Jack Kent Cooke may be mellowing just a bit at age 79.
The Washington Redskins owner, who recently was called a "billionaire bully" by Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and made his mark as a tough negotiator by letting John Riggins sit out the 1980 season in a contract dispute, made a compromise in his so-called final offer to get quarterback Mark Rypien signed yesterday.
After Cooke agreed to chop a year off the four-year offer and increase the incentive package, Rypien signed a three-year $9 million deal three hours before he joined the team at Dulles International Airport for the flight to London. The team plays the San Francisco 49ers in London on Sunday.
At a news conference shortly before he got on the plane to London, Rypien said, "It's good to be back. I'm very happy with the way things went. I'm happy it's over with. I'm excited and anxious to get back on the field and get going."
The Rypien signing was a ray of good news for the Redskins, who still have three other holdouts and learned yesterday that defensive tackle Eric Williams will miss about 10 weeks with a knee injury.
Getting Rypien into camp means the Redskins can start tuning up their offense for the Sept. 7 opener against the Dallas Cowboys. Rypien probably won't start against the 49ers, but figures to start the final two preseason games.
"It was a win-win situation for both sides," Ken Staninger, Rypien's agent, said after the deal was completed.
The Redskins could argue they didn't budge on their offer of a $3 million base salary. It was only slightly more than the offer Rypien called a "slap in the face" a month ago.
But they shortened the deal by a year and increased the incentive package from last week's final offer of $250,000 to $500,000 so Rypien can earn $3.5 million with a productive year.
By agreeing to a three-year deal, the Redskins also gave Rypien, who's 29, a chance to negotiate again after the 1994 season when he'll be 32 and still in his prime.
If the players win free agency in the court case in Minneapolis and salaries for top quarterbacks escalate to the $5 or $6 million figure or beyond, the three-year contract could be worth millions more than the four-year deal.
Rypien mentioned the court case when he was asked why he wanted the shorter deal.
"You never know which way that's going to go. If that happens to turn the tide [for free agency], you're in a different bargaining position," he said.
The way the NFL Players Association computes salaries, Rypien is now tied for third place with Boomer Esiason of the Cincinnati Bengals at an average of $3 million a year.
Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins is tops at an average of $4.43 million a year and Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers is second at an average of $3.25 million.
The NFLPA doesn't include incentive packages in computing the value of contracts so Rypien could wind up being No. 2 if Montana doesn't play this year.
When Staninger was asked if Rypien would have signed if the Redskins hadn't shortened the deal, he said, "I don't believe so."
Rypien flew from his home in Spokane, Wash., Monday night to his suburban Virginia home. After Staninger and Charley Casserly, the Redskins general manager, hammered out the deal by phone yesterday, Rypien went to the new Redskin Park in Ashburn, Va., to sign the contract.
That left the Redskins with three holdouts -- cornerback Darrell -- Green, offensive lineman Jim Lachey and rookie Desmond Howard.
Casserly said he talked with the agents for all three players yesterday, but reported no breakthroughs.
The Redskins are threatening to begin reducing their offers to Lachey and Green if they don't sign by Monday.
Leigh Steinberg, who represents Howard (Steinberg's associate, Jeff Moorad, represents Lachey), said talks with Casserly will continue this week.
The signing of Rypien also clears the way for the Redskins to trade Stan Humphries, who has the penthouse suite in coach Joe Gibbs' doghouse, to the San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers are desperate for a quarterback since John Friesz was lost for the season with a knee injury Saturday night. They failed in an attempt to get Phil Simms of the New York Giants.
Giants owner Wellington Mara put an end to the Simms speculation yesterday, saying, "Phil Simms is not being traded this year, last year, or any time in the 20th century to San Diego or anyplace else, period."
That leaves Humphries as the most logical alternative.
The Chargers are likely to send a fifth- or sixth-round pick to Washington for Humphries, who fell out of Gibbs' favor when the coach felt he wasn't in top shape when he had to play in 1990 when Rypien was injured. He never took a snap last year and didn't play in the first two preseason games.
NOTES: Williams' injury means he'll be carried on the final 47-man roster at the start of the season, but then will be put on the injured reserve list. Bobby Wilson will replace Williams . . . Mark Schlereth missed practice yesterday after passing a kidney stone Monday, but will resume practice tomorrow and Friday when the Redskins begin work in London.
The contract Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien signed yesterday makes him the third-highest-paid player in the NFL (figures include base salary in millions and all bonuses except incentives):
0&.. Player........ Team..... Per year
Dan Marino....... Miami.... $4.43
Joe Montana...... S.F. .... $3.25
Mark Rypien...... Wash..... $3.00
Boomer Esiason... Cin. .... $3.00
Jim Kelly........ Buf. .... $2.86