Redskins Aim to Pursue Titans' Haynesworth in Free Agency

By Jason Reid and Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Washington Redskins plan to pursue Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth if he becomes a free agent tomorrow -- though it appears their salary cap situation might prevent them from signing the Pro Bowl performer -- and hope to reach a contract agreement with cornerback DeAngelo Hall before the market opens, NFL sources said yesterday.

The Redskins also have significant interest in Dallas defensive end Chris Canty, according to league sources, who would be a far less expensive alternative to Haynesworth, and are seeking upgrades along the offensive line, though likely only by pursuing second-tier free agents.

League tampering rules prohibit teams from beginning the process of signing free agents before 12:01 a.m. tomorrow. But the sources, who requested anonymity because of the rules, said owner Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations, have already laid the groundwork to attempt to acquire Haynesworth, considered the top defensive player who could become available. Another option being considered by the team is Canty, a versatile end who can play the run and pass rush from the interior on third downs.

The team would have the wherewithal to sign only one of those defensive linemen given its limited cap room. The Redskins regard Haynesworth -- who reportedly wants to be the league's highest-paid defensive player -- as one of only a few impact players capable of raising the play of the entire defense. Tennessee, Atlanta, Detroit and Tampa Bay are other teams that have Haynesworth atop their wish lists, according to league sources, with most of those clubs having exponentially more cap space than the Redskins with which to complete deals.

Meanwhile, negotiations with Hall's representatives, Joel Segal and Alvin Keels, began last week during the NFL scouting combine at Indianapolis and remain ongoing, team sources said. Hall could command upwards of $15 million guaranteed. The Redskins, who sat on the sideline during the free agent period last offseason, have made many moves in the past two weeks to create salary cap room, in part, to make a multiyear offer to Hall and compete for Haynesworth, the sources said.

Washington has reworked the contracts of tackle Chris Samuels, defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, defensive end Andre Carter and wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, and also released linebacker Marcus Washington in an attempt to improve its cap situation, but it remains among the worst in the NFL. The salary cap for the 2009 season will increase to $127 million, roughly $4 million higher than many projections, which provides some relief, but the Redskins entered last week over the cap.

There is some wiggle room. Defensive end Jason Taylor is scheduled to make $8 million in 2009 -- not including a $500,000 roster bonus he is due to receive next week, according to league sources -- but the team could save cap room by restructuring his deal. Cutting veteran cornerback Shawn Springs would yield an additional $6 million in cap savings.

It appears, however, that the Redskins would need much more flexibility to make a viable run at Haynesworth, re-sign Hall -- a top priority in their offseason plan -- and address concerns along the offensive line. In fact, one longtime league official with knowledge of Washington's cap problems said yesterday that he could not envision any scenario, even with creative cap management, in which the Redskins could make a big offer to Haynesworth, bring back Hall and bolster the offensive line in free agency.

Moreover, the Redskins might not get the chance to bid on Haynesworth, who could seek a deal worth more than $30 million guaranteed and averaging $15 million per season. Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen is the league's top-paid defensive player with $32 million guaranteed as part of a six-year contract that averages $12.2 million per season. As of late last night, the Titans were attempting to reach a deal with Haynesworth before his agent, Chad Speck, could officially accept offers from other teams, according to sources who have spoken with Tennessee officials.

But the Titans are determined to stick with the parameters they set for Haynesworth, unwilling to risk jeopardizing their cap situation even for a player regarded as one of the best, if not the best, at his position in the league. And even if Haynesworth joins the free agent market, the Redskins are expected to face strong competition from teams with better cap situations.

Tampa Bay released five high-priced veterans yesterday, including 11-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks, and is $60 million under the projected cap. The Buccaneers potentially could make a massive offer to Haynesworth and still possess the resources to pursue other top-tier free agents.

The Redskins finished fourth overall in total defense last season, giving up an average of only 288.8 yards per game, but were tied for 28th in the league with only 24 sacks. Haynesworth, 27, a two-time all-pro selection, had a personal-best 8 1/2 sacks -- an impressive total for an interior lineman. Listed at 6 feet 6 and 320 pounds, Haynesworth has excelled at collapsing the pocket from the middle of the line.

Washington's defense, particularly Taylor, could benefit from having a difference-making interior lineman. The team has decided to bring back Taylor, who was injured and unproductive in his first season with Washington, and is considering using him as a strong-side linebacker in an effort to increase his productivity rushing the passer.

Canty, 26, who started all 16 games and had three sacks last season for the Cowboys, is regarded as a younger, more dynamic version of Redskins veteran Phillip Daniels, according to a team source. He could occupy multiple blockers and stuff the run on first and second downs, rush from the inside on third downs and would be much more cost-effective than Haynesworth. The role Canty could fill for the Redskins was Demetric Evans's job last season, which could explain why the team has not extended a contract offer to Evans with him eligible for free agency.

Despite having an offensive line that many in the organization believe is in need of an overhaul, Snyder and Cerrato are not expected to pursue the linemen expected to command big contracts, such as left tackle Marvel Smith and guard Chris Kemoeatu of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and versatile Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Jason Brown. Cincinnati Bengals right tackle Stacy Andrews, who underwent reconstructive knee surgery last month, could be in the Redskins' budget. Green Bay Packers tackle Mark Tauscher, also coming off injury, could be another option as a value player. Stalwart center Jeff Saturday of the Indianapolis Colts is willing to play guard, his agent said, and could be seen as a value pickup.

With the release of Washington and weak-side linebacker Rocky McIntosh's late-season slide in 2008, the Redskins appear to be in need of help at linebacker, but that may have to come from the draft, with the Redskins showing no signs of being in the market for the better linebackers in this free agent class.

Redskins Note: The team made a tender offer to place kicker Shaun Suisham, a restricted free agent, and is expected to retain defensive tackles Anthony Montgomery and Kedric Golston, who also are restricted free agents. Safety Reed Doughty was not tendered but is expected to re-sign with the team.

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