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NFL Indsider - Mark Maske

Redskins Still Have Needs

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 31, 2004; 2:26 PM

The Washington Redskins still have needs -- a pass-rushing defensive end, a safety, a linebacker, perhaps another defensive tackle, a tight end -- and suddenly find themselves with a surplus at wide receiver after obtaining James Thrash in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. So, although club officials say they are not actively shopping wide receiver Rod Gardner, the Redskins are likely to get a feeler or two regarding him in the coming weeks, and they will have to make a decision about whether to keep him or let him go.

Trading Gardner is feasible from a salary cap perspective, although the Redskins would take a bit of a cap hit. The real question for the Redskins is whether they're ready to give up on a former first-round draft pick to address other needs.

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Gardner is only 26. He has shown flashes of being the player the Redskins thought they were getting when they used the 15th overall choice in the 2001 draft to select him out of Clemson. But no one could mistake him for a Pro Bowl player at this point.

The Gardner pick was a product of the Marty Schottenheimer era. Schottenheimer wanted a big, rangy receiver who could fight for jump balls and make tough catches in traffic. Other Redskins officials, including owner Daniel Snyder, might have opted for Santana Moss, the more explosive University of Miami product who went to the New York Jets with the following pick.

Gardner dropped some passes as a rookie but was reasonably productive, with 46 catches for 741 yards in a Schottenheimer offense. He looked like he might be on his way to stardom with a 71-reception, 1,006-yard sophomore season. The Redskins expected big things from their wideouts last season after adding Laveranues Coles, but Gardner was a major disappointment. He often disappeared from games and finished with 59 catches for only 600 yards, averaging a mere 10.2 yards per reception. Darnerien McCants often was the team's second-most-dangerous receiver, particularly near the goal line.

Is Gardner a bust? No. But he does not appear to be an irreplaceable part for the Redskins at this point, either. A Joe Gibbs-coached offense needs a reliable running back, and the Redskins now have one in Clinton Portis. It needs a clutch, big-play receiver, and Coles fills that role. And it needs a possession receiver who can mix in a big play every now and then -- in the Art Monk mold. Gardner could be penciled in for that job, and Thrash, McCants and Taylor Jacobs could take whatever opportunities are left over.

But what if a team makes the Redskins a decent trade proposal for Gardner? There are some receiver-needy teams out there, and there are no answers for them on the free agent market. The Baltimore Ravens are desperate for help at the position to upgrade a passing offense that ranked last in the league last season. They thought they'd traded for Terrell Owens but had that deal yanked out from under them with the settlement that sent the four-time Pro Bowl wideout to the Eagles. Should Gardner be deemed untouchable if a legitimate offer comes along? Absolutely not.

Thrash should not be the top receiving option for a team with Super Bowl aspirations, as the Eagles found out. But he is more than capable as a complementary player -- a second, third or fourth receiving option -- on a team trying to claw its way back into the playoffs under Gibbs after winning only 12 games in two seasons under Steve Spurrier. McCants's weaknesses perhaps would be exposed as a starter, but he has demonstrated that he can be productive if used in the right spots. Jacobs's rookie season was a washout. But he was a second-round pick only a year ago who originally had been said by most draft analysts to possess first-round ability. The Redskins probably could get by with Coles, Thrash, McCants and Jacobs as their top four receivers if they could get something for Gardner that would improve them elsewhere.

What could they get for Gardner? A first-round pick seems unlikely. Any team looking for help at receiver almost certainly would rather take its chances using a first-round choice to draft one. Maybe that club would get a less productive player, but maybe it would get a Pro Bowler. A second-round selection would not be a stretch, however, and productive starters can be found in the second round.

As things stand, the Redskins probably cannot fill their remaining needs adequately before next season. They enter the draft with only three picks, including the fifth overall choice. That means one starter, perhaps two if the Redskins trade down successfully. The free agent market still has some potential gems, but mostly is picked over at this point. Some help occasionally can be found on the June free agent market, but not as much as some executives around the league and fans annually like to believe.

Before Thrash arrived, trading Gardner should not have been a viable option, since neither McCants nor Jacobs had done enough to be counted upon as a No. 2 receiver. But now, such a deal is something that the Redskins maybe should consider, if a viable offer indeed comes along.

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