By Howard Bryant and Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 4, 2007
The Washington Redskins introduced newly signed middle linebacker London Fletcher yesterday and agreed to a contract with cornerback Fred Smoot, securing their two top free agent targets. But Coach Joe Gibbs doused any expectations of a repeat of the heavy-spending free agent periods of past years by characterizing the team's approach to the rest of the signing period as measured and reserved.
Fletcher signed a five-year, $25 million contract Friday night that included $10 million guaranteed; Smoot's deal also is for five years and $25 million. Earlier in the day, Gibbs said that no further signings were imminent despite ongoing talks with offensive lineman Leonard Davis (Arizona) and defensive back Travis Fisher (St. Louis). The price on Davis could become too steep, league sources said, and the Redskins appear to have made the signing of Fisher less of a priority.
While Gibbs said the Redskins could invite more players to Ashburn over the coming days -- noting the need for a tight end -- his comments yesterday represented a marked departure from past years, when the Redskins often were unwilling to allow visiting free agents to leave the facility without a lucrative deal.
After spending $45 million in guaranteed bonuses for Andre Carter, Adam Archuleta, Antwaan Randle El and, in a trade, Brandon Lloyd during the 2006 free agent period, the Redskins underperformed in a 5-11 season. This year, Gibbs and the front office seem prepared to read the market instead of lead it.
"I wouldn't say that anything else is imminent on any of the guys," Gibbs said. "If anything, it's going slower."
Smoot, 27, lingered around Redskins Park much of the day while agent Bus Cook hammered out a deal for the player Washington drafted in 2001, then lost to free agency in 2005. The deal was finally reached around 6:30 last night.
The 6-foot-6, 360-pound Davis, a left tackle for the Cardinals, was treated to a $100 lunch at a local restaurant by quarterback Jason Campbell, and was scheduled to join Smoot, Fisher and team officials for dinner.
"If he's going to come here and block for me, I have to take care of him," said Campbell said. "It would be great to have him here."
Davis, 28, who said he would go home to Texas to decide between the Redskins and Cowboys -- he visited Dallas Friday -- met with Redskins coaches and was impressed by the team's operation. In the wake of guard Derrick Dockery's record $49 million contract with Buffalo, Davis said the Redskins have talked to him about playing left guard; Dallas has asked him to play either right guard or right tackle.
"It's going well, so far," Davis said. "I spoke with Joe Bugel and Joe Gibbs and Dan Snyder. It was nice to meet those guys and get a feel for whether or not I'd like it here."
Davis referred to Washington as a "good fit," adding that the position questions wouldn't have much bearing on his decision.
Money, however, could. Dockery and guards Kris Dielman and Eric Steinbach all signed record deals this weekend, and the surging prices of offensive linemen complicated Davis's talks with Dallas on Friday night. He is believed to be seeking a deal in the vicinity of the $18.5 million guaranteed Dockery got from Buffalo, if not more.
The Redskins offered Dockery roughly three years for $12 million, according to a team source, far beneath what he commanded on the open market.
Gibbs said the Redskins "didn't want to lose" Dockery and that "everyone in the league" was surprised by this year's free spending nature. But Gibbs added that as Dockery moved closer to free agency, his pessimism about getting a deal done rose.
"It went far and beyond what I expected," Dockery said from his cellphone yesterday afternoon. "I'm very excited. When [agent] Todd [France] told me about what they offered, it was a no-brainer."
Dockery said there were times during the season when he thought he would be re-signing here without testing the open market, as did running back Ladell Betts. But the more time that passed the more that feeling diminished.
"I thought it was going to get done here and I had a lot of faith in Coach Gibbs and Mr. Snyder but it never happened," said Dockery, who attended last night's Capitals game with Campbell. "But this is a business, too, and I had a great time in my four years here. I loved playing with Randy [Thomas] and Chris [Samuels] and Jon [Jansen] and Casey [Rabach] and I loved playing for Coach Bugel, but in the end it was time to move on. My wife and I prayed about it and the financial part of it was great, too, and we felt like it was something we needed to do."
Dockery said that since signing he has heard from teammates Thomas, Samuels, Cornelius Griffin, Renaldo Wynn, Phillip Daniels and Demetric Evans, among others. Snyder also called him to congratulate him.
"They're really happy for me, and it shocked a lot of people," Dockery said. "But me and Todd were very confident in our ability and it worked out in the end."
The arrival of Fletcher, 31, signals the beginning of what could be a significant overhaul of defensive personnel. While the Redskins struggled during the season against the run and especially against the pass, both Gibbs and assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams maintained they did not think the defense required massive change. Getting Fletcher, who knows the system intimately, is a strong leader and has never missed a game in his career, was imperative, they believed. He was a playmaker in this defense in Buffalo, where Williams was his head coach for three years.
Fletcher is expected to replace Lemar Marshall at middle linebacker. Marshall started 31 of 32 games in 2005 and 2006. He emerged as a surprise performer in 2005, but struggled with injury and durability issues last season so much that Williams believed middle linebacker to be the team's primary offseason need.
"Lemar is valuable for our football team," said Gibbs, who said he plans to speak to Marshall about the signing of Fletcher. "He can play outside in and in for us, and we think he's going to continue doing that."