Cornerback Fred Smoot's widely anticipated departure from the Washington Redskins became a reality last night when he signed with Minnesota Vikings.
Smoot, 25, who played his entire four-year NFL career in Washington, signed a six-year, $34 million deal, including a signing bonus of roughly $11 million, sources said last night.
Cornerback Fred Smoot signs a six-year, $36 million deal with the Vikings that includes a signing bonus of roughly $10 million, sources said.
(Evan Vucci - AP)
"Smoot was somebody that we loved," said Redskins Vice President of Football Operations Vinny Cerrato last night. "But in this day and age of the NFL, it comes down to choices. We'd love to keep everybody if we didn't have a cap, especially with our owner.
"We're losing a guy we don't want to lose. But that's football today. It's not something we like."
With linebacker Antonio Pierce signing with the New York Giants last week, Smoot's signing with the Vikings means that the Redskins lost both of their most prized unrestricted free agents this offseason.
Smoot's departure from Washington appeared inevitable late last season after he rebuffed an extension, which included a $10.5 million signing bonus. The Redskins did not budge from that offer once free agency began March 1, partly because of salary cap constraints caused by trading wide receiver Laveranues Coles to the New York Jets for wideout Santana Moss.
Although Minnesota's signing bonus offer was similar to Washington's, according to sources, Minnesota's contract was structured so that Smoot received an average salary of $6 million over the first three years -- significantly higher than Washington's offer. In addition, a player is less likely to be released from a contract during its first three years.
Smoot was selected by the Redskins in the second round of the 2001 draft, and became a fan favorite. Although he was mentioned in trade rumors the past two offseasons, strong play and increased leadership last year spurred the organization to try re-signing him to a long-term deal late last season.
Without Smoot -- who did not return a message on his cell phone last night -- the Redskins are expected to turn to cornerback Walt Harris, who was strong playing nickel back last season. Before joining Washington last season, Harris -- a nine-year veteran -- was a starter for most of his NFL career with Chicago and Indianapolis.
In the 2004 regular season finale, rookie Garnell Wilds played well in his first NFL start, despite mostly facing star wideout Randy Moss. Nonetheless, Smoot's departure increases the team's chances of drafting a cornerback in the draft. (Washington has a first-round pick, No. 9 overall.)
Cornerback play is critical in the blitz-heavy defense of Gregg Williams, Washington's assistant head coach of defense. Although Smoot had a Pro Bowl-caliber season, according to sources, some members of Washington's defensive staff weren't sold on retaining him for a rich contract.
Smoot should bolster a Vikings defense that finished ranked 28th in the 32-team NFL last season. Smoot will be paired with Antoine Winfield, another talented cornerback, whom the Vikings signed last offseason.
According to a source, Washington was about to reduce its offer to Smoot when the cornerback made his first visit to a team yesterday. But Cerrato denied that Washington reduced its offer.
Redskins Note: The team re-signed defensive tackle Cedric Killings yesterday.