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NFL Indsider - Mark Maske

Ex-Redskins Returner Mitchell Ready to Play

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 16, 2004; 12:35 PM

Brian Mitchell, the kick returner and running back who has gained more yards than anyone else in NFL history, would like to play one more season. But he isn't on a roster with preseason games underway and he says he will wrap up his 14-year career if he hasn't signed with a team by the time the regular season begins next month.

"If the phone rings early enough, I'll play," Mitchell said over the weekend. "If it's too long, I'm done. If they wait until the season starts, I'll move on and do the things I'm doing."

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Mitchell, who turns 36 this week, was released by the New York Giants in February. He said his agent, Steve Baker, has been in contact recently with the Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins and Green Bay Packers. But it's only been talk so far, and Mitchell has begun operating a business out of his Northern Virginia home. He has a staffing company up and running, with plans to expand into other fields. He was at FedEx Field for Saturday night's game between the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers, working as a studio analyst for Comcast.

"I plan to see how soon I get a call," Mitchell said. "If I don't get a call soon, I'm going to call it quits. . . . We'll see how it works. The thing is, I thought I'd miss it, and I don't miss it. I get up in the morning, work out, play golf and do some things I want to do. I'm doing some business things that interest me."

He has crafted a remarkable career since being drafted in the fifth round by the Redskins in 1990. He was a quarterback at Southwestern Louisiana who never returned a punt or a kickoff in college, yet he became perhaps the most successful return man in NFL history as well as a reliable pass-catching running back. He is the league's leader with 23,330 combined yards (rushing, receiving and return yards), 213 yards ahead of Oakland Raiders wide receiver Jerry Rice. Mitchell has led the league in that category in four different seasons -- a feat matched only by Cleveland Browns Hall of Famer Jim Brown, the league leader in combined yards in five different seasons between 1958 and '64.

If he never plays another game, Mitchell said, he will be proud of what he has done. But he'd rather not go out on the down note of his 2003 season, in which he averaged a career-low 5.3 yards per punt return and 20.3 yards per kickoff return (his lowest figure since 1991) for a Giants team that lost its final eight games, resulting in the firing of Coach Jim Fassel.

"I would like to play one more year," he said. "I didn't like the way things ended up there last year. They cut me, and then they cut the guy backing me up and now they don't even have a [return] guy who can catch the ball. Jerry Rice is playing one more year to catch up in total yards. So I can play one more year, too. But I have nothing to be ashamed of. Coming into the league and having to change my position, the things I've accomplished -- I'm sure no one expected it."

He played three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and one season with the Giants after leaving the Redskins on unpleasant terms before the 2000 season. He was released because club officials thought he had lost a step and wanted Deion Sanders to take over as their punt returner. He has verbally assailed the Redskins frequently since his departure but he said he was pleased to see his former coach, Joe Gibbs, return to town.

"When he came back, he brought excitement," Mitchell said. "I wasn't even on the team and I was excited. I've always said the Redskins had as much talent as anyone else. They didn't have leadership and they were not well-coached. Joe Gibbs can be that thing to put them over the top. It's like with LaVar [Arrington]. LaVar is so talented, but he makes mistakes that hurt his team. Joe Gibbs and the defensive coordinator [Gregg Williams] can tone down his game. Not every hit has to be highlight reel. You just have to get the guy down, and these guys will get that across to him. [Steve] Spurrier was a college coach, and pro players don't respect a college coach. They'll respect Joe Gibbs. And if they don't, he'll get them out of here because he has the authority to do that."

Dolphins, Freeman Agree

Wide receiver Antonio Freeman has agreed to a one-year contract with the Miami Dolphins, an NFL source said this morning, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the deal will not be announced until later today.

The veteran receiver worked out for the Dolphins last week, after the club lost wideout David Boston to a season-ending knee injury, but was not immediately signed. The team informed agent Joel Segal, however, that it might be in touch after the first preseason game, and the Dolphins lost wide receiver Kendall Newson, who tore his Achilles tendon in Saturday's game against Jacksonville.

Freeman, 32, had only 14 catches for 141 yards and no touchdowns for the Green Bay Packers last season. But he has 477 receptions for 7,251 yards and 61 touchdowns in his nine NFL seasons, eight with Green Bay and one with Philadelphia.

McGahee Could Win Starting Job

It looks like the Buffalo Bills will have a difficult decision to make about their starting tailback job entering the regular season. Travis Henry is coming off consecutive seasons with more than 1,300 rushing yards and is only 25. But Willis McGahee's comeback gets more impressive by the day.

McGahee ran for 58 yards on 13 carries and scored the game's lone touchdown in Sunday night's 16-6 triumph over the Denver Broncos at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills used the 23rd overall selection in the 2003 draft on McGahee despite the devastating knee injury that he suffered in his final game at the University of Miami, and waited an entire season for him to recover. Now new coach Mike Mularkey is leaving open the possibility that McGahee could overtake Henry for the starting job, and Henry has said that he would want to be traded if he's not the starter. The Ricky Williams-less Dolphins undoubtedly would be interested and have disgruntled defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, the reigning AFC sack champion who wants a new contract, to deal, but the Bills would be leaving themselves vulnerable if they part with Henry.

Coughlin Won't Name Starter

Giants Coach Tom Coughlin won't say until later in the week whether Kurt Warner or Eli Manning will start at quarterback in Thursday night's game at Carolina. Manning was the more impressive passer in Friday's win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the exhibition opener, as the top overall draft pick completed seven of 13 throws for 91 yards in relief of Warner, who connected on three of seven passes for 49 yards.

Manning has looked poised and in command of the offense on the training-camp practice field, and appears to have pulled slightly ahead of Warner in the starting-quarterback derby. . . .

Tim Rattay, the would-be starter at quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, has a sore arm and still has not been cleared to resume throwing. He sat out Saturday's preseason-opening loss to Oakland and likely will miss next Saturday's game at Chicago. The 49ers suspect that Rattay might have hurt his arm because of modifications he might have made to his throwing motion as he recovers from offseason surgery for a torn groin muscle. Ken Dorsey remains San Francisco's starter, at least temporarily. . . . Packers backup quarterback Tim Couch also has had arm soreness, and his status for tonight's game against Seattle is unclear.

Pats, Watson Agree

The New England Patriots agreed to a six-year contract with tight end Ben Watson, the 32nd overall pick in the draft who parted ways with agent Tom Condon in recent days and hired Pat Dye to represent him. The deal is worth about $6.8 million, including about $4 million in bonus money, and contains another $6.7 million or so in incentives. The agreement leaves only two NFL draft selections -- San Diego first-round quarterback Philip Rivers and Indianapolis second-round safety Bob Sanders -- still unsigned.

Condon, perhaps the sport's most powerful agent, refused to negotiate a six-year contract for Watson, as the Patriots insisted upon, and wanted to stick his demand for a five-year deal. But Watson and his family became resigned to accepting a six-year contract and turned to Dye to complete the deal after agreeing to disagree with Condon and severing their ties relatively amicably. Condon allowed Dye to start negotiating immediately by waiving the rule that normally would require an agent to wait five days before negotiating on behalf of a new client. . . . The Bills waived veteran defensive tackle Oliver Gibson, a former starter for Cincinnati. . . .

Dolphins Coach Dave Wannstedt might wait until the week of the Sept. 12 regular-season opener against Tennessee to choose his starting quarterback from between A.J. Feeley and Jay Fiedler. . . . Patriots tailback Corey Dillon returs to Cincinnati on Saturday when his new team faces the team that traded him last offseason. The Patriots and Bengals also play during the regular season, on Dec. 12 at New England. . . .

The New York Jets seemed to need a backup quarterback when training camp began, with the untested Brooks Bollinger and CFL alum Ricky Ray behind starter Chad Pennington. They seem to need one even more desperately now, with Bollinger spraining his knee Friday against New Orleans and expected to miss at least one preseason game. The Jets don't appear interested, though, in Quincy Carter, the former Dallas starter released abruptly by the Cowboys, reportedly after a recent violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy. . . . The Eagles originally thought they had lost special-teams standout Quintin Mikell for the season in Friday's defeat at New England. But tests showed that Mikell's anterior cruciate ligament was sprained, not torn, and he is slated to return in two to three weeks.


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