Nose tackle Joe Salave'a arrived at Redskins Park by 11 a.m. yesterday, grimly walking into the training facility with his playbook. It was an ominous sign, since the Redskins were in the midst of releasing 14 players in anticipation of tomorrow's deadline for reducing the roster to 65. Salave'a departed the training facility an hour later, carrying several boxes of sneakers. When the sixth-year veteran was approached by reporters suspecting his release, Salave'a said he wasn't going anywhere.
"You guys know something I don't know?" Salave'a said, chuckling.
Others -- most notably veteran linebacker Kevin Mitchell and wide receiver Cliff Russell -- got the news they were no longer part of the team's plans.
Coach Joe Gibbs and Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, have made some surprising releases, starting with middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter over the summer. But none among yesterday's slew of roster casualties was surprised by the club's decisions.
"I've been expecting it the way things have been going," Mitchell, a 10-year veteran, said yesterday after handing in his playbook. "It kind of prepared me for it."
Mitchell -- who played in Washington the past four seasons -- started preseason as the backup to middle linebacker Mike Barrow. Mitchell had dropped to third string behind Antonio Pierce by the second preseason game.
"I wish I could have been here," Mitchell said, "because I think there are going to be some good things that happen this year."
One factor in Mitchell's release is that he lacked the speed that Williams prefers in his linebackers. Mitchell, 33, enjoyed his best season in 2001, when he posted a career-high 82 tackles.
Mitchell was uncertain whether he will continue his NFL career, saying he intends to spend time with his wife, Denise, and 1-year-old son, Jonathan. He and his wife are also expecting a baby girl in January.
"I've been doing football for a long time," said Mitchell, who this offseason signed a one-year contract worth the league minimum $785,000, including a $25,000 bonus. "I just need to take a day or two to relax and chill out with the family."
The Redskins delayed revealing an official list of released players until today because a few couldn't be contacted. "We want to make sure they hear it from us," Gibbs said.
As is customary in the league, the team attempted to trade some of its roster cuts before they were officially released. According to sources, the Redskins tried to move Mitchell to the Seattle Seahawks, who have lost middle linebacker Chad Brown for four games. Another player the Redskins first tried to trade was punter Kevin Stemke, sources said.
Russell received the bad news at 1 p.m. after departing church in Sterling, by retrieving a voice mail from Redskins scout Mike Kelly.
"One man's trash could be another person's treasure," said Russell, a third-round pick in the 2002 draft who missed his entire first season with a knee injury and was inactive for 13 games last year. "I still feel very hungry to play football. There's no hard feelings toward the Redskins. I'm very thankful. They've been very patient with me throughout all the injuries I've had."
Russell had a slim chance to make the roster, especially with the receiving corps being the team's deepest unit. Russell's chances also were hurt by a hamstring injury during camp.
Mitchell and Russell were no different than the other cuts who arrived yesterday with their playbook and departed with black plastic bags filled with belongings. Among the other players released were defensive back Ryan Clark, defensive tackle Nic Clemons, wide receiver Scott Cloman, cornerback Michael Hall, nose tackle Norman Heuer, wideout John Standeford, linebacker Bill Strother and defensive lineman Greg White.
By tomorrow at 4 p.m., Washington must reduce its 90-man training-camp roster to 65, not including 11 exemptions for NFL Europe. The roster must be set at 53 by Sept. 5, not including an eight-man practice squad.
Gibbs has evaluated players during four weeks of training camp and four preseason games. In Friday's 28-3 drubbing by the St. Louis Rams, the Redskins gave significant time to players on the bubble. The most difficult decisions will occur next week when Gibbs must cut key players in competitions among reserve tailbacks and H-backs. But Gibbs viewed the first cuts as excruciating as the final ones.
"I hate the process," Gibbs said last night before leaving Redskins Park. "We've got guys that have worked [their] guts out. To me, that's the worst part of what we do."
Redskins Notes: Defensive end Phillip Daniels (abdominal strain) intends to make his preseason debut in the finale Friday against the Atlanta Falcons. "I hope I can get in the game to get some contact before the season starts," Daniels said. . . . After hurting his neck in a freak accident lifting weights last week, right guard Randy Thomas isn't certain he will practice today, but expects to play Friday.