- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2000

Defensive end Bruce Smith paused long and hard yesterday when asked if he will play next season or if he will wait to see who the Washington Redskins' coach is.

Then Smith left the door wide open to retirement.

"Well, naturally," Smith said, smiling because he understood the gravity of his reply. "I'd like to know what I'm getting into." He paused again. "But I'll just wait and see. My plans right now are to come back. I feel that we're very close [to being a successful team]. We're extremely close."

Smith's uncertainty about 2001 marked the most intriguing reply when the question of retirement was posed to pertinent members of NFL's oldest team.

With the Redskins' season virtually over, personnel changes become key. After Washington's $100 million run at the Super Bowl ends Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, the salary cap will force the club to rework the contracts of, or release, several high-priced veterans and be wary of who retires.

The 37-year-old Smith, for example, would impact the club's salary cap significantly if he ended his celebrated career. He would consume $3.4 million of cap space if he retired, or $850,000 if he waited until after June 1 (with $2.55 million coming due in 2002).

Wide receiver Andre Reed confirmed Smith's doubt about 2001. Reed, who also is leaning toward retirement, talked about the future with Smith after the Dec. 10 loss at Dallas. The pair spent 15 seasons together in Buffalo before joining the Redskins this year.

"I don't want to speak for [Smith], but Bruce said he's going to think about some things too," Reed said.

The question of retirement wasn't the only one Smith answered with ambiguity. He assumed a similarly lukewarm tone when asked to endorse interim coach Terry Robiskie.

"That's management's decision," Smith said. "I have high regard for Terry. I think he's a wonderful coach, a fair individual. But what we want to do here is win football games. We want the right combination to win football games. Once again, I feel Terry is a fine coach, but there's more than just a head coach that's needed."

Smith pointed to special teams when he called for a shakeup, and he made a reference to "bad decisions" that kept the Redskins from being successful.

"It's funny, most games are won and lost even before the players touch the field, whether it be through bad decisions or things of that nature," Smith said. "There have to be some adjustments… . We have to identify the areas that we need help special teams and some other areas and we have to attack those issues aggressively. That will put us in a better position for next year."

Among all potential retirees, cornerback Deion Sanders threatens the most cap harm, though he recently said he will play at least one more season. Sanders, 33, who does weekday interviews only on Thursdays, would count $6.858 million if he retires: $1.143 million after June 1 against the 2001 cap and $5.715 million in 2002.

The 2001 salary cap is projected to be $67.4 million. The Redskins, with just 31 players under contract for next season, are scheduled to consume nearly $72.4 million and must get their top 51 players under the cap by March 2.

Cornerback Darrell Green, like Smith, Sanders and Reed a future Hall of Famer, danced around the question of retirement once again.

"I want to make an announcement, a special bulletin: I'll let you guys know what's happening [later]," Green said with a broad grin.

The 40-year-old expressed frustration about repeatedly having to discuss the subject, saying, "Why does everybody keep asking me if I'm going to come back? Did I not play that well? Why do we label people because of their age? I'll know when I can't play anymore."

Reed, 36, appears mystified that he was signed by the Redskins in Week 2 then barely used. His season was ended by a hamstring pull last Saturday at Pittsburgh with just 10 catches in 13 games.

"I was excited. I couldn't ask for a better situation than to come on this team," Reed said. "I never thought it would be this much of a downer."

Wide receiver Irving Fryar, 38, declined an interview request. Team sources say Fryar is expected to retire this offseason, a move that makes cap sense for Washington. Fryar counts just $200,000 if he retires; he would count $1 million or $1.45 million (depending on his performance Sunday) if he played the final year of his contract.

Offensive lineman Andy Heck, 33, expressed his desire to stay in no uncertain terms. Said the W.T. Woodson High School graduate: "I love the Redskins. I love the job, really. I wouldn't go anywhere else; this is my last stop. I'd like very much to come back and be a part of this."

Kicker Eddie Murray, the oldest Redskin at 44, believes the team should pursue a younger player to fill his role in the offseason. He hasn't decided whether he will stay in shape to take a shot at a 19th season, saying, "I still feel like I can help a team, but it would have to be the right type of situation… . Here, on the 20th of December, I can't tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to enjoy the holidays and see what happens."

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