By Jason La Canfora and Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 28, 2008
During the past few days, Washington Redskins Executive Vice President Vinny Cerrato has delivered the same message to many agents, rival executives and members of the media. Unlike in most years of owner Daniel Snyder's regime, there are no plans for an immediate plunge into free agency, Cerrato said, and no intentions of entertaining a slew of would-be Redskins when the signing period begins at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow.
Coming off a playoff season, the Redskins say they are putting more of a priority on retaining draft choices, developing their young players and learning from their days of errant spending on big-name free agents. But even if the opening days of the free agency/trading period are indeed more tranquil than in years past, that will not preclude the team from exploring numerous options to procure talent as Jim Zorn enters his first season as an NFL head coach.
"We'll look at any option that can help us, that makes sense, to improve the Redskins," Cerrato said. "I don't see us being a big player in the first couple of days of free agency."
This is a shallow free agent pool, made even thinner by the preponderance of teams putting franchise tags on players. The Redskins also have limited salary cap space, though more could be created quickly by restructuring existing contracts.
"With the free agency this year, there's not as many guys out there that there have been in the past," Cerrato said. "Over 50 percent of the free agents out there played less than 20 percent of the time. There's only going to be maybe 70 guys out there that have started eight games or more.
"So it's not a big crop. A lot of guys are going to re-sign probably before Friday. So it's a very limited group of players. I think there'll be a lot of crazy money spent early and things will settle down after that, which is kind of normal."
Snyder and Cerrato covet Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Johnson, but the Bengals remain steadfast they will not deal him. Washington also has interest in free agent wide receiver D.J. Hackett of the Seattle Seahawks, league sources said, but only at the right price. The Patriots' Randy Moss is the biggest name eligible for free agency, but several league sources said they would be shocked if he did not re-sign with New England.
"To add another receiver would be something we would be looking to do just for depth-wise," Cerrato said. "You get skinny in a hurry if Santana [Moss] goes down and if Antwaan [Randle El] goes down. You get real inexperienced quickly."
Cornerback is an area of need as well, with the Redskins among the teams inquiring about the Atlanta Falcons' DeAngelo Hall, league sources said. However, they are not expected to be a front-runner for him. New England's Asante Samuel is expected to garner a huge deal worth $10 million per season, but the San Diego Chargers' Drayton Florence could fill the role of a third cornerback with Washington and would come at a fraction of that cost.
Defensive line also is an area of interest, but it could be a primary target in the draft. Cerrato has told several agents that he aims to bolster the pass rush, ideally from the interior of the line. The Redskins might talk to the New York Jets about defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, who is on the trading block.
A year ago, the Redskins made a concerted push to acquire Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs, but a deal could not be reached. Briggs is a free agent now with little chance of re-signing with the Bears, but he is seeking a deal worth $20 million in guarantees and roughly $7 million per season.
Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma is being shopped as well -- he's a player the Redskins rated very highly coming from the University of Miami -- but would have to move to outside linebacker to make sense for Washington (Vilma visited the Detroit Lions yesterday and could be dealt there shortly).
Washington also has depth needs at center, safety and fullback -- finding role players often is relegated until the second week of the free agent period -- and the club wants to re-sign backup quarterback Todd Collins as well. Collins is set to explore the market, league sources said, with Atlanta, St. Louis and Jacksonville expected to bid for him.
The Redskins have exchanged proposals with punter Derrick Frost. Washington also has expressed interest in retaining guard Jason Fabini, but he is expected to test the market. Linebacker Randall Godfrey and safety Pierson Prioleau also would be welcome back, but they, too, are inclined to hit the market and could land with former assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams in Jacksonville.
The Redskins expect return specialist Rock Cartwright to attempt to land a contract worth at least $2 million guaranteed on the open market, team sources said, but would welcome him back at less than that. Third-string quarterback Mark Brunell is hoping to land a job as a primary backup somewhere, and if Collins departs, Brunell's chances of doing so here may increase.