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Redskins release Clinton Portis after seven memorable seasons in Washington

By Mike Jones
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; 2:28 AM

The Washington Redskins released running back Clinton Portis Monday, cutting ties with the second-leading rusher in franchise history and one of the few remaining veterans from the second Joe Gibbs era.

A nine-year veteran, Portis was coming off two straight seasons that were shortened by injuries and was owed $8.3 million for the coming season. Coach Mike Shanahan said Friday that the team didn't plan on retaining Portis if it meant paying him that much money.

In a statement issued by the team, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder praised Portis for his contributions over the last seven seasons, and wished him well.

"Clinton provided excitement from the very first time he touched the ball as a Redskin and we were lucky to witness every ounce of energy, effort and passion he has given ever since," Snyder said. "We have been through a lot both on and off of the field and we would like to wish him and his family the very best. He will always be a Redskin and go down as one of the franchise's all-time greats."

Portis's release didn't come as a surprise. Soon after he underwent season-ending surgery to repair a tear in a lower abdominal muscle, Portis said he suspected that his time in Washington might be drawing to an end. Monday, in an interview on WJFK (106.7 FM) with Washington Post columnist Mike Wise and host Holden Kushner, Portis said the move "was a decision that was best for the both of us." He said he looks forward to continuing his career with another team.

"In Washington, it's nothing left me to prove," said Portis, who in seven years as a Redskin rushed for 6,824 yards and 46 touchdowns. "It's not about the money for me at this stage in my career. It's about winning. I hope to help a team win rings, and that's what I'm looking forward to."

Portis hasn't played a full season since 2008, when he rushed for 1,487 yards and nine touchdowns. The following season, he suffered a concussion and missed the last eight games. This past season, Portis played in just five games. At 29, he has rushed for 9,923 yards, which ranks 26th on the NFL's career list, but objects to the idea that his days as a featured back are over.

"I think missing games the last two seasons provided me the opportunity to rest me up," Portis said. He later added: "I'll never do [a two-running back system]. I wouldn't adopt that mind-set."

Portis said the passion he now feels is something that he has been missing since Joe Gibbs retired from his second stint as Redskins coach after the 2007 season.

"I never seen nobody give up or with their head down with Coach Gibbs," Portis said. "As many close games as we played and came up short during his era, you can't say one time that we gave up. There was a passion and toughness amongst everybody on that field to fight until [time expired]."

Portis was Gibbs's first major acquisition during his coaching comeback, which began in 2004. Washington traded cornerback Champ Bailey to Denver to obtain Portis, who was coming off his second NFL season.

On his first carry in the season opener against Tampa Bay, Portis broke a run 64 yards for a touchdown.

"That first run he had will always stand out when you think of Clinton's biggest plays," said defensive end Phillip Daniels, whose first season also was in 2004. "He's had quite a few big runs, but that one stands out for me. . . . My family is close with his. Anybody that came in that 2004 class, you hate to see go. But it's a business, and Clinton understands that. He'll catch on somewhere else. He's still got some good ball in him. And there isn't a back in the league that plays as hard on third downs as Clinton."

Despite his production, Portis's off-field behavior was occasionally polarizing. He loathed the preseason and publicly criticized head coach Jim Zorn during his tenure. Portis also blamed the team's offensive line for the offense's struggles on more than one occasion.

He also was known for dressing up in costumes for weekly news conferences and adopting alter egos, which entertained some fans and teammates but bothered others.

Portis stands 684 yards shy of John Riggins's franchise rushing record. Portis has said that surpassing that mark meant more to him than anything other than winning a Super Bowl. But Monday he said the record wasn't as important as he thought it was; otherwise, he would re-sign with the Redskins for less and go after Riggins's record.

"If John Riggins is the only one you can say did more than me as a Redskins running back, then that's pretty good company," Portis said.

Former Redskins general manager and current CBS NFL analyst Charley Casserly agreed that Portis is in elite company among Redskins running backs.

"There have been some terrific backs: Larry Brown, Riggins, then Earnest Byner had a good run. There was Tony Allen and Stephen Davis and I think Portis is there with those guys in the modern era. I'd say [Portis] has Larry Brown, John Riggins ahead of him, and that's nothing to be ashamed of."

But Casserly wonders about Portis's future.

"He's lost his burst, which is understandable and comes with time and it would be doubtful that a lot of teams would have interest in him," Casserly said. "And at this point wherever he goes he'd be playing for the league minimum and I don't know why he would want to do that."

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