The Washington Redskins say final decisions may not be made until just before Friday's 5 p.m. deadline, but based on conversations with team officials and an examination of the 61-player roster, it's clear that veterans Mark May and Russ Grimm and perhaps Darryl Grant and Monte Coleman may not be protected in the third year of the NFL's Plan B free agency.
Coach Joe Gibbs, General Manager Charley Casserly and their staffs will begin two days of meetings today to come up with their final lists. But one look at their roster makes it clear the Redskins are prepared to say goodbye to May and Grimm, and to several others, including punter Kelly Goodburn, quarterback Jeff Rutledge, wide receivers Joe Howard, Stephen Hobbs and Walter Stanley and possibly middle linebacker Greg Manusky.
Each team is required to submit a 37-man protected list to the NFL on Friday. The Redskins' list will include obvious players such as quarterbacks Mark Rypien and Stan Humphries and Pro Bowlers Darrell Green and Jim Lachey.
It will also include some highly regarded young players who didn't play last season such as quarterback Cary Conklin and offensive lineman Mo Elewonibi.
Every player not on the protected list is an unrestricted free agent during February and March. Each can field offers for up to eight weeks, deciding to accept the new offer and change teams or to stay under the terms of his current contract.
"It's like starting over every year," Giants Coach Bill Parcells said Monday in the wake of winning Super Bowl XXV. "At the end of the week, I'll look at the roster and say, 'Ohmigod, I've only got 37 players.' That's the way you have to look at it."
That's the way the Redskins are looking at it.
"You don't want to lose anyone," Casserly said. "But you go into this thing knowing you're going to lose players. You know that. At the same time, you hope to sign some guys that'll help you."
The Redskins have been one of the NFL's most active teams in Plan B, having signed 15 players in 1989 and 12 last year. They've worked harder at it than other teams, and while almost never drafting before late in the second round, they thank their lucky stars for getting cornerback Martin Mayhew and defensive end Fred Stokes in that first Plan B class.
Last year, seven of their 12 Plan B signees made the team and safety Brad Edwards, tight end Ron Middleton and pass-rusher Jumpy Geathers are prominently in their plans for next season.
At the same time, the Redskins have lost 18 players, the most prominent being Joe Mickles, Jamie Morris and Lybrant Robinson.
However, every year is nerve-wracking for both the players, who don't often know what being unprotected means, and for the front office staff, which doesn't know how many players they stand to lose.
At the moment, the Redskins are meeting daily to come up with a final list. They have preliminary lists and Casserly said: "You have to anticipate the worst. If you leave a guy off you have to be prepared to lose him unless you sit down with him and he tells you he's not going anywhere."
That's why over the next two days, Casserly and Gibbs may be sitting down with several veterans and asking them about how they'd feel about being left unprotected. Grant and Coleman are among several players the Redskins would like back, but would leave unprotected under some circumstances.
May is different. He's a 10-year veteran and didn't play last season after undergong major knee surgery. It's clear he'll be left unprotected so that spots can be saved for the new generation of Hogs -- Raleigh McKenzie, Mark Schlereth and others. He was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Grimm is another. Gibbs considers him a coach on the field, but his role for next season is unclear. He'll probably be a backup at several positions, but it's possible another team could want him to play full time. He was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Offensive linemen are the most coveted Plan B commodities and the Redskins also face tough decisions in possibly letting little-used veterans Ray Brown and Mark Adickes unprotected. But to protect one of them, they have to steal from another position.
That would seem to go against Casserly's philosophy that he should be prepared to lose everyone he leaves unprotected. They also remember their playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers when injuries to Ed Simmons and Joe Jacoby forced Brown into the game. He played very decently and the Redskins were reminded why they risked waiving a player at another position to keep Brown on the roster.
Another problem is in the defensive backfield, where the Redskins would like to protect six players, but probably can afford only five. That means one of their free safeties, Todd Bowles or Edwards, will be unprotected.
Bowles started every game, but he returned after being unprotected two years ago. The Redskins got Edwards from Minnesota and they had to outbid 14 other teams for his services. He's highly regarded inside the organization and likely will get the nod over Bowles.
There are other, easier decisions. One is at quarterback where veteran Rutledge, a Plan B signee last year, won't be protected, but Gibbs would like for him to come to camp and compete with Conklin for the No. 3 spot.
Special-teamer John Brandes probably won't be protected, but the Redskins will tell him they want him back next season unless he gets a better offer from someone else.
Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders will be protected. Hobbs and Howard won't be, but the Redskins want them back. Stanley probably won't be protected. He was a Plan B free agent last season and signed a three-year, $1.476 million contract. His base salary is $425,000 next season, and if no one tops that, he'll be back with the Redskins.
The defensive line will also be an area of decisions, with either Grant or Geathers likely to be unprotected. Grant's performance declined somewhat this past season, and at 31, he's not likely to have his estimated $450,000 salary topped. But some in the organization will argue to protect him out of respect for his 10 years and the enormous respect in which he's held in their locker room.