Right tackle Jon Jansen signed his six-year, $25 million contract extension with the Washington Redskins yesterday and said he decided Wednesday to remain with his original NFL team -- passing up a chance to be a free agent after the season -- because he feels that better times are ahead for the struggling club.
"I got to thinking about the guys we have on this team," Jansen said at Redskins Park after practice. "We have a young quarterback who's coming along. Chris Samuels is young in his career, and I'm proud to be part of that tandem. Champ Bailey, LaVar Arrington -- we have a core of young players we can build around."
The Redskins now will focus on trying to sign another potential unrestricted free agent, defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, to an extension. But as they sort through the rubble of their disappointing season and look for signs that they can improve next year, the Redskins were convinced they took an important step at midday yesterday when Jansen applied his signature to the deal that team officials had completed with agent Rick Smith less than 24 hours earlier.
"We're extremely pleased to be able to sign one of our core players who exemplifies the Redskin personality, both on and off the field," said Joe Mendes, the Redskins' vice president of football operations. "Jon Jansen is a Redskin 365 days a year. He never misses a workout and has yet to miss a game. It's important for this organization to identify and ultimately reward that type of a player."
The deal contains an $8 million signing bonus and makes Jansen, a fourth-year pro, the fourth-highest-paid right tackle in the NFL, behind Philadelphia's Jon Runyan, Denver's Matt Lepsis and Cincinnati's Willie Anderson. Redskins players applauded the move.
"It's big news to keep a guy like that," said Bailey, the cornerback who was selected to his third Pro Bowl yesterday. "We need to keep guys like that. He's a quality player, a big-time player in this league. He's worth every penny."
Said Samuels, the team's left tackle: "I'm excited about it. Jon is a hard worker, a great player and a leader on this team. We've been around each other for a while, and we're comfortable with each other. If we can keep us together for a while, we can do some good things here. We're starting with the foundation."
The Redskins will likely overhaul their offense, which has sputtered in Coach Steve Spurrier's first season as an NFL head coach, in the offseason. But now they know they will keep Jansen and Samuels to anchor their offensive line, and that should be a major boost to the development of rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey.
"I couldn't be happier," Ramsey said. "He's worked his butt off, and he's a great player and a great guy. He deserves it. He's played so hard and so consistently. He's a pivotal part of this team. I definitely have selfish motives."
Jansen said it was "no fun" enduring the ups and downs of negotiations this season as he tried to focus on his play. Talks had broken off in late October, and Jansen said yesterday: "For most of the year, I didn't see it working out."
But the sides stayed at it, and found a middle ground that each could live with. Since the offseason, Mendes has preached to other Redskins officials about staying disciplined and spending wisely, and the Redskins did not increase the overall value of their offer to Jansen much. But they agreed to restructure their proposal and increase the signing bonus, and Smith credited Redskins owner Daniel Snyder for seeing to it that the agreement got done.
"We had a tough negotiation," the agent said. "At the end of the day, Mr. Snyder stepped up and rewarded Jon, and Jon took himself off the market. In terms of character and loyalty, Jon is a throwback."
Jansen was only a week and a half away from qualifying for unrestricted free agency in March. But he passed up the open market to stay with the team that drafted him.
"I'm happy that it's done before the end of the year," Jansen said. "We don't have to have any indecision leading up to March and free agency. I'm happy to be staying here. . . . I'm a football player, period. I sometimes wish I could have played 25 or 30 years ago, when the decisions were a lot easier. But obviously it's nice to play now because the money is so good. . . . If I had gone to free agency, maybe I would have made more, maybe not. But that's not my concern."
The Redskins believe they have solid building blocks in place. Jansen is 26. Samuels is 25. Arrington, the linebacker who was selected to his second straight Pro Bowl yesterday, is 24, and now all three are locked up in long-term contracts. Ramsey has taken over as the starting quarterback at 23 and has provided glimpses of his strong arm, toughness and leadership. Bailey, 24, has one season remaining on his contract, and signing him to an extension will be a top priority as next season approaches.
But little has worked out as the Redskins have scripted in recent years, with a 5-9 record this season and one playoff appearance since former coach Joe Gibbs's departure after the 1992 season. Now they must fill in around that nucleus of players, and the Jansen deal gives them salary cap flexibility to shop in the offseason.
The Redskins also avoided using their transition player tag to restrict Jansen's mobility on the free agent market, leaving them free to use the label on Gardener. As with Jansen, though, the Redskins' preference would be to work out a deal.
"I'm not going anywhere," Gardener said.