The uncharacteristic frugality of the Washington Redskins during free agency has cost them linebacker Antonio Pierce, who departed to the New York Giants for a contract deemed too expensive. Now, the Redskins are focused on retaining free agent cornerback Fred Smoot.
The Redskins contacted Smoot yesterday, but sources said the team doesn't plan to budge from its offer, which includes a $10 million signing bonus, below what other less-talented free agents have received this week. The offer was originally made last season when both sides sought an extension.
Fred Smoot's "preference is to come back to Washington. But they have to come up with the right deal," agent Bus Cooke said.
(Evan Vucci - AP)
"It's still a process," said Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs, who is also the team's president. "We're trying to work through it. I don't know what's going to happen. It concerns me any time it goes a long period of time like it did with Antonio."
Several teams have inquired about Smoot, 25, but he has remained in Reston, apparently waiting for the right deal. The 5-foot-11, 174-pound Smoot is expected to take his first visit as a free agent on Monday. Although Smoot's agent, Bus Cooke, declined to mention the teams interested in Smoot, the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets are believed to be among them.
"Fred's preference is to come back to Washington," Cooke said last night. "But they have to come up with the right deal."
Cleveland Browns cornerback Anthony Henry received an $11 million bonus when he signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Smoot is much more highly regarded, and also is younger, than Henry. The other top cornerback to sign was Seattle's Ken Lucas, who received essentially a $13 million bonus from the Panthers. The 6-0, 205-pound Lucas, has perhaps better qualities -- tackling and size -- than Smoot, although he is not as well known.
However, Pierce's departure is proof that the Redskins won't allow the open market to alter their free agent budget. "I wish we didn't have a cap," Gibbs said. "With our owner, we would be golden."
Smoot's future team -- and earnings -- could be determined by the two other elite cornerbacks in free agency: Tennessee's Samari Rolle, who is reportedly seeking a $15 million bonus; and New England's Ty Law, who was released for salary cap reasons and is still injured.
The Redskins are reluctant to pay Smoot more than fellow cornerback Shawn Springs, who received a $10 million bonus last offseason. Although Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, doesn't delineate cornerbacks, the 30-year-old Springs is considered Washington's true number one cornerback.
Baltimore Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter was offered a $11 million signing bonus to stay with the club, but after reportedly agreeing to re-sign, he accepted a $10.5 million signing bonus from the Cleveland Browns last night because the Ravens apparently lowered their initial offer to $7 million. Does Smoot risk Washington eventually reducing its offer? "If they do," Cooke said, "we're already talking to other teams, so I'm not worried about that."
If Smoot departs, the Redskins haven't ruled out signing another free agent cornerback for less money. Washington's cornerback play -- critical in Williams's blitz-happy defense -- was among the NFL's best. Without Smoot, the Redskins may start nickel back Walt Harris, who had been a starter with the Colts before joining Washington in 2004. The Redskins are also pleased with the development of rookie Garnell Wilds, who sparkled in his NFL starting debut despite spending most of the game defending star wideout Randy Moss. And losing Smoot would increase Washington's chances of drafting a cornerback.
One of the team's few offseason acquisitions was at Redskins Park yesterday. Washington envisions wide receiver David Patten correcting the team's inability to throw deep last season. Patten led the New England Patriots with 18.2 yards per catch. But Patten stressed his intangibles when describing his qualities. "I will give you everything I have," said Patten, "and you can take that to the bank."
Meantime, the Redskins and defensive end Ron Warner have reached a settlement, sources said, making him a restricted free agent. The Redskins had considered Warner an exclusive-rights free agent, a player in the NFL for less than three accrued seasons. Although restricted free agents have limited ability to switch teams, exclusive-rights free agents are prohibited from receiving offers from others team.
If another club makes an offer to one of Washington's restricted free agents, the Redskins have seven days to match. And should Washington not do so, the new club usually must part with a draft pick from the round in which the player was selected. Warner was undrafted, so the Redskins risk losing him for no compensation. Before the settlement, the NFL Players Association was prepared to take the case to arbitration. If the Redskins had lost, Warner had a strong chance to be deemed an unrestricted free agent.
"There is some relief," Warner's agent, Daryl Washington said last night. "However, it's something that shouldn't have gotten this far. One thing we missed out on is that some teams may not know that he's actually a restricted free agent."
Redskins Note: Businessman Fred Drasner has sold his 10 percent ownership to majority owner Dan Snyder and other partners in the team. Redskins spokesman Michael Sitrick, who heads a Los Angeles-based public relations firm that Snyder recently hired, confirmed yesterday a report in this week's New York Post detailing Drasner's sale. Snyder and his family will continue to hold a controlling interest in the team and run the football and business operations.
Staff writer Thomas Heath contributed to this report.