By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 24, 2007
INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 23 -- Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said Friday he will allow players to hold their offseason workouts away from Redskins Park, a key concession to veterans who in the last three years had been asked to conduct their conditioning regimen at the team training facility in Ashburn.
"A lot of the guys that I trust, the ones that are real leaders on our team, felt like they would like to be more on their own from a conditioning standpoint, so we're going to do that," Gibbs said. "What I said to them was they would be on their own, and we're counting on them. It's what they wanted. They said, 'Leave it up to us,' and I trust them."
On the other hand, Gibbs said, he will require his players to report to training camp earlier this year, possibly by as much as a week. Last season, which ended with a 5-11 record, the Redskins were the last team in the NFL to begin training camp.
Gibbs, in Indianapolis with his coaching and scouting staffs for the NFL scouting combine, spoke with reporters about the team's strategy for the draft in April and impending decisions concerning the future of several key veterans. He spoke about the status of quarterback Mark Brunell and cornerback Shawn Springs, whose salaries would count heavily against the salary cap in 2007, and about the difficulty of signing guard Derrick Dockery.
The Redskins have the sixth overall pick in the draft, the third time in the three years since his return to coaching in 2004 that Gibbs has had a top-10 pick. Washington is looking for help at defensive end, and Gaines Adams of Clemson and Jamaal Anderson of Arkansas are regarded as the two best players at the position. Gibbs said he would be happy with either.
"He's going to be a real good football player," Gibbs said of the Redskins' potential selection. "At six, we're trying to pick a player almost irregardless of what position he plays, is a player who is going to make a real impact, go to Pro Bowls for you."
Gibbs said the Redskins might trade their pick to acquire additional picks further down in the draft order but were concentrating primarily on whom to draft in the No. 6 position.
"In the past, you're expecting a lot of calls and they never come," Gibbs said, referring to other NFL teams expressing interest in the Redskins' first-round pick. "With this pick, you have a lot of interesting players. We've already highlighted some that people would be willing to get. I think you have to be prepared, but reality would tell you we'd probably end up picking. So, if I had a guess, that's what I'd say."
Offensive line may become more of a priority for the team as Dockery and the Redskins have less than a week to come to terms on a new contract before the free agent period begins Friday. Though the team said during the season that Dockery was a top priority, the Redskins first signed right tackle Jon Jansen to an extension that contained $10 million in guaranteed money.
Gibbs said the negotiations with Dockery have not gone as well as he had hoped, a sentiment illustrated recently when Dockery's agent, Todd France, said Dockery appeared headed toward testing the free agent market.
"We think we worked really hard to get that done. Our expectations are still that we don't want that to happen and we've worked hard to keep it from happening," Gibbs said, adding that France's comments surprised him.
"I would say that hasn't been said to us, that he was going to go to free agency no matter what. We're of the thought process that we can still get something done. We all know no matter how hard you work that someone could make up their mind that they're going [to free agency] no matter what. Of course, that puts the team in a bind. We certainly don't want to be sitting there when it's all said and done and have a hole."
Gibbs said the Redskins must also decide soon on Brunell and Springs. Springs will count for $7.35 million against the 2007 salary cap, while Brunell's figure is $6.71 million.
A decision looms in Brunell's case. The Redskins have committed to Jason Campbell as the starting quarterback and do not figure to carry a backup at Brunell's price tag. Brunell said last week that he has not given up hope of starting for another team but would only be willing to play as a backup for Washington. He said he and the Redskins were making "good progress" on a reworked contract that would reduce the amount of his salary that would be counted against the cap.
Gibbs sounded the most vague regarding Springs's future. Springs was the closest the team had this season to a cornerback who could shut down an opponent's top wide receiver. "I think that one is again, one of those, I'm not going to talk a lot about, but I think you have to work through that situation there and see how we do," Gibbs said.
Springs, who turns 32 next month, is in an interesting position with the Redskins because it may not be in the interest of either side to compromise. The two sides have engaged in periodic contract talks in recent weeks without much resolution. The Redskins, unsure of Springs's durability, want Springs to take less money, though it is unclear if the team wants him to accept deferred compensation or has asked him to take a direct pay cut.
Should the Redskins cut Springs -- who is training in Scottsdale, Ariz. -- he would be one of the premier defensive players in a free agent market that has grown weaker in recent days. Many of the top defensive players -- New England's Asante Samuel, Chicago's Lance Briggs and Indianapolis's Dwight Freeney -- have been designated franchise players by their teams, making them ineligible for free agency, thinning the market and raising Springs's value.
Meanwhile, the Redskins almost certainly will look to the free agent market for help at middle linebacker and cornerback. Washington's assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams has previously coached two potential free agents from the Buffalo Bills -- linebacker London Fletcher and cornerback Nate Clements.
On Thursday, Buffalo Bills General Manager Marv Levy said he was still interested in retaining both Clements and Fletcher. Clements is considered the top free agent corner on the market and could command as much as $15 million to $18 million in guaranteed money.
"We like both guys. They've told us they like us. We're still trying to keep them. They've said they like the Bills, and we haven't given up on them," Levy said. "To us, there's five minutes left in the fourth quarter and the score is tied, so does that signify optimism or pessimism? I don't know."