By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
With the arrival at Redskins Park of free agent Antwaan Randle El and newly acquired Brandon Lloyd from San Francisco yesterday, last year's offensive frustrations disappeared in a whirlwind, replaced by euphoria and the belief that, virtually overnight, the Washington Redskins became one of the more potent and diverse offensive teams in football.
That the two receivers so completely addressed a crucial need reiterated just how formidable the Redskins can be as a free agent player, as Coach Joe Gibbs's ability to leverage his Hall of Fame status and owner Daniel Snyder's wealth proved again to be a forceful combination.
Randle El arrived with his family in two black stretch limousines, two days after a fleet of limos shuttled him, team coaches and newly signed defensive players Adam Archuleta and Andre Carter to Verizon Center for a Washington Wizards game on Saturday night.
A free agent after winning the Super Bowl with Pittsburgh six weeks ago, Randle El could have been deliberate. Philadelphia, Chicago, New England, Houston and Minnesota sought a big-play wide receiver, but the Redskins were the only team he visited before signing a seven-year, $31 million deal, with $11.5 million in guaranteed money.
The difference, Randle El said, was the strong play the Redskins made.
"Free agency started at 12:01. I got a call at 12:05, and they kept putting plusses on the chart," he said. "Coach Gibbs asked to speak with my wife. My wife? It was all about the approach. The Redskins made that first step into the door."
That, and the dynamic offensive system the Redskins plan to employ under new associate head coach for offense Al Saunders. "The key is to get him the ball," Gibbs said. "You have to get the ball in his hands, because he can run with it. He can catch it, and he can throw it."
Lloyd, 24, was acquired Saturday for a third-round pick this year and a fourth in 2007, and is considered a playmaker whose potential the Redskins did not believe had been fully realized in San Francisco.
"That's the guy," Gibbs said after watching game film of Lloyd, "that we needed to get."
Lloyd was something of a lightning rod, rankling veterans who believed his commitment to football was secondary to his interest in making rap records. An explosive moment came last season when he clashed with fullback Fred Beasley and running back Kevan Barlow.
"We made a lot of calls on this guy," Gibbs said. "And we didn't find anything wrong about him."
Lloyd said he was just tired of losing. For his three years in San Francisco, the 49ers were 13-35.
"I don't think they didn't like me," Lloyd said of his teammates. "They just weren't feeling my style. Maybe they're at a different point. I play my best when I'm having fun."
The Redskins spent millions -- sources around the league believe Lloyd could receive as much as $10 million in guaranteed money -- to upgrade a receiving corps that featured the super-sized production of Santana Moss, but saw five other wide receivers -- David Patten, James Thrash, Taylor Jacobs, Jimmy Farris and Antonio Brown -- combine for 48 receptions, 529 yards and no touchdowns. By himself, Moss caught 84 passes for 1,483 yards and nine scores.
Whether this new stockpile of receivers can coexist is another question. Moss proved he could be a number one receiver. Randle El chose Washington because he wanted to improve upon his 35 receptions last year, and Lloyd is considered an untapped gem.
"I think when you look at the two guys in Arizona [Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald], you see two guys each with 100 catches and 1,000 yards, but how many games did they win?" Stan Hixon, Washington's wide receivers coach, said. "Antwaan caught 35 balls last year, which is what, two catches a game? But he has a title. I think most players, at least the players that we want on this team, would rather have that Super Bowl win than the big numbers."
The Redskins say they are well aware of the challenge and realize they must also appease H-back Chris Cooley, who caught 71 passes last year, and Patten, last year's free agent prize who was deactivated with a knee injury Nov. 18.
As the negotiations for Lloyd and Randle El intensified, Gibbs called two of his incumbent receivers, Patten and Thrash.
"I can go back to when we had Ricky [Sanders], Gary [Clark], and Art [Monk]," Gibbs said. "Someone was always unhappy. But they'll tell you everyone got the ball, that we scored a lot of points and won a lot of ballgames.
"What I wanted to say to David and James was that everyone who watched our football team knew that hurt us down the stretch," Gibbs said of the lack of receiving help for Moss. "I think it would be different if we went out there and signed two straight outside receivers. But we have a versatility here now."
The Redskins are not finished shopping the free agent market to upgrade offensively. They still want depth on the offensive line. Guard John Goodwin, an unrestricted free agent who played for the New York Jets last season, is on the club's short list. Goodwin, 27, was a fifth-round pick of the Jets in 2002. The Redskins are also still in discussions with free agent quarterback Todd Collins, who visited Saturday and Sunday. Collins's agent, Brad Blank, said negotiations are ongoing, but little is likely to happen until the Redskins can move quarterback Patrick Ramsey.