene -- one's head is ready to explode.
But in a major culinary upset, the shrimp cocktail was rendered only the second hottest item on the menu Friday night, when Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder and influential agent Jimmy Sexton sat down for dinner. The main course was a discussion on the future, strictly short-term, of two-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey.
Surrounded by filet mignons, salmon steaks and New York strips, Sexton informed the Redskins owner that Ramsey considers himself, well, done.
In the wake of the Redskins' contract agreement with Mark Brunell, a seven-year accord that precedes the March 3 acquisition of the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback for a third-round draft choice, Sexton is steaming. More significantly, so is Ramsey, one of his favorite clients. Despite all the fancy rhetoric of Washington coach Joe Gibbs, the incumbent Redskins starter is about to be demoted to clipboard caddy and he doesn't fancy sliding down the depth chart in his third NFL season.
And, as Sexton related to Snyder on Friday night, the team's 2002 first-round draft pick doesn't fancy himself a Redskins player anymore, either. Speaking for his client, who is currently vacationing in the Caribbean while the Redskins are yanking the rug from underneath him, Sexton made that clear to the Washington owner.
"There's only one way to resolve this mess and that's to trade Patrick," Sexton said. "I mean, they knew how Patrick felt before [Friday night], and they certainly know even more so now. He wants out. Plain and simple. And if they don't think there is a [viable] market for him, give me 15 minutes, and I'll bring them a fistful of offers."
In fact, officials from four teams, some of them presently involved in the pursuit of other quarterbacks, told ESPN.com they would consider dealing for Ramsey instead if Snyder made him available. The former Tulane star, who concluded the '03 season on the injured reserve list following foot surgery, is viewed by many franchises as a potential Pro Bowl caliber performer.
The Miami Dolphins, for instance, who are entrenched in the Drew Henson Sweepstakes, would take Ramsey in a heartbeat over the former University of Michigan standout, who has not played football in three seasons. The Buffalo Bills, seeking an eventual successor to Drew Bledsoe, would love to have Ramsey on board. Bill Parcells would kill to bring in Ramsey, although the Redskins would never deal him to a division opponent.
Then again, as reiterated on Saturday by Gibbs, the Redskins have no intention of trading Ramsey, no matter the compensation that might be offered. Snyder and vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato, the former of whom brokered the Brunell acquisition because Gibbs wanted it and the owner still is in honeymoon mode with his latest coach, likewise have said there will be no deal.
But, rest assured, the level of bile is about to be elevated and the Redskins are going to feel a heat akin to the shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo Steak House.
For openers, Sexton possesses some leverage, since he represents a number of key 'Skins veterans. One of those veterans is left offensive tackle Chris Samuels and, as reported recently by ESPN.com, the Redskins desperately need the four-year pro to rework his contract and provide salary cap relief. Sexton, who has redone Samuels' contract twice in the past, isn't going to be so amenable this time around.
As for Gibbs' assurances that Brunell and Ramsey will compete for the starting job, well, Sexton isn't buying that at all.
"It's a farce," Sexton said. "I mean, how can they say that? They just paid Brunell, what, like $40 million? The finances dictate [Brunell] is the starter. That's the reality, and they can't think we're dumb enough not to know that, can they?"
No one believes the talk of some skeptics, those who contend that the game may have passed Gibbs by during his 11-season hiatus. The famed counter-trey running play and the vertical passing game, set up by play-action fakes, will be as effective in '04 as when Gibbs walked away from the NFL and strolled into a NASCAR pit. But the three-time Super Bowl champion coach has never worked a single day under a salary cap, coached a single game in the era of free agency, and his read on the Ramsey situation is flawed.
It might also be counterproductive for Washington, a team that will always fight a salary cap shortfall because of Snyder's inability to control himself when trolling the waters of free agency, to keep Ramsey around as a backup for as long as three years.
Two or three years is how long, in reality, Brunell figures to be the starter. The seven-year, $43.36 million contract he will sign is typical of the inflated deals negotiated by agent Leigh Steinberg, and of the stretched-out agreements Snyder needs to make the cap somehow work for him. According to figures obtained by ESPN.com, Brunell will get a signing bonus of $8.6 million, then base salaries of $760,000 (for 2004), $1.5 million (for 2005, with a $500,000 roster bonus) and $4 million (for 2006), before the deal is voided by Monopoly money-type base salaries in its final four years.
So essentially, the Redskins will keep Brunell around for two years at $11.36 million or three years at $15.36 million. But here's the rub: The $8.6 million signing bonus that the Redskins will pay Brunell is more than the value of the five-year contract Ramsey signed as a rookie in 2002, a pact that totals $7.18 million.
And let's assume the Redskins are stubborn, retain Ramsey, and keep him on the bench for the next three seasons. What will Snyder and his sycophant minions have gained from their intransigence? A miserable youngster whose contract will have expired after the '06 campaign and whose talents languished while Washington imposed its will on him.
These are elements of the game Gibbs apparently doesn't yet comprehend, but pragmatic components in which Snyder had better take his new/old coach to school. Well-schooled in the art of wheeling and dealing, Sexton will continue to press for a trade.
"My job," said Sexton, "is to do what is best for my client. And what is best for Patrick Ramsey now is to move on. He is not a happy camper and, in due time, he will make that very apparent. [The Redskins] just have to do the smart thing here."
Perhaps, but after one ridiculous event of Friday, you've got to wonder how smart the team is being in its handling of the Ramsey situation. As new Redskins quarterbacks coach Jack Burns squired North Carolina State star signal-caller Philip Rivers around the NFL combine, he launched into a discourse on how favorable the situation has become for Ramsey now.
For nearly a half-hour, Burns pitched Rivers on the advantages Ramsey would now have with a player of Brunell's stature as his sage mentor. The irony: Rivers is also represented by Sexton and exited the session shaking his head at what he had heard.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.