CARLISLE, Pa. -- Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday that it's hard for him to understand Desmond Howard's holdout, and suggested he is near the point of thinking the Heisman Trophy winner should "come back next year."
In a rare show of public frustration about a holdout, Gibbs said: "A lot of the stuff we're working on, he's never seen. How fast can he pick that up? I don't know. I definitely would say it reaches a point with some of those guys, I know coaches have faced this, where you say, 'I would like the guy to go inoperable for a year. Come back next year.' "
What frustrates Gibbs about Howard's holdout -- even more than those of veterans Mark Rypien, Jim Lachey and Darrell Green -- is that the first three draft picks have signed and Howard is next in line as the No. 4 selection.
In the NFL's unofficial system of "slotting," Howard should get a contract slightly less than that of the No. 3 pick, Sean Gilbert of the Los Angeles Rams, who signed a deal worth $1.5 million a year.
"I can understand a lot of them [holdouts], but [Howard]?" Gibbs said. "Unless [owner] Mr. [Jack Kent] Cooke has lost his mind and is going to pay him above No. 3 . . . . and that hasn't happened. He's a rookie and he needs to be here doing all the things we're doing."
Gibbs, who isn't directly involved in contract talks, then suggested he was thinking of calling Howard's agent, Leigh Steinberg.
"I wonder if he would even take my call," Gibbs said. "I would like to hear the logic behind this."
When told that Steinberg argues Howard should get more than the third pick because he was the first offensive player picked and is the Heisman Trophy winner, Gibbs said, "I wonder if it would matter if I told him that the other three guys that everybody had a chance to pick were all defense. Evidently, somebody thinks defense is more important than offense and they happen to be the people who are picking in the draft. And he [Steinberg] is at his desk in Los Angeles or someplace with his feet cocked up there."
It turned out Steinberg wasn't at his Newport Beach, Calif., office, but was in New Jersey preparing to negotiate a contract with the New York Giants for supplemental draft pick Dave Brown.
Steinberg defended his quest to get Howard a contract bigger than Gilbert's.
"The system of slotting was not handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai, nor is it embodied in the Constitution," he said. "There are many theories about what is fair compensation and it had to be clear to anybody before the draft that Desmond Howard is a skill-position player who can play two positions and is the Heisman Trophy winner, and he was going to demand a premium."
Steinberg also noted that Gilbert got much less per year than the first two players picked -- the Indianapolis Colts' Steve Emtman ($2.25 million) and Quentin Coryatt ($2.15 million). He said the difference between the second and third picks could "set someone up for life."
"It is not an immutable NFL rule that one aberrational signing becomes the absolute fair guidepost for compensation," Steinberg added.
Steinberg said he was willing to visit the Redskins' training camp yesterday to negotiate, but said general manager Charley Casserly didn't return his call Tuesday. Casserly said Steinberg was returning his call, and that he planned to call the agent late last night.
Howard has missed three weeks of camp and if he's not signed by next Tuesday when the team leaves for London to prepare for its Aug. 16 exhibition game against the San Francisco 49ers, he's likely to miss at least another week of camp.
The Redskins also aren't close to getting their three veteran holdouts, including Lachey, who is represented by Steinberg and his associate, Jeff Moorad, in camp.