- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2000

A cool $38.05 million fluttered out of the checkbook of Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder during the offseason and into the wallets of free agents and two top draft picks.

That cash represented just signing bonuses not a penny in salaries and only players who didn't play for the Redskins in 1999. It was a tremendous, and tremendously controversial, amount of coin to drop.

The payouts ranged from the piddling ($50,000 to veteran guard Jay Leeuwenburg) to the exorbitant ($10.75 million to rookie linebacker LaVar Arrington), who didn't even accept the offer until Snyder personally threatened to start reducing it in $100,000 increments.

So far Snyder's outlay has yielded six starters and one reserve, as well as a 6-2 mark for his team at midseason. Did he, with a record payroll approaching $100 million, spend wisely? The Washington Times takes a day to play Consumer Reports, ranking the seven offseason pickups in the order each appears to have earned his signing bonus.

• Leeuwenburg, 31, undoubtedly was Washington's best bargain, getting $50,000 on a one-year deal. He started in the season opener for suspended Tre Johnson and again after the Pro Bowl guard had suffered a season-ending knee injury Oct. 1. Leeuwenburg would be a bargain at up to $500,000, let alone a dirt-cheap one-tenth of that.

At 302 pounds, Leeuwenburg does not dominate like the 326-pound Johnson, who was one of the strongest Redskins and quickest at his position. But Leeuwenburg's sound technique has solidified the line and supported the widely held belief that interior O-linemen are more expendable than tackles.

Running back Stephen Davis leads the NFL with 802 rushing yards, even though Johnson and center Cory Raymer are out for the season, and left guard Keith Sims is hobbled by Achilles' tendinitis. In addition, Brad Johnson has been sacked just 12 times on pace for nearly a third less than last season, when the line lowered its sack total from 61 to 31.

• Defensive end Bruce Smith, 37, got $4.25 million to sign a five-year deal many believed was too rich for a 16th-year veteran. But he has proved them wrong, demonstrating why he will be a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee.

Smith has recorded five sacks, including an acrobatic one Sunday in which he leaped over a running back and dragged down Jacksonville's Mark Brunell. More impressively, Smith has proved a stiff run defender, and his efforts on the right side have helped left end Marco Coleman rack up a career-high nine sacks.

• Rookie offensive tackle Chris Samuels, 23, accepted a hefty $10 million to sign his seven-year contract, but the draft's third overall pick has met expectations. He and second-year right tackle Jon Jansen have created continuity in a shuffling group, and they appear headed for a long career as bookends of the line.

Samuels has surrendered just three sacks despite facing defensive ends like Tony Brackens, Hugh Douglas, Michael McCrary and Tracy Scroggins. Samuels overcame a bruised knee in the Oct. 8 game at Philadelphia, missing only part of a series that day and returning the next week for an outstanding game against the Baltimore Ravens.

• Free safety Mark Carrier, 32, signed a five-year pact and got $3 million up front not a ton of money, relatively speaking and the 11th-year veteran has proved valuable as the last line of defense.

Redskins opponents have just four plays of 35 or more yards, after having 12 in the first half of 1999 with Leomont Evans at free safety. Carrier also has been effective as a run-stopper, allowing the Redskins to disguise schemes instead of always sending strong safety Sam Shade into the box.

• Backup quarterback Jeff George, 32, received $2 million in a four-year deal. He hasn't played, but he did a good job ignoring the early quarterback controversy, and he should be the 2001 starter because Johnson has broken off talks on an extension. George's bonus was an expensive insurance policy, but it may still pay off, and it's a pittance if he ends up starting next season.

• Cornerback Deion Sanders, 33, was overpaid when he got $8 million, part of a seven-year deal that makes him unaffordable the final four seasons if not earlier. Sanders remains solid with a flair for the big play, whether on defense or as a punt returner. But Champ Bailey is this team's best corner, and James Thrash now is the primary punt returner.

Sanders' cap figure rises above $7 million in 2002, when he will be 35. He will have to renegotiate or be released, and releasing him before June 1, 2002, will trigger a cap hit of nearly $7 million. Prime Time remains a good player, even showing tackling prowess at times, but he simply wasn't worth the money.

• Arrington, 22, was paid the most misspent bonus, part of a seven-year contract. The draft's second overall pick still has time to overcome his slow start, and some of his struggles can be blamed on missed time this summer. He didn't even start until Week 4. But he got $10.75 million, the largest signing bonus ever given to a rookie. So far he has given the Redskins one sack (for 1 yard), a couple of hard hits and some botched pass coverages.

So what did Snyder get for his $38.05 million? A tropical island? A penthouse in Manhattan? No. He got an exciting group of players, one that has made his team the buzz of the NFL. And he got several bargains, with Leeuwenburg and Smith heading the group.

But it also appears Snyder overspent on Sanders and, for now, Arrington. Just how much money he wasted will be revealed in the second half of the season, as well as when the salary cap comes calling in 2001 and beyond.

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