Redskins' Free Agent Forecast Stays Cloudy

By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 8, 2006

After more than a week of planning for two disparate scenarios for the upcoming free agent season -- one with a new NFL collective bargaining agreement and one without -- Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs emerged from his war room Monday afternoon fatigued by uncertainty but bolstered by hope that an agreement would allow the Redskins the financial flexibility to address key areas on offense and defense.

The uncertainly of the league's labor situation has lessened the enthusiasm surrounding free agency, which is set to begin at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow, but if NFL owners and the players' union can agree on a new labor deal, this year's salary cap figure would rise by $22.5 million over last year's cap to $108 million.

Earlier this week, Gibbs addressed the two key personnel issues the Redskins had as the season ended. He announced linebacker LaVar Arrington's departure and said that the labor uncertainty will make it, at least in the short term, more difficult to move quarterback Patrick Ramsey, whom Gibbs is trying to trade.

With an agreement, the Redskins could have $12 million to $15 million to spend on players, a result of the increase in the cap and a major round of contract restructuring.

So far, as many as 12 players have restructured their contracts, including Mark Brunell, Clinton Portis, Randy Thomas, Jon Jansen, Cornelius Griffin, Phillip Daniels, Shawn Springs and Renaldo Wynn. It is unclear how much money that saved because the final figures will not be available until a labor deal is complete, but a club source said the amount would allow the team to pursue a free agent wide receiver or defensive end, two areas of concern.

With the loss of Arrington, a weak-side linebacker is needed, with Carolina's Will Witherspoon perhaps the best option available. Chris Clemons played on third down for much of the season in place of Arrington but sprained his knee Dec. 24 against the New York Giants. He has not yet been offered a contract.

The Redskins could pursue a defensive end. The Jets' John Abraham is available via trade and New Orleans's Darren Howard is the best available free agent. The Redskins finished the season 20th in the league with 35 sacks.

The most discussed position upgrade has been wide receiver, where Santana Moss represented the only threat. David Patten, brought to Washington to be that number two deep threat, still is stung that he was placed on injured reserve Nov. 18 after undergoing knee surgery. "I was healthy before last season ended," Patten said Monday. "I could have played."

Still, a secondary wide receiver appears to be high on the Redskins' list. This week, the St. Louis Rams cut Isaac Bruce. New England's David Givens and Pittsburgh's Antwaan Randle El are both restricted free agents. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported yesterday that the Redskins had contacted Bruce's agent, Jimmy Sexton. The Redskins did not return calls for comment.

Without a new CBA, however, Gibbs acknowledged that it would be difficult to upgrade through free agency. The league salary cap would drop to $94.5 million, and the Redskins entered the offseason $20 million over that number. Their options would be the draft (they do not have a first-round pick) or trade.

"If we go to free agency without a CBA, I would say very few teams are going to be in play and be active," Gibbs said. "If you do have a CBA, there are going to be a lot of teams out there competing for players. Right now, that is how I see it. It winds up being a better situation I think for everybody if we get the collective bargaining agreement."

Redskins Note: Gibbs contacted safety Matt Bowen last week to inform him the team intends to release the veteran, according to Bowen's agent. Gibbs also has called defensive lineman Brandon Noble, cornerback Walt Harris and center Cory Raymer as well, according to several players and their agents.

Staff writer Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.

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