By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Now that the Washington Redskins have hired Jim Zorn as head coach, the team's focus turns to free agency, a period in which owner Daniel Snyder traditionally has dominated headlines with high-priced acquisitions. With executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato making personnel decisions with Snyder in place of Joe Gibbs, the Redskins may be preparing for a return to the busy offseasons of the past.
Snyder and Cerrato are working to renegotiate a dozen or so contracts, with the team roughly $16 million over the salary cap. It's an annual ritual -- converting base salaries to bonuses for cap savings -- and undoubtedly the Redskins will be left with room under the salary cap to add players.
Numerous league sources, including some with direct knowledge of conversations between Snyder, Cerrato and recent head coaching candidates, have affirmed that the Redskins have interest in trading for Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Johnson, with two league sources saying Johnson is eager to land a hefty new contract from Washington.
Acquiring an elite receiver is Snyder's top priority, league sources said. The Bengals have said they have no intention of trading Johnson, but his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, is working quietly to broker a deal, the sources said.
The Redskins also are expected to again pursue Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs, another Rosenhaus client they attempted to trade for last offseason.
Most of the needs on defense -- particularly on the line -- will likely be addressed in the draft, which is what newly promoted defensive coordinator Greg Blache is pushing for, team sources said. Blache has also contacted several veterans -- cornerback Shawn Springs and tackle Cornelius Griffin among them, according to team sources -- to inform them they remain in his plans.
Some change is inevitable, though. Interviews with candidates for the Redskins' head coaching job, as well as with team and league sources, give a sense of the Redskins' preliminary plans.
Snyder and Cerrato are intent on seeing Jason Campbell prosper, and the pressure is on Zorn to produce with him in the near term. Campbell will be working under a seventh offensive system in eight years dating from college and some wonder how much patience the Redskins' front office will have with him as he learns another system.
"It's a two-to-three year process," said one veteran coach who, like Zorn, is a disciple of Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren. "I'll be very interested to see what kind of rope that kid gets."
The Redskins have made no attempt to re-sign quarterback Todd Collins; doing so had been considered a high priority under Gibbs and Al Saunders, the former associate head coach-offense.
At least three other teams have interest in Collins, but the Redskins have exclusive rights to re-sign him until he hits the market at the start of free agency on March 1. Several general managers said that bringing Collins back could jeopardize Campbell's development.
Veteran Mark Brunell, a Gibbs favorite, is a free agent who is unlikely to be re-signed, team sources said, with Zorn perhaps pursuing a veteran third-stringer, such as Trent Dilfer, who knows his offense.Wide Receivers
Johnson is a game-breaker who is strong and, at 6 feet 1, has the kind of size the Redskins' wide receivers lack. But his quick tongue and clashes with coaches have caused turmoil with Cincinnati. If he is traded, two general managers estimated it would take a low first-round and a third-round pick, or perhaps two second-round picks, to land him.
New England is likely to put a franchise tag on Randy Moss, retaining his rights, while less-stellar wide receivers such as Jerry Porter (Oakland) and Javon Walker (Denver) could be possibilities. Johnson, however, would be Snyder's ideal acquisition, according to multiple sources.
"He made it very clear that was his top choice," one coaching candidate said.
Brandon Lloyd is almost certain to be released, according to sources who have talked to Snyder and Cerrato. Veteran Keenan McCardell is also unlikely to be back. James Thrash, a special teams standout for Gibbs, might not return, and concerns over chronic knee problems could mean that reserve Reche Caldwell also will not be re-signed.
Veterans Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El need to overcome injuries that plagued them last season. Team sources said Snyder is considering expanding his training rehab staff to help limit and cope with the number of hamstring issues, which were prevalent on the team in 2007.
Running Backs/Tight Ends
Snyder and Cerrato raved about Clinton Portis during interviews with head coaching prospects, sources said. Another renegotiation of his contract is likely. While Gibbs sometimes referred to Portis and Ladell Betts as "interchangeable," sources said that Snyder and Cerrato spoke of Betts solely as a backup. Team sources said they expect Betts to resume kick returning duties in 2008. Free agent Rock Cartwright is expected to depart.
Fullback Mike Sellers and tight end Chris Cooley will have significant roles in the West Coast offense under Zorn. Backup Todd Yoder has earned the respect of coaches in two seasons in Washington and depth could come from Tyler Ecker, team sources said. He was injured during the first weekend of training camp last season and placed on injured reserve. Ecker "completely reshaped his body" during rehabilitation, a team source said.Offensive Line
Several coaching candidates were troubled by the repeated injuries to starting right tackle Jon Jansen, who broke his leg in the first week of last season. However, the Redskins gave Jansen a contract extension a year ago and Snyder told coaches it's not feasible to release him because of the salary cap ramifications.
There are injury concerns with veteran guards Pete Kendall (arthritic knees) and Randy Thomas (who suffered another season-ending injury last year). League sources said a priority is acquiring, perhaps through the draft, a young center-guard to stabilize the interior of the line.
Veteran Mike Pucillo filled the role the past two seasons but has a serious back condition, sources said, making it less likely he will be re-signed.
Team sources said they expect Lorenzo Alexander -- who shined on the offensive and defensive lines last season -- to join the offense full time. One coach said he believes Alexander is nimble and athletic enough to become the team's best pulling lineman.
Offensive line coach Joe Bugel has expressed some concern about Alexander's modest wingspan, team sources said, but he showed considerable promise last season and could help solidify the line.
With rookie Stephon Heyer showing promise as well last season, injury-prone backup tackle Todd Wade could be jettisoned.Defensive Line
This is the primary area of concern on the defense, with Blache, a longtime line coach, adamant about adding depth. He aims to retain Griffin and veteran end Phillip Daniels, who team sources said may play more at tackle and is willing to rework his contract. But Blache's first priority it to groom a quicker, faster and more versatile tackle (referred to as a 'three' technique). Blache is also looking for a pass-rushing end who can line up opposite Andre Carter.
Younger players Anthony Montgomery and Kedric Golston developed in 2007, but age is a concern at some spots on the line. Blache will be pushing second-year speed rusher Chris Wilson to become a more well-rounded lineman, team sources said.Linebackers
Former Pro Bowl linebacker Marcus Washington has been injured often the past three years; third-year linebacker Rocky McIntosh is coming off reconstructive knee surgery and, though making progress, remains a question mark. McIntosh also has a potential degenerative condition in both knees.
Briggs, a player Chicago is not interested in retaining, according to league sources, is a talented outside linebacker who can also rush the passer. He could start at his McIntosh's weak-side spot with McIntosh focused on special teams while he works his way back. Backup Randall Godfrey is mulling over retirement again, team sources said, and also considering joining his mentor, Gregg Williams, in Jacksonville.Defensive Backs
Cornerback Carlos Rogers is coming off major knee surgery and will have to feel his way through the first half of the season. Rogers was not progressing well in his rehabilitation until very recently, making the addition of a young cornerback another priority. Leigh Torrence and John Eubanks would be pushed if a new cornerback joins the roster. Blache has told others he believes it is imperative that Springs is re-signed. Starting cornerback Fred Smoot also returns after a strong finish last season.
Young safeties LaRon Landry and Reed Doughty played well in the aftermath of Sean Taylor's death. Landry is bordering on stardom and several NFL executives praised Doughty's development. Veteran safety Pierson Prioleau, a free agent and another of Williams's proteges, could decide to join the Redskins' former assistant head coach-defense in Jacksonville.Specialists
Punter Derrick Frost had a strong first half, then tapered off and team sources said they expect special teams coach Danny Smith to bring at least one veteran into training camp for competition. Place kicker Shaun Suisham is also still developing and missed a critical field goal in the playoff loss to Seattle, but has strong support and is seen as someone who could provide stability at a position of great turnover in recent years.