The departure of linebacker Antonio Pierce to the division rival New York Giants has forced the Washington Redskins to adjust their offseason plans even as they landed wide receiver David Patten, a free agent who spent the past four seasons collecting three Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots.
Patten's deal -- a five-year, $13 million deal that includes a $3.5 million signing bonus -- was all but eclipsed by the disappointment of losing Pierce, the leading tackler on the Redskins' third-ranked defense last season.
Former Patriots wide receiver David Patten, left, agreed to terms with the Redskins on Thursday.
(Preston Keres - The Washington Post)
Pierce signed a six-year, $26 million contract yesterday, but kept his promise of providing the Redskins an opportunity to match New York's offer. The Redskins felt that the deal -- which included a $6.5 million signing bonus -- was too expensive and would damage their offseason plans even more.
"It's one of those things that you don't want to have happen," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Antonio played great for us last year. We would have loved to have gotten him re-signed. We went as far as we could go, but it just didn't work out. I hate it."
Last season, Gibbs said he intended to construct a long-term nucleus -- "core Redskins" -- that included wide receiver Laveranues Coles, cornerback Fred Smoot, left tackle Chris Samuels and Pierce. Now there is a chance three of those four players will be elsewhere next season.
Although Samuels signed a contract extension Wednesday, Smoot, an unrestricted free agent, began talking with other teams yesterday; the Redskins won't budge from their offer that includes a $10 million bonus. And the team still clings to hopes of trading the disgruntled Coles to the New York Jets for wide receiver Santana Moss.
"They are our core guys," Gibbs said of the group. "We're going to make every effort we can to keep every single one of those guys. You hope it would never happen. And hopefully it never happens from here on out.
"We kind of have a laid-out plan, and it's never one year. You're always looking at the future and that's going to impact you in the future. And certainly Smoot's deal is one that we're working on, trying to work our way through it, too."
Pierce, who signed with Washington as an undrafted free agent in 2001, has an e-mail address containing a prefix that starts with "Redskins." Last week, Pierce expressed confidence that he would return to Washington, but after the market set his asking price.
According to a source with knowledge of negotiations, the Redskins declined to go any further than offering Pierce a $3.5 million bonus. Pierce did not return messages seeking comment yesterday.
Joe Bugel, the assistant head coach-offense who praised Pierce's play, said: "I don't think anything surprises you anymore in free agency. Sometimes a player says I want to be a Redskin for life until somebody dangles a buck or two in front of him."
The top two linebackers left in free agency are Pittsburgh's Kendrell Bell and Baltimore's Ed Hartwell. But both players are seeking contracts substantially higher than Pierce's.
Linebacker Mike Barrow, who missed last season with a left knee injury, suddenly becomes a consideration to replace Pierce, Gibbs said. The Redskins could also draft a linebacker or shift linebackers on the roster. Lemar Marshall, who played outside linebacker last season while filling in for LaVar Arrington, could be a candidate to replace Pierce.
When reached late Wednesday night, Barrow said his rehabilitation has been going ahead of schedule. But Pierce's situation "doesn't change my situation," the 34-year-old said. "My number one goal is to get healthy. Obviously, you think it [Pierce leaving] might help my chances of coming back. But my main thing is getting healthy, not whether or not Antonio came back or anything like that. Once I hit that field, I'll be ready to go."