The Washington Redskins will not play a Monday night game next season but will participate in three prime-time, nationally televised contests, ending with an 8:30 p.m. meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday, Dec. 27 at FedEx Field to close their regular season.
The 2003 schedule released by the NFL yesterday gives the Redskins a tough early stretch. Their Sept. 4 matchup with the New York Jets in the league's opening game begins a run of seven games against teams that had records of .500 or better last season. But the Redskins play four of their first six games at home, and don't face any particularly taxing road trips.
The Redskins, meantime, should find out by Monday whether they will acquire kick returner Chad Morton. Arbitrator Richard Bloch conducted a hearing yesterday regarding the NFL Players Association's claim that the Jets improperly matched the Redskins' offer sheet last month to Morton, a restricted free agent. Bloch told the participants that he would make a ruling by Monday. The Redskins plan to try to sign safety Arturo Freeman, a restricted free agent from the Miami Dolphins, if they don't get Morton.
The Redskins will be without a Monday night appearance for the first time since 1999. But they will open the season on ABC with a 9 p.m. game against the Jets at FedEx Field, as the NFL kicks off its season on a Thursday night for a second straight year. The opener promises to be spirited after the Redskins spent the offseason creating tension between the teams by raiding the Jets' pantry, signing wide receiver Laveranues Coles, guard Randy Thomas and place kicker John Hall as free agents, and courting Morton.
The Redskins will play 8:30 p.m. games on ESPN at Miami on Nov. 23, a Sunday night, and against the Eagles in a Saturday night finale.
Their bye week comes after seven games, and they have only two games against playoff teams from last season following the bye -- on Dec. 7 on the road against the New York Giants and the Eagles finale -- after facing five playoff clubs in the first seven games. They don't have more than two straight road games, and don't have to travel west of Dallas. They play at Buffalo on Oct. 19 but get their other potentially frigid road game -- at Chicago -- on Dec. 21.
The union is seeking to have Morton, who ranked second in the AFC in kickoff returns last season, awarded to the Redskins. The Jets announced on March 13 that they were keeping Morton by matching the Redskins' five-year, nearly $8 million offer sheet. But the Jets, after consulting with the NFL's management council, did not match a provision in the offer to void the final two seasons of the contract. The union argued yesterday that the Jets did not properly match the offer sheet and Bloch should award Morton to the Redskins. The management council maintained that NFL rules do not require the Jets to match the voidable-years provision.
Bloch is required by NFL rules to make a decision within 10 days. The Redskins would owe the Jets their fifth-round draft choice if they get Morton. If not, they probably would try to complete an offer sheet with Freeman. The Redskins have begun contract talks with Freeman's agent, Drew Rosenhaus. The Dolphins would have seven days to match the offer. The Redskins would owe the Dolphins a fifth-round draft pick as compensation, and would make Freeman their starting strong safety if they get him.
The Redskins also are talking to Rosenhaus about another restricted free agent from the Dolphins, defensive tackle Jermaine Haley, but the Green Bay Packers also are attempting to sign him to an offer sheet. He would require a seventh-round pick as compensation. Defensive tackle Darius Holland, an unrestricted free agent who spent last season with the Minnesota Vikings and would require no draft-choice compensation, is scheduled to work out at Redskins Park today, along with a group of local college players eligible for this month's draft.