NFL free agency just isn’t the same when the Redskins can’t spend cash

The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg, LaVar Arrington, Mike Wise and Jonathan Forsythe discuss where the Washington Redskins need free agents. (Post Sports Live)

The Broncos got Wes Welker. The Chiefs got Alex Smith. The Lions got Reggie Bush. The Falcons got Steven Jackson. The Dolphins got Mike Wallace. The Colts . . . well, the Colts threw dollar bills around like drunken lottery winners in a strip club and signed pretty much everyone else.

The Washington Redskins, meantime, got two offensive linemen and re-signed their punter. Wheeeeeee!

Memories

Light the corners of my mind

Misty watercolor memories

Of the way he spent.

Not that Sav Rocca wasn’t worth re-signing, or that Daniel Snyder was unwilling to spend, or that Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen didn’t want to go shopping. But the NFL changed the combination to the Redskins’ vault o’ cash as punishment for their contract shenanigans of 2010, and the result is that Rocca and Kedric Golston will return and the new faces, thus far, are tackles Tony Pashos and Jeremy Trueblood.

Now, if Trueblood’s a vampire, then that’s a story. If he’s not, then the story, really, is the loss of Lorenzo Alexander — linebacker, special teams star, jack of all positions, really, and a guy who was as good in the locker room and in the real world as he was on the field.

I never blame a guy for going for the money, especially an NFL player and a guy who is involved in as many plays as was Alexander. These are short careers and a guy like Alexander, who had to play his way onto the team and into bigger deals, needs to look for as much guaranteed money as he can. The Cardinals made a better offer. But what a shame.

Remember the glory days, when the Redskins bought expensive square pegs for gaping round holes — or just very large round pegs for slightly smaller gaping holes? Then they got out their sledgehammers and started trying to pound those pegs into a team. It didn’t work, but it certainly made the spring fly by.

Then came a new sensibility that included — for a change — actual common sense. Last year, the Redskins added more reasonable pegs that fit their gaping holes, guys such as receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan and safety Brandon Meriweather, who can be a contributor this season if he stays out of the hospital and out of the clubs.

Signings such as those aren’t sexy — well, maybe Garcon reaches that level — but they are an essential part of the wardrobe. They are the little black dresses of free agency. (Sorry, I don’t know the male equivalent of the little black dress. The navy blue blazer?)

Now the Redskins can’t even make the non-sexy moves, thanks to an $18 million salary cap hit. I still maintain the Redskins did nothing wrong in 2010, when — in an uncapped year — they restructured contracts with savvy and a liberal wallet. How the league can approve deals and then punish the team for making them is beyond me. Did the Redskins exhibit hubris? You betcha. They exhibit hubris like your neighbor exhibits lawn gnomes.

But for some reason, the penalties against the Redskins stuck while the league proved largely toothless in the whole Bountygate mess. Sean Payton got the biggest coaching contract in the league, and two of the players involved just restructured their contracts so they could stay in New Orleans. Looks like they’re getting the band back together again. Between the two examples of bad behavior, which do you think is the bigger problem?

Competitors of the Redskins think the answer is obvious: Letting the Redskins spend their prodigious pile of money is the bigger sin. And of course their judgment is unbiased.

So the new austerity has finally hit the Redskins; they are finally feeling the pinch of a bad economy. Although I don’t expect to see victory gardens planted on the practice field in Ashburn, or the front office hoarding paper and string. They’re just scrambling to cut $18 million out of their budget for living expenses this year. You know, just like you and me.

That means you shouldn’t expect any puffs of white smoke from Ashburn, unless the practice dome catches fire. And that’s too bad. Because Redskins fans at least used to be able to look forward to winning the offseason. Now that dubious distinction is gone. Gone like the free agency fun of March. Gone like Alexander. Gone like $36 million.

For previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.

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