By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
The Washington Redskins signed veteran linebacker Randall Godfrey yesterday and released former starting middle linebacker Lemar Marshall, the longest-serving player on the defense whose underdog story symbolized the rise of the unit in 2004 and 2005. Marshall, who was signed as a journeyman free agent on Dec. 26, 2001, was considered a special teams player when Coach Joe Gibbs took over the team in 2004, but started all 16 games in 2005 as Washington reached the playoffs.
Marshall, 30, struggled in 2006, however, as the defense's ranking fell to 31st in the league and his undersize body gave way to the intense pounding of playing middle linebacker.
Marshall started 15 games last season and had the ability to play all three linebacker positions as a reserve, but the Redskins preferred Godfrey, who started 13 games for San Diego last season in that jack-of-all-trades role. Godfrey, who admits he'll need some time to get into game shape, is expected to fill in for injured starting strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington, who dislocated his elbow against the Steelers on Saturday, over the next few weeks and be a top reserve when the starting linebackers are healthy.
Godfrey, 34, has been on the free agent market since March, but seriously pondered retirement with his children entering high school and his financial future secure (he co-owns a funeral home in Georgia), leaving some NFL executives to predict he had played his last game. "He had pretty much made up his mind that he was going to retire," Gibbs said.
Godfrey ultimately decided that he wanted to continue playing should an ideal situation develop, and wanted to remain as close to his Atlanta home as possible. He is close friends with Redskins defensive end Phillip Daniels, who also lives in Atlanta.
The Redskins expressed initial interest in him early in the offseason, and began courting him again last week, sources said, striking a one-year, $1.3 million deal Monday night, a good salary for a reserve player and an indication of Washington's interest in him. Marshall was set to make $1 million in base salary this year; by releasing him now he can conceivably have a better shot of catching on with another team.
"I said, well, I'm going to give it another shot and I had a few teams call me and I thought this was the best position to come into," Godfrey said. "I do see a bright future here and I've had some experience with [assistant head coach-defense] Gregg Williams and some of the guys, so I feel more comfortable coming here."
Daniels, a college teammate of Godfrey's at Georgia, lobbied his friend on behalf of the Redskins several times, and the linebacker spurned interest from San Diego (at a reduced salary), Arizona and Philadelphia to come to Washington. "I told him that he needs to at least play one year with me before we reach the end," Daniels, 34, said after his first practice with Godfrey.
Marshall, meantime, said his goodbyes yesterday afternoon. He met with Gibbs, Williams, special teams coach Danny Smith and linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti before gathering his things from his locker at Redskins Park. All wished him well and expressed their belief that he would not be unemployed for long.
"I've been in this situation before, and could kind of smell it a little bit, but it's still a shock to me," said Marshall, who was cut by three teams prior to catching on with Washington. "I've been there so long and for it to work out like in that end is tough, but that's the nature of the business. Me and my family like it here and I'm just thankful they gave me the opportunity to show my skills and be much more than a special teams guy, but unfortunately it went down like this. I thought I fit in better here than they did, I guess, so now it's time for me to move on."
Marshall, who played 77 games for Washington including the playoffs, was well-liked, and many of his teammates were stunned when he phoned them to inform them of his release.
"It was pretty sad," said Khary Campbell, the only linebacker left on the roster from when the Gibbs coaching staff took over in 2004. "He's a good player and a good person."
"I never saw that coming," Daniels said.
Godfrey (6 feet 2, 245 pounds) will be playing his 12th NFL season for his fifth team. He recorded 58 total tackles, 4 sacks and 2 forced fumbles for the Chargers last year. He played one season under Williams with Tennessee in 2000, and his understanding of the principles of the Redskins' defense should enable him to overcome the late start, the coaches believe.
The Redskins consider Godfrey, a second-round pick by Dallas in 1996, more effective against the run than Marshall. Marshall was a safety in college and surprised many with his ability to transition to an interior player in the NFL. He helped anchor one of the NFL's best defenses from 2004 to 2005, replacing injured star LaVar Arrington on the weak side in 2004 and replacing stalwart Antonio Pierce, who had left the team as a free agent, in the middle in 2005.
Marshall knew his position was in some jeopardy when the Redskins made middle linebacker London Fletcher their primary free agent target this offseason, then used two draft picks on linebackers. He also heard rumors about the Redskins eyeing a replacement for him over the weekend, but said he still expected to be with the Redskins this season.
Marshall said he would be speaking with his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, over the coming days to assess outside interest in him; a reunion with Pierce with the New York Giants could materialize, some believe. While Marshall was not thrilled to be a backup, he was not seeking a trade, he said, and was committed to contributing in any way possible, even if just on special teams.
Redskins Notes: Quarterback Jason Campbell (knee) remains doubtful for Saturday's game. "Today was my first time trying to jog and run on it, and it wasn't where I thought it would be," Campbell said. He remains hopeful for a recovery by next week. Gibbs generally alternates backup quarterbacks each preseason game but said he has not made a decision as to whether Mark Brunell or Todd Collins would replace Campbell. . . .
Tailback Clinton Portis (knee tendinitis) did more rigorous work yesterday but is still only running in a straight line. . . . Tackle Chris Samuels (knee) is still doing individual work only with the athletic trainers, but is progressing, he said. . . . Injured guard Todd Wade (shoulder) was limited to mostly individual drills at practice, with Mike Pucillo remaining with the starters. . . .
With several receivers nursing injuries and Mike Espy out for the year, the Redskins signed depth wideout Jerel Myers yesterday. Myers spent the past two seasons in the Arena league and spent parts of 2003 and 2004 with the Buffalo Bills.