Redskins Ready, Eager to Address Needs

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 9, 2006

With the NFL's new labor agreement in place, the Washington Redskins are prepared to make a significant foray into free agency when the period to sign players is expected to open at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

The extension between the league and its players created room under the cap for the Redskins, opened up avenues for further contract restructuring and should aid the club's ability to re-sign several of its players.

Had the labor talks failed, the Redskins faced the prospect of a $94.5 million salary cap and little chance of acquiring significant free agents. But now the cap is expected to be set at roughly $102 million, allowing Coach Joe Gibbs to seek help at wide receiver, defensive end, linebacker, along the offensive line and, perhaps, at kicker and punter. Washington also stands to add an additional $1.7 million in cap space with the trade of backup quarterback Patrick Ramsey -- who visited the New York Jets yesterday and has visits planned with Detroit and Miami, according to a source -- and will likely release a handful of players today.

Gibbs has informed center Cory Raymer, safety Matt Bowen, cornerback Walt Harris, and injured defensive tackle Brandon Noble that they would not be back with the team, players and agents said, and a few others could be cut as well. The Redskins also had renegotiated contracts with numerous players, but most would have become official only without a CBA extension.

Washington's agreement that granted immediate free agency to linebacker LaVar Arrington, however, gave the team a $4.4 million salary cap credit for 2006, and the Redskins also now have the option of converting about $13.5 million of total roster bonuses due to eight players into signing bonuses for cap purposes, which would create another $10 million in 2006 savings. A few other routine contract restructurings with high-salaried players like quarterback Mark Brunell and tackle Jon Jansen would create more space.

The Redskins were close to terms with running back Rock Cartwright yesterday, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, and have been negotiating with their other unrestricted free agents -- starting safety Ryan Clark, starting tight end Robert Royal and defensive lineman Demetric Evans -- and could reach deals with them in the immediate future, as well.

While there are several receivers either on or expected to hit the free agent market, none could be termed a star at this point in his career. But Isaac Bruce (St. Louis), Antwaan Randle El (Pittsburgh), Antonio Bryant (Cleveland), Joe Jurevicius (Seattle) or David Givens (New England) would fill that role, among others. Julian Peterson and Will Witherspoon are the top outside linebackers available -- a position of need following the release of former Pro Bowler LaVar Arrington this week -- while defensive end John Abraham (New York Jets) will be traded and Darren Howard (New Orleans) has a knack for pass rushing as well.

The Redskins will be looking for veteran offensive linemen able to back up the starters, and they could land an established kicker and punter as well. Kickers Adam Vinatieri (New England), Mike Vanderjagt (Indianapolis) and Ryan Longwell (Green Bay) have impressive résumés, and a punter like Tom Rouen (Seattle) could be attractive to Washington, too.

The team also would like to add depth in the secondary, particularly after last night's cuts. Harris started much of last season, and while he has been injured and passed on rookie Carlos Rogers, he provided good cover in the nickel role. Bowen was a starter in 2004 before suffering a season-ending knee injury and the Redskins could take another look at cornerback R.W. McQuarters (Detroit), who they tried to land last offseason, or a safety like Adam Archuleta (St. Louis). It is still conceivable players such as Harris and Bowen could re-sign with Washington later at lesser cap numbers.

Raymer lost his starting spot to free agent Casey Rabach last year, and with top reserve offensive lineman Ray Brown retired there is a need for experience along the line, and Arrington's departure leaves the Redskins without a proven weak-side linebacker. Noble is likely to retire after a series of serious knee injuries.

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