Cuts, Creativity Cleared The Path for Signings

By Jason La Canfora and Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 28, 2009

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato began hatching their free agent plan several weeks ago, meeting with agents at the NFL combine, trying to navigate a tricky salary cap situation and hoping they could land the biggest prize -- Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.

After spending hours yesterday and Thursday on the phone and negotiating with Haynesworth's agent until about 5:30 yesterday morning, they secured Haynesworth, 27, to the biggest contract ever for a defensive player, while also accomplishing a primary objective of re-signing cornerback DeAngelo Hall, 25.

The moves shocked many inside Redskins Park, given the constraints of the team's cap problems, particularly after it doled out $64 million guaranteed to the two players, and as much as $170 million over the full term of their contracts.

The team reworked four contracts as well, and last night, according to a league source, Cerrato finalized a deal with guard Derrick Dockery, a former Redskin. The contract is worth slightly less than $27 million over five years, with $8.5 million guaranteed and a payout of $11.5 million over the first two years.

Reached before the deal had been fully agreed upon, Dockery declined to comment, saying he would address his situation today.

Getting those players signed required some deft maneuvering by Eric Schaffer, the Redskins' vice president of football administration and salary cap expert, but succeeded in executing the vision of the owner and Cerrato, his longtime adviser.

The team also parted with two defensive leaders to make room for the new acquisitions, with oft-injured cornerback Shawn Springs released yesterday and linebacker Marcus Washington let go last week.

This recent phase of free agency also included a near-visit by free agent defensive end Chris Canty, whom the team identified as its top target had the pursuit of Haynesworth failed, according to league sources.

"We restructured some contracts, and we released a couple of players. We created some room," Cerrato said. "We kind of had a game plan. The day before free agency, we had about an eight-hour meeting over at Dan's house and put all different scenarios and groupings together. And we said, 'We like these guys [Hall and Haynesworth].' If we can't get these guys we'll get" other players.

Snyder and Cerrato had dinner with Haynesworth's agent, Chad Speck, last Saturday night in Indianapolis, and while there the club also had contact with Canty's agent, Brad Blank, according to sources.

The team was also talking with a handful of other agents to rework existing deals, giving veterans Chris Samuels, Andre Carter, Cornelius Griffin and Antwaan Randle El millions in guaranteed money up front, while lowering their base salaries and their cap figures for 2009, allowing the team to sneak under the projected cap of $123 million. Those players could receive hefty bonuses in 2010 or 2011 as part of the deals, while also potentially getting the opportunity to hit free agency.

Those four new contracts created about $10 million in cap room. The Redskins saved another few million when Phillip Daniels's contract automatically voided on Thursday, then received an unexpected break when the NFL's salary cap figure came in at $127 million.

Releasing Washington saved $4.5 million in cap space, and Springs's departure yesterday morning created $6 million in cap space prior to Haynesworth signing his deal.

"It took a lot of creativity from Dan Snyder, Eric Schaffer and Vinny Cerrato," Coach Jim Zorn said.

Those veterans were well respected in the locker room, but their contracts made them strong candidates to depart.

"They did what's best for the team, and I'm happy for them," Springs said. "I'm going to miss my friends there, but as long as it makes the team better, I understand. I'm a true fan of the sport."

Springs drew immediate interest from New England and New Orleans, according to league sources, and took the move in stride, texting a reporter during Haynesworth's press conference, "Can you ask Haynesworth to buy my house?"

Springs knew his time with Washington was scant should the Redskins re-sign Hall, whom they signed at midseason after Oakland released him. Talks with Hall, in line to start alongside Carlos Rogers with Springs gone, had been ongoing since the combine and intensified yesterday.

"We wanted to get DeAngelo done before midnight and then focus on Albert," Cerrato said. "And that's kind of what happened."

Hall agreed to terms a few minutes after midnight. Cerrato also contacted Blank just after midnight to discuss quickly the parameters of a deal, then ran those figures by Snyder, according to a league source. The Redskins did not balk at those projections and urged Blank to agree to send Canty to Redskins Park for his first free agent visit, with the agent ultimately deciding to do so after 2 a.m.

Talks with Haynesworth hit stride around 3 a.m., with Tampa Bay providing the toughest opposition, according to a league source. Haynesworth said he received a call from his representatives around 3:45, indicating Washington was making a strong bid with astounding numbers.

By 5:30 the deal was largely in place, and Cerrato called Blank to inform him the team had no more interest in other defensive linemen and to cancel Canty's visit.

"I just didn't know what we'd be able to do cap-wise or whatever," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. "But as it worked its way through, and even as late as [early yesterday morning], I didn't believe it would happen. I was kind of pleasantly surprised when it happened."

Redskins Notes: The team extended a contract offer to longtime linebacker Khary Campbell, according to league sources, as he evaluates the market. . . . Haynesworth was issued his No. 92, which was worn by free agent defensive end Demetric Evans.

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