By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 6, 2010; D01
In a stark departure from recent team history, the Washington Redskins began free agency Friday not with a bang and not with a whimper but with a new slow, methodical approach to roster-building that caught many fans and others around the NFL off guard.
Last March, Day One of free agency included a pre-dawn $100 million contract and a late afternoon news conference to introduce a new defensive tackle. A year later, the Redskins were busy behind the scenes but failed to make ESPN's crawl with any blockbuster deals.
The team did manage to sign four of its own unrestricted free agents and host two free agent offensive linemen, but no new names were added to the roster.
"We're going to keep looking into free agency to find more and more depth for competition at every position," General Manager Bruce Allen said during an afternoon appearance on ESPN 980, which is owned by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.
While Allen wouldn't disclose the team's free agency priorities, the first players to visit Redskins Park seem to reveal that Allen and Coach Mike Shanahan plan to address the team's offensive line.
The Redskins hosted Green Bay tackle Chad Clifton and San Francisco's Tony Pashos on Friday, but neither signed a contract before leaving. On Friday evening, Clifton agreed to remain with the Packers, reportedly for $20 million over three years. Pashos, a right tackle, had dinner with Shanahan on Friday night and continued talking with the team into the night.
Though in the days preceding free agency, almost every big-name free agent had been linked to the Redskins in media reports, by Friday evening it was clear the team would instead focus on many of the secondary players on the market. Though some in the organization were high on Julius Peppers, Allen said the former Carolina defensive end was not in Washington's plans. Peppers instead signed a $40 million contract with the Chicago Bears.
"It's very clever how all these rumors start," Allen said during the radio appearance. "So we just smile about them and let them go."
Even as Peppers quickly disappeared off the market and Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby later reportedly signed with Miami for $43 million over five years, the Redskins still have their sights set on a defensive playmaker.
Washington scheduled a visit with Detroit linebacker Larry Foote for Monday at Redskins Park. Foote started 14 games for the Lions last season and formerly played in Pittsburgh in the Steelers' successful 3-4 defense under Lou Spanos, the Redskins' new linebackers coach. Foote is also expected to visit Arizona.
Though the Redskins' maneuvering Friday was anything but flashy, after only a day of free agency, the team already appears committed to a diligent search to replace six-time Pro Bowler Chris Samuels, who retired Thursday and left Washington with a huge roster hole.
"You've got to fix the offensive line," said ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth, a former Washington lineman who also played under Shanahan in Denver. "That's your number one priority. Mike Shanahan knows this better than anybody.
"You've got to have a legit left tackle if you're going to be successful in this league," he continued. "It's paramount. To me, it's quarterback, then left tackle -- two most important players on offense."
Though the Redskins missed out on Clifton, Pashos, 29, is still a strong possibility for the right tackle spot. Pashos played under Washington offensive line coach Chris Foerster in San Francisco and Baltimore.
In recent weeks, it seemed the 49ers were getting close to working out a deal that would keep Pashos in San Francisco, but the 326-pound lineman is now entertaining other offers and could even visit other teams after the Redskins.
"I think Tony had some familiarity with Chris Foerster," 49ers Coach Mike Singletary said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "But I talked with Tony, and Tony feels comfortable about what we're doing."
League sources indicated Artis Hicks, a 31-year-old free agent guard from Minnesota, is also planning to visit Washington, and a league source said the Redskins have had discussions with defensive end Jason Babin, an unrestricted free agent who spent last season with Philadelphia.
Internet reports linked the Redskins with free agent quarterback Rex Grossman, who played under Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan last year in Houston. The Redskins released Todd Collins on Thursday and will need to add at least one quarterback.
"We're going to schedule a lot of visits with players," Allen said. "And when you visit with a player it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to make him an offer."
The team's moves on Friday involved players who were on the roster last season. The Redskins re-signed center Casey Rabach, offensive lineman Mike Williams and defensive mainstays Phillip Daniels and Lorenzo Alexander.
Daniels received a $250,000 signing bonus and will have a salary of $912,000 in 2010 and $1 million in 2011. "It's a good deal," Daniels said. "They showed me that they want me back."
Williams had not played a down since 2006 before shedding weight, returning to football and joining the Redskins a year ago. He battled injuries but appeared in eight games last season with varying success.
"We believe that he's only scratched the surface of his abilities so far, and look forward to seeing what he can do after a full offseason in our program," Shanahan said in a release.
Alexander, who is expected to make the switch to outside linebacker under Shanahan's new defense, signed a three-year contract that could be worth $3.8 million.
Alexander said, "It's just great that I'm going to be a part of getting us back on the right track as far as winning games, getting back to the playoffs and giving the fans of D.C. what they deserve."