Linebacker Wilber Marshall became a man without a team yesterday.
In a strange twist to the lengthy negotiations with the Houston Oilers, the Washington Redskins linebacker accepted the Oilers' million offer Wednesday night either just before or after -- depending on which version you believe -- the Oilers withdrew it.
The Redskins, who had agreed to accept first- and fifth-round draft picks from the Oilers for Marshall if the Oilers could come to terms with him, promptly filed a protest with commissioner Paul Tagliabue yesterday.
"The Redskins have requested the commissioner to direct the Oilers to fulfill their obligation immediately," the Redskins said in a statement.
The only certain thing is that there'll be no immediate action because Tagliabue is on vacation in China.
If Tagliabue rules there was no trade, Marshall figures to be a holdout when the Redskins open camp on July 18 as he pursues his legal fight to overthrow his franchise player designation. The Redskins had previously told Marshall they wouldn't match the Oilers' $2.75 million offer.
This latest round in the talks started last Friday when the Oilers told Marshall's agent that they were withdrawing their offer at 5 p.m. yesterday. Marshall was asking for $2.9 million and showed no signs he was ready to lower his demand.
It was uncertain whether this was a final deadline because the Redskins previously had given the two sides a May 22 deadline and then extended it when the gap between Marshall and the Oilers was narrowed to $150,000.
The two sides remained stalemated until the Oilers announced Wednesday night they had told the Redskins they were withdrawing their offer because they had decided they didn't want to give up first- and fifth-round picks for Marshall.
Marshall's agent, Richard Bennett, immediately replied he already had accepted it.
Bennett didn't return phone calls, but told a Houston reporter, "It's not really very complicated. Last evening [Wednesday], Wilber directed me to accept their offer. I did so by fax to the Oilers' offices. Those two acts constitute a contract. It's irrefutable. It's contract law 101."
The Oilers countered by offering their version, which they said could be confirmed by phone company records of long-distance calls. They said they called the Redskins at 9:40 p.m. CDT Wednesday night, Bennett at 10:05 p.m. and Bennett's fax didn't arrive in the Oilers' offices until 11:16 p.m. Bennett said the fax was sent 11:16 p.m. EDT.
The Oilers contend Marshall had no intention of accepting $2.75 million until the Oilers withdrew it.
In their statement, the Redskins said, "The Redskins believe that the trade was consummated on June 2, 1992 before the Houston Oilers withdrew their proposal."
Privately, the Redskins contend the Oilers still want to make the trade, but are trying to renege on their offer of first- and fifth-round choices and get the Redskins to accept less.
Bennett agreed with that theory. "They may be creating an issue as to the matter of compensation or draft choices that go to the Redskins," hesaid.
The Oilers did leave the door open for further talks.
"This particular deal is dead," a spokesman said. "That is not to say that it would be impossible to reopen the discussions down the road."
This incident is the latest twist in the controversy that started in February when the Redskins designated Marshall a "franchise player" under the provisions of the legal agreement between the players and the owners.
That meant the Redskins had to offer Marshall the average of the top five linebackers -- $1.6 million -- but he couldn't negotiate with any other team.
Marshall went to court to protest the franchise designation, but his complaint was rejected by federal judge David Doty. Marshall is appealing.
The Redskins put Marshall on the trading block, and the Oilers, whose defensive coordinator, Buddy Ryan, coached Marshall in Chicago, was the only team to show serious interest.
The franchise player rules subsequently were modified. Unless the Redskins boost their offer to the new average for the top five highest paid linebackers -- $2.17 million -- to Marshall on June 15, Marshall will be free to negotiate with other teams. But the Redskins, who plan to give Marshall that right by not boosting their offer, would get compensation of two No. 1 picks if any other team signed him.
The Houston Oilers' timetable for their negotiations with Wilber Marshall (right) on Wednesday night (all times CDT):
* 9:40 p.m.: Oilers call Redskins to inform them they've pulled out of the trade talks and are going to withdraw their offer to Marshall.
* 10:05 p.m.: Oilers phone Marshall's agent, Richard Bennett, to inform him the Oilers are withdrawing their $2.75 million offer.
* 11:16 p.m.: Fax arrives in the Oilers' office from Bennett informing the Oilers that Marshall has accepted their $2.75 million offer.