The Washington Redskins hope to sign former Pro Bowl fullback Larry Centers, NFL sources said yesterday. Club officials wanted to move quickly to bring about a reunion with Centers after he was released Thursday by the Buffalo Bills, for whom he played the past two seasons after being abruptly cut by then-Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer.
The Redskins continued working yesterday to try to finish a deal with free agent wide receiver Raghib Ismail. The team appeared on the verge early Thursday evening of reaching a contract agreement with Ismail. But the two sides were having trouble applying the finishing touches, and it was unclear last night whether a deal would be completed.
Even after acquiring wide receiver Laveranues Coles on Wednesday when the New York Jets declined to match a seven-year, $35 million offer sheet to the restricted free agent, the Redskins were staying busy. They had been waiting to see whether Centers, 34, would become available, and were prepared to begin their pursuit immediately when the Bills released him Thursday in a salary cap move. It was not clear last night, however, how far negotiations had progressed.
Centers played two seasons for the Redskins -- in 1999 and 2000 -- and was the team's leading receiver each year. He had 69 catches in '99 after being signed by the Redskins following his release by the Arizona Cardinals. He made a touchdown reception in overtime at San Francisco that season to clinch the NFC East title for the Redskins. His 81 catches in 2000 broke Joe Washington's single-season club record for receptions by a running back.
He was one of the team's locker-room leaders, and he seemed like an ideal fit for Schottenheimer's short-passing, ball-control offense. But the two clashed after owner Daniel Snyder hired Schottenheimer in January 2001 and turned over total control of the club's football operations to the coach. Schottenheimer released Centers in April 2001, just before the draft.
Sources said later that Snyder disagreed strongly with the move, and that decision was one of the key issues when Snyder fired Schottenheimer following the 2001 season when Schottenheimer refused to relinquish his control over personnel matters. Snyder had been instrumental in signing Centers in June 1999, recommending the move to then-general manager Charley Casserly. But Snyder allowed Schottenheimer to get rid of Centers because he had promised to permit the coach to be in complete control of football-related matters. Centers criticized Schottenheimer when he departed, but expressed fondness for the rest of the organization and the area.
Centers led the Bills with 80 receptions in 2001 to reach his third career Pro Bowl but plummeted to 43 catches last season, his fewest in a year since 1991. He has 808 career catches, the most by a running back in NFL history. Currently, the Redskins' fullbacks are Bryan Johnson and Rock Cartwright.
The Redskins had all but agreed to the financial terms of a contract Thursday with Ismail, sources said. But the sides were struggling to work out a contract structure that would adequately address the possibilities of Ismail, 33, getting hurt or retiring. The Redskins want Ismail to serve as their third receiver behind Coles and Rod Gardner. They renewed their pursuit of the veteran wideout last weekend after Ismail reconsidered his decision to retire. He was released by the Dallas Cowboys last month.