The Washington Redskins have opened contract negotiations with safety Arturo Freeman, a restricted free agent from the Miami Dolphins. He would become the Redskins' starter at strong safety if they're able to acquire him, and would cost the team a fifth-round draft choice as compensation.

The Redskins also are in talks with defensive tackle Jermaine Haley, another restricted free agent from the Dolphins who would require a seventh-round draft selection as compensation. But the Redskins have strong competition for Haley, a backup in Miami last season, with the Green Bay Packers also attempting to sign him to an offer sheet.

The discussions between the Redskins and agent Drew Rosenhaus regarding Freeman are in the early stages, NFL sources said last night. The Redskins probably would not complete an offer sheet with Freeman before the Chad Morton case is resolved. Arbitrator Richard Bloch is scheduled to hear arguments today on the NFL Players Association's claim that the New York Jets improperly matched the Redskins' five-year, nearly $8 million offer sheet to Morton, a kick returner who was a restricted free agent.

The union is asking the arbitrator to award Morton to the Redskins, who would then owe the Jets their fifth-round pick. Bloch has 10 days to make a ruling.

If the Redskins aren't awarded Morton and still have their fifth-round pick to use as potential compensation for Freeman, they likely would try to complete an offer sheet. The Dolphins then would have seven days to match the Redskins' offer. The New Orleans Saints also may have interest in Freeman, 26, who has spent three seasons with Miami and became a regular starter last season.

Haley, 30, backed up Miami's starting defensive tackles, Tim Bowens and Larry Chester, last season and would share playing time for the Redskins with Dan Wilkinson and Brandon Noble. He spent the past three seasons with the Dolphins after beginning his pro career with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League.