Cornerback Fred Smoot said yesterday that he is enthused by the progress of negotiations with the Washington Redskins on a contract extension and hopes to play his entire career with the team. Smoot is eligible for free agency after this season, but he and the Redskins are working toward getting a deal done soon.
"We've been talking," Smoot said. "I just keep everything to myself, but we're negotiating. It's under way."
Smoot is having a Pro Bowl-type season and has been identified by coach and team president Joe Gibbs as one of a core group of veterans whom the franchise must build around. Gibbs has praised Smoot's performance and willingness to play through pain repeatedly this season and said that he does not want to allow the 25-year-old to leave Washington as a free agent. "He's not free," Gibbs said jokingly.
Smoot, who is in the final year of a four-year, $2.8 million contract he signed as a rookie in 2001, said both sides are hoping to get a new deal done before the end of the season. He said he has no desire to test the market in the offseason.
Smoot's agent, James Cook, said he has had a series of conversations with Eric Schaffer, the team's salary-cap manager, and the sides will continue to speak over the phone with no face-to-face talks scheduled. Cook said he was pleased with the progress thus far. "Mr. [Dan] Snyder has expressed an interest that he wants to keep Fred and Fred would like to stay in Washington. We've been talking and it's been a nice negotiation so far. We'll do our best to get something worked out."
Vinny Cerrato, Washington's vice president of football operations, declined to comment on any aspect of the negotiations.
"I think that would be good for them," Smoot said when asked about re-signing during the season. "I'm sure they don't want me to get to the free-agent market and have to compare with people and battle with people. I'm sure we want to get it done before [the end of] the season. . . . And like I told them, I want to have my golden years here. If I'm going to win in the NFL, I want to win as a Redskin."
Smoot indicated talks with the Redskins have been smooth. He said both parties have had similar philosophies about the contract and are working toward a resolution.
"It ain't one of them battles where we're in two different places," Smoot said. "We're on the same frequency right now, and hopefully it will get done."
Smoot, who was selected 45th overall out of Mississippi State, has improved his play with the trade of Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey to Denver before the season and has formed a top tandem with cornerback Shawn Springs. Last season, Smoot played 15 games during a losing season despite a painful sternum injury. This season he has played with shoulder pain, including Sunday in a 28-14 loss to Green Bay, when he made an interception late in the game after falling hard earlier on his shoulder and neck.
"Most people wouldn't be playing right now [with those injuries]," Gibbs said. "He's very talented. I think he's one of those guys who likes being out there, loves the whole thing. He's got a great attitude every day. . . . He's just been, for me, I think somebody who is a real Redskin and is our kind of a guy and a big part of the team. He's got great humor and adds to the locker room from that standpoint, and I think he's a leader by the way he plays."
The price for Smoot figures to be steep. Bailey signed a six-year, $63 million deal with Denver before the season that included a signing bonus worth about $18 million. Baltimore's Chris McAlister, another top cornerback, signed a seven-year contract extension last month worth $55 million, including $17.5 million in bonuses. While Smoot has yet to earn a Pro Bowl berth, he is expected to command a salary in the range of Bailey and McAlister. Cook said Bailey's contract is somewhat of an anomaly given his stature. "I don't know if we can get that kind of deal," Cook said.
Smoot's package is likely to fall between the six-year, $30 million contract Springs signed with the Redskins and the deal signed by McAlister.
Smoot has played 52 games for Washington, with 15 interceptions and one career touchdown. He has greatly improved his tackling technique this season and has played well against the pass and the run. While the franchise has compiled a 22-33 record during Smoot's tenure and endured a series of coaching and personnel changes, he aims to be a career Redskin.
"I love D.C., man," Smoot said. "I love the people. Nobody's got the fans we've got. Regardless of what the record is and who we're playing our fans are going to be there, and just the city, I just love the surroundings. I love everything."