The Washington Redskins continued to snatch up practically every free agent in sight, making a pair of key acquisitions yesterday by reaching contract agreements with quarterback Rob Johnson and place kicker John Hall.
Johnson agreed to a deal worth approximately $1 million per season for two years, and is slated to back up Patrick Ramsey next season. The former Buffalo Bills starter backed up Brad Johnson for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. Hall, a member of the New York Jets the past six seasons, agreed to a five-year contract worth about $1.5 million per season and could give the Redskins their most reliable kicker in a decade or so.
Earlier in the day, the Redskins bolstered the depth on their offensive line by agreeing to deals with a pair of free agent guards, retaining Tre Johnson and adding Lennie Friedman from the Denver Broncos. They are penciled in to back up just-signed starting guards Randy Thomas and Dave Fiore. Friedman also can play center and perhaps could push starter Larry Moore for playing time at some point.
The Redskins made nine additions in the first three days of the NFL's trading and free agent signing period. They traded for running back Trung Canidate and acquired eight free agents -- Fiore, Thomas, Tre Johnson, Friedman, Hall, Rob Johnson and defensive linemen Brandon Noble and Regan Upshaw.
Club officials remain hopeful of signing free agent wide receiver Raghib Ismail in the coming days but seem resigned to losing free agent wideout Jermaine Lewis, a prospective kick returner, to another team. If so, he would be the first of the free agents originally targeted by the Redskins to sign elsewhere. As they had expected by late Saturday, the Redskins lost out on free agent wide receiver Ike Hilliard when he re-signed with the New York Giants yesterday. Defensive tackle Daryl Gardener's departure from the Redskins probably is about to become official. He was in Denver yesterday, and NFL sources said he was prepared to sign with the Broncos.
The Redskins beat out the Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys in the bidding for Rob Johnson, who turns 30 this month. The signing all but ensures that the Redskins will part ways with free agent quarterbacks Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews, as team officials have planned since the beginning of the offseason. Coach Steve Spurrier has said that he wants one veteran and one youngster behind Ramsey, the first-round draft choice last April who has been named next season's starter by Spurrier.
The Redskins wanted Johnson because they felt he would accept his role and could be depended upon if he is needed as a fill-in starter. After beginning his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars for three seasons, he made 26 starts in four seasons in Buffalo and endured an often-fierce quarterback competition with Doug Flutie. He did not prove to be the long-term answer for the Bills, however, and could not take the starting job in Tampa from Brad Johnson when Buccaneers Coach Jon Gruden put the position up for grabs entering last season.
"He enjoyed his time with Jon Gruden quite a bit," said Johnson's agent, David Dunn. "He saw the chance to work with another offensive genius to be something he did not want to pass up."
Hall, who turns 29 this month, connected on 149 of 203 field goal attempts and 205 of 210 extra points during his Jets tenure. He is big -- he is listed at 6 feet 3 and 228 pounds -- and powerful, and is renowned for his deep kickoffs.
"The thing that set him apart is that he's good on kickoffs and good on field goals," said Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins' director of player personnel. "He's kicked in poor conditions, and he's made a lot of big field goals in his career."
The Redskins went through three kickers -- Brett Conway, James Tuthill and Jose Cortez -- last season and have had 10 kickers attempt a field goal in the eight seasons since Chip Lohmiller's seven-year run with the team ended in 1994. The Redskins wanted to upgrade last season's shaky special teams and did not want to be undone by unreliable kicking like they were in the 2000 season -- the last time owner Daniel Snyder, Cerrato and Joe Mendes, now the club's vice president of football operations, oversaw an attention-grabbing offseason shopping spree.
Tre Johnson and Friedman apparently agreed to one-year contracts. Johnson signed with the Redskins last year at midseason and received substantial playing time, but never was in sufficient shape to be a full-time player.
Redskins Notes: Canidate is scheduled to be at Redskins Park today after attending a family member's funeral over the weekend. . . . Sources said the Redskins are leaning strongly toward retaining veteran defensive end Bruce Smith and using him as a pass-rush specialist. Upshaw is slated to take over as the starter at right end.