Washington Redskins players wonder who will return next season

Uncertain future: Clinton Portis, the Pro Bowl running back, looked slow in the first part of the season and will miss the final eight games with a concussion that could end his career.
Uncertain future: Clinton Portis, the Pro Bowl running back, looked slow in the first part of the season and will miss the final eight games with a concussion that could end his career. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 13, 2009

Last Sunday, when Devin Thomas caught a short pass from Jason Campbell, turned upfield and snuck into the corner of the end zone, he said he was merely performing a task he "definitely always believed would happen." He also may have been moving himself from one category in the Washington Redskins' locker room, that of potential bust, to another, that of potential core ingredient.

"We feel like we're showing that we should be part of the success in the future," Thomas said. "We want to be around for that. I got drafted by the team here, so I feel like a huge component of this team. I want to be here for the long run, and make things happen and go to the playoffs and try to win some championships."

That is precisely what a second-year wide receiver experiencing his first bit of success in the NFL would be expected to say. But the Redskins' matchup Sunday afternoon with the Oakland Raiders will have no bearing on the team's playoff prospects; with a 3-9 record, those possibilities have passed. So in the same locker room in which Thomas addressed what might be the promise of next year and beyond, running back Rock Cartwright -- who has worn only a Redskins uniform as a pro -- mulled a much different future.

"Me, personally, I've been here for eight years, and I really enjoy it here," Cartwright said. "But at the same time, I think my time might be up here. So all I can do is go out and try to build a good résumé. That's by putting good stuff on film. That's all I'm going to try to do, and we'll see what happens."

This is what occurs in down-and-out NFL locker rooms at this time of year: Players begin to wonder who will stay and be part of a foundation going forward, and who will be elsewhere once training camp begins next summer. The final four games of this disappointing Redskins season will help sort out some of those decisions, though the linchpins in such an evaluation process -- the general manager and head coach -- won't be determined until team owner Daniel Snyder decides whether to retain Vinny Cerrato, his executive vice president of football operations, and Jim Zorn, his head coach.

The effect on the locker room, though, is already apparent, and in some senses a team with no hope of postseason play becomes 53 individual corporations, each player protecting and preparing for his own future, whether it be in Washington or somewhere else. While Thomas and some of the Redskins' other younger players -- tight end Fred Davis, linebacker-defensive end Brian Orakpo and possibly wide receiver Malcolm Kelly -- have been buoyed by their recent development, others must deal with this particular reality of the NFL by either stewing or shrugging it off.

"We're playing to build something, whether it's here or whether it's somewhere else," said Campbell, whose future in Washington -- he's a restricted free agent at season's end -- has been one of the most-discussed topics around the Redskins this season. "You're building in some way."

Certainties are few

Whoever is determining the future look of Washington's roster, the Redskins would appear to have a few certainties to be with the team in 2010 and beyond. Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and cornerback DeAngelo Hall both signed as free agents last season, and they are guaranteed roughly $64 million between them. Thomas, Davis and Orakpo -- and, to a lesser extent, Kelly -- have shown more promise over the past month. Orakpo, the team's first-round selection in the 2009 draft, has started every game for a veteran-laden defense and has seven sacks. "He's obviously killing it," Davis said.

Davis has stepped in for Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley, who broke a bone in his ankle Oct. 26 and is out for the year. In six games before Cooley's injury, Davis had seven catches with no touchdowns. In the six games since -- including the game against Philadelphia in which he stepped in after Cooley was injured -- he has 25 catches and three touchdowns. Thomas, who along with Davis and Kelly was a second-round pick in the 2008 draft, had his first 100-yard receiving game against the New Orleans Saints last Sunday, when he scored twice. He had nine catches in the first nine games, but has 14 in the past three.

Kelly has had less of an impact with just 14 receptions, but in the past three weeks he has shown an ability to stretch the field, making catches of 27 and 36 yards. He has also shared the evolving demeanor of the others in his draft class. Thomas, Davis and Kelly were at one point lumped together as failures. Now they could be lumped together as part of the future.

"I just think it's funny that at first, we were three guys who, 'I don't know why we drafted those guys,' " Kelly said. " 'Those guys can't play. They can't catch. They can't block. They can't do nothing. They [stink].'

"Now, all of a sudden, when we get a few opportunities to make a few plays, now it's like: 'Okay, well, maybe these guys, maybe they do have a chance. Maybe they do have an opportunity to do this and do this.' We were saying that the whole time, but didn't nobody want to hear that the whole time we were saying that. It's just good to see all three of us out there together."

Over the past few weeks, Campbell has been asked repeatedly about the three young pass catchers and he has generally praised their development and, therefore, said his own confidence in them has increased. "Now, you know that those guys can play, and they can help us," he said.

Campbell said this knowing he might not be part of a future that would include him throwing balls to Davis, Kelly and Thomas. Cerrato and Snyder have scouted at least two quarterbacks, Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and Texas's Colt McCoy, who will enter the upcoming NFL draft. Campbell, though, has been adamant that he won't think about his future until the season is over, and he reiterated that stance even as he was coming off his best game of the season, a 30-for-42 performance that yielded 367 yards and three touchdowns against New Orleans.

"A lot of things are out of our control," Campbell said. "There's a lot of things that we can't tell. We can't tell what's going to dictate the future or what's going to happen."

The Redskins have the right to match any offer another team might make to Campbell, as they do with cornerback Carlos Rogers, whose tumultuous career in Washington includes a mid-game benching against Denver this season. Rogers has said repeatedly during the season that change feels as if it's pending for the Redskins, whether it's on the coaching staff, in the front office or on the roster. "It ain't one thing that needs to be corrected here or there," he said.

A 'worrisome' time

Here, then, is where the worrying can begin. Big-money veterans such as Haynesworth and Hall can ease into their offseasons, reasonably assured that whoever is the coach and whoever shapes the roster, they will return, as will their paychecks. Younger players such as Thomas and Orakpo fit in as well, because they are improving and because they have not reached the point in their careers when they are eligible for free agency and the truly big money that often follows.

But take a guy at the tail end of the roster, a backup who helps on special teams. "I was always worrying," said defensive lineman Lorenzo Alexander, who has twice been cut in his four-year NFL career. "You just don't know what's going to happen. You don't know how the process works. You've always been that guy that's been good, been on the team, and not to know if you're going to get cut or released is very worrisome."

Cartwright has been with the Redskins since he was drafted as an undersize fullback in 2002. He has excelled as a special teams player and serves as a captain for that unit. When starting running back Clinton Portis was injured Nov. 8 with a concussion, and backup Ladell Betts was lost Nov. 22 with a knee injury, Cartwright became the starter. On Sunday, though, Cartwright will play behind Quinton Ganther, a 25-year-old journeyman who has all of 28 carries in his NFL career.

It all makes Cartwright think.

"I got one year left on my deal," he said. "I'm supposed to make a decent amount of money [$1.5 million in 2010]. Will they want to pay it? Probably not. They didn't want to pay my roster bonus early on in the year for $200,000. They wanted to get rid of me because of that. There's a lot of stuff that you have to take into consideration. Ultimately, I can't control it, so I'm not going to worry about it.

"Nobody knows what the future holds, but all you can continue to do is just go out and do what you can do to let people know that you want to be here. Ultimately, it's not up to you. . . . Hopefully, everybody's here after the season, but if not, you just got to continue to move forward and go somewhere else where you might be appreciated a little bit more."

With that, Cartwright finished dressing and headed off to an afternoon of practice, a practice that included all manner of players -- those who will be part of the future, and those who won't, even if the sorting out hasn't yet happened.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company