Redskins, NFL await free agency in an uncapped season

Coach Mike Shanahan and the Redskins could once again be a big spenders in free agency, with Julius Peppers, above, a free-agent defensive end with the Carolina Panthers, being a potential target.
Coach Mike Shanahan and the Redskins could once again be a big spenders in free agency, with Julius Peppers, above, a free-agent defensive end with the Carolina Panthers, being a potential target. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 28, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS -- As NFL coaches and front office officials mill about the NFL Scouting Combine and meet with reporters, they hear the same question and have no choice but to offer the same answer. And it might as well be a shoulder shrug.

If a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached by Friday, the 2010 season will be played without a salary cap and an unpredictable free agency period will immediately commence. Team officials across the league are having a tough time predicting exactly how it will unfold.

"No one really knows. It's unchartered waters," said San Francisco General Manager Scot McCloughan. "It'll be unique how it goes. I think the teams in the past that were risk-takers will probably still be risk-takers. The teams that have been conservative will remain conservative."

That could mean the Redskins will be major players during free agency this offseason. With a new coach, new general manager, an owner with a history of writing big checks and a roster ripe for change, the Redskins could be among the most aggressive teams, even though the pool of talent isn't considered especially deep.

Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan declined to discuss specific players, but the Redskins could find themselves attached to two of the biggest names available on the market, Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers and Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby. There are some Redskins officials who think Peppers will still be a strong pass rusher, and Peppers has expressed interest in playing for a 3-4 defense, a version of which Shanahan is expected to install. Dansby is an inside linebacker who already excels in the 3-4.

"Well, obviously I'm not going to go through our game plan for free agency," Shanahan said. "But we're going to do what we can."

Other unrestricted free agents that could pique Washington's interest include San Diego running back Darren Sproles, Green Bay left tackle Chad Clifton and Houston cornerback Dunta Robinson.

Veteran running backs Brian Westbrook and LaDanian Tomlinson are also looking for a new home. Having coached in the AFC West, Shanahan is especially familiar with Tomlinson, though many around the league don't believe the Redskins will pursue him.

"I know LT probably as good as anybody. He's a good friend," Shanahan said. "I've had a chance to get to know him through the years. Have the utmost respect for him."

The biggest dilemma facing teams this offseason will center on the large class of restricted free agents. If a new collective bargaining agreement isn't struck this week, 212 players who would normally be classified as unrestricted free agents will instead be restricted because they have less than six years of experience. That means there are fewer unrestricted free agents than usual and a lot more restricted.

Signing a restricted free agent is a tough proposition for many teams because they'd have to offer draft picks as compensation to the player's former team.

"I don't know how much movement there's gonna be," said Houston General Manager Rick Smith. "I think over the last 4 or 5 years, people have -- not that they didn't understand or realize it before -- but draft picks are at a premium these days. . . . I don't know if teams are going to be so forthcoming in giving up draft picks because I think everybody understands how valuable they are."

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