For Redskins, Vacation Is Over
Sunday, July 31, 2005
Five prominent Redskins gathered around the leather sofas in the lobby of Redskins Park in May alongside two position coaches, all sharing stories about the one that got away. Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, the central nervous system -- if not the very heart -- of Washington's 2004 defense had departed months earlier for the New York Giants, but he was far from forgotten.
They shared some anecdotes about Pierce's tenacity and work ethic, and the impromptu meeting broke off after one player stated the obvious, "Man, A.P. was a hell of a player. He's really going to be missed," and the rest of group nodded in agreement. The loss of Pierce was but one of many story lines in an at times tumultuous offseason for the Redskins.
There were no roster or coaching overhauls as in years past, with continuity the buzzword since Coach Joe Gibbs returned last season. But there was plenty of intrigue:
The loss of Pierce and cornerback Fred Smoot, both hailed by coaches as core Redskins last year, in free agency.
The spats with starting wide receivers Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner, which led to the departure of both from Washington.
Safety Sean Taylor's absence from offseason activities and eventual arrest on felony assault charges in Miami.
Linebacker LaVar Arrington's continued criticism of the team.
With players reporting for training camp today, and scheduled for their first practice tomorrow, it remains to be seen if the events of the last six months will affect the club as it begins final preparations for the season.
"I actually think on the football side, there's been much less drama than usual," right tackle Jon Jansen, the team's longest serving player, said during the club's offseason training. "Much less than I'm used to. Relatively speaking, it's been a pretty dry offseason in terms of the roster, and that's been nice. The coaches made a big effort to keep the guys around and to keep the core guys the same."
After splurging on free agents last year, then signing left tackle Chris Samuels to a massive contract extension and absorbing a $9 million salary cap hit in trading Coles to the New York Jets for wide receiver Santana Moss, Washington had little room to go after high-priced free agents this time around. The team added center Casey Rabach and wideout David Patten to the offense.
Gibbs spoke frequently about the importance of retaining players like Smoot and Pierce, but they found better offers elsewhere (Smoot from Minnesota, Pierce from the New York Giants). A subsequent pursuit of free agent defensive lineman Courtney Brown proved fruitless; he signed with Denver instead.
"It surprised me a lot that me and Smoot both left," Pierce said during an offseason telephone interview. "Especially for me. I had no intention of going nowhere, and I made that point clear several times and I gave the Redskins every chance to match any offer I got. I'm real surprised neither one of us stayed, because I definitely thought if I left then they'd end up with Fred, or if Fred left they would sign me. Then I'm reading in the paper that they're going after this guy and that guy from another team, and there's money for them, so it does make you wonder."