The Washington Redskins made a surprising move yesterday at the start of their bye week by releasing starting tight end Walter Rasby. The 10-year veteran was a priority in the offseason, when Washington flew him into Redskins Park on the first day of free agency, March 3, before eventually signing him to a three-year, $2.7 million deal.
Rasby -- who had been backed up by second-year veteran Robert Royal -- garnered a reputation as one of the league's better blocking tight ends, and was considered a good teammate. But Washington's running game had been stifled before tailback Clinton Portis produced one of the best games of his career -- amassing 171 yards on 36 carries -- Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Rasby struggled against right defensive end Alex Brown, who finished with six tackles and deflected one pass that was returned for a touchdown. The Redskins, whose pass protection has been a problem at times this season, have tweaked their running schemes. Some stunned players yesterday read the decision as a message to the sputtering offense. The team also re-signed veteran tight ends Fred Baxter and Brian Kozlowski.
Nonetheless, Redskins officials played down such talk.
"The move wasn't made based on any one game," Vinny Cerrato, Redskins vice president, said yesterday of Rasby's release. "There's a constant evaluation process for all the players, from practice to practice and game to game. We're always trying to upgrade the team."
Although Royal has played in all but one game this season, the re-acquisitions of Baxter and Kozlowski put the top spot up for grabs. Baxter, a 12-year veteran who has started 50 games, entered training camp competing with Royal to be Rasby's backup. But Baxter suffered a right knee sprain in Washington's second preseason game. He was released late in preseason largely because the injury cost him practice time. Baxter had dropped to third-string when he was waived. Before his injury, Baxter appeared to be Washington's best pass-blocking tight end. Dallas Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells considered signing Baxter after bringing him in for a recent workout.
"It feels good to be back," Baxter said before leaving Redskins Park yesterday. "Unfortunately, one of my best friends had to be released. That's the nature of our business. I'll be praying for him, hoping that everything works out for him and his family.
"I just wanted to come back and help the team with leadership or whatever I can do to help the team win. Fortunately, Dallas didn't sign me, because all the time my heart was here."
Cerrato said: "Baxter had an outstanding camp until he hurt his leg. When he was released, he missed time and he would have been behind to start the season. We've always been in touch, and followed his progress. We knew at some point he would be back."
Kozlowski was waived on Saturday to make room for kicker Ola Kimrin. The Redskins originally signed Kozlowski, an 11-year veteran, because of his versatility, including skills as a lead blocker. Kozlowski entered the preseason as a favorite to win the starting job at H-back and was expected to provide depth at tight end, where he has played for most of his NFL career. During preseason, Kozlowski was hampered by nagging injuries, and rookie Chris Cooley was named the starter with Mike Sellers as his backup. By the start of the regular season, Kozlowski dropped to third-string H-back.
Coach Joe Gibbs generally lines up two tight ends instead of one, as most other NFL teams do -- to help on runs and better protect the quarterback. The pure tight end lines up on the line of scrimmage and is primarily a blocker. The H-back, who mostly lines up off the line of scrimmage or in the backfield, is a hybrid tight end and fullback. Against Chicago, Washington used more three-wideout sets to create more space for Portis on run plays, and Sellers occasionally lined up as a wide receiver.
The Redskins also announced the release of reserve linebacker Brandon Barnes.