Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday the team has not determined whether it will designate any of its free agents as franchise players, although the club is not expected to do so.
"We're still not sure exactly what were going to do there," Gibbs said. "Right now, it's pretty much up in the air. What happens is you work really hard on all of your free agent guys and try to get in position to get them signed, it's just moving slow. . . . We're working extremely hard on it, it's just so sensitive right now with some of them. I think we're getting closer, but you're always nervous about it because you don't have it done."
The Redskins are trying to re-sign cornerback Fred Smoot and linebacker Antonio Pierce and restructure tackle Chris Samuels's contract, which has one year remaining.
The Redskins have long been at an impasse with Smoot over the size of his signing bonus, and there is a sense among many at Redskins Park that he will depart as a free agent. Negotiations with Pierce, who starred at middle linebacker last season, continued through the weekend, sources said, with both Pierce and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, saying recently they are hopeful of reaching a long-term agreement.
The team has also made progress in negotiations with defensive lineman Joe Salave'a and offensive lineman Ray Brown, sources said, but have yet to complete those deals. Emerging linebacker Lemar Marshall also remains unsigned.
The period for designating franchise players begins today and runs for two weeks. The free agent signing period begins March 3.
A franchise player must be offered a one-year deal equal to the average of the top five salaries at that position. Under that scenario, Smoot would receive $8.8 million, but Washington is only about $4 million under the salary cap and former starting cornerback Walt Harris is already signed.
Pierce, who has started for only one season, earned $628,000 last season; the franchise salary for a linebacker is $5.9 million. That figure would likely preclude Washington from using the tag on Pierce; re-signing him in the coming weeks seems to be the team's top priority.
Working out an extension with Samuels, who is set to count about $10 million against the salary cap for 2005, would open up more space to sign other players, and Samuels has said he welcomes that option. Gibbs is also optimistic that wide receiver Rod Gardner will be dealt next month when the trading period begins. Gardner's agent, Joel Segal, was granted permission to seek deals and spoke with Redskins salary cap manager Eric Schaffer several times recently to report outside interest, Gibbs said.
"There seems to be some interest there, and there should be," Gibbs said. "He's a good player."
Tampa Bay is expected to make a push for Gardner, and Baltimore could as well, with the Redskins likely receiving a mid-round draft pick in return.