The Washington Redskins released Chad Morton yesterday just two seasons after making him one of the highest-paid return specialists in the NFL. Morton, 28, missed most of last season with a torn knee ligament and had not been cleared to play at the time he was let go.
The Redskins signed Morton to a five-year, $7.8 million contract, including a $2.5 million signing bonus, as a free agent in 2003. Morton's signing was part of the team's strategy to target younger, restricted free agents that offseason, a tactic that has largely failed. Releasing Morton will save the team a modest $534,000 on its 2005 salary cap -- Washington is now about $2 million under the cap -- but he will still count $1 million against its 2006 cap.
The Redskins also signed restricted free agent wide receiver Laveranues Coles to a seven-year, $35 million contract in 2003, including a $13 million signing bonus. They traded him back to the New York Jets for receiver Santana Moss earlier this offseason, with Coles still counting $9 million against the Redskins' 2005 cap.
Washington signed Morton to energize a stagnant special teams unit, but he provided only modest dividends, returning one kickoff for a touchdown in 2003. He got off to a slow start last season and the trio of Antonio Brown, James Thrash and Ladell Betts performed adequately after Morton injured his knee in the seventh game of the year. The Redskins have also been pursuing free agent R.W. McQuarters, an accomplished return man, making it clear that Morton's time in Washington was limited.
Morton was originally drafted in the fifth round by New Orleans in 2000 after attending the University of Southern California. He played running back as well, but was used primarily as a returner in Washington. His brother, Johnnie, a wide receiver, was cut by Kansas City on Thursday for salary cap purposes and could interest the Redskins on the free agent market.
-- Jason La Canfora