- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

Washington Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer said yesterday he views Tony Banks as the club's most likely long-term solution at quarterback. But if that scenario fails, the options in free agency next spring are expected to be extremely limited.

The Chicago Bears' Jim Miller is the only other current starter in the final year of his contract, and the Bears are talking to Miller about an extension. Otherwise, the quarterback market is far different from last offseason, when Brad Johnson, Elvis Grbac, Doug Flutie, Trent Green and Trent Dilfer were available.

Banks was elevated Wednesday when Jeff George was released. But having lost starting jobs with the Baltimore Ravens and the Dallas Cowboys in the past year, Banks must prove that he is a true NFL starter and that he can succeed in Schottenheimer's ball-control offense. Many observers think Banks' talents, like George's, are more suited to a risky, big-play attack.

If Banks fails, the Redskins' chances of landing a proven quarterback are slim. They could trade for the New Orleans Saints' Jeff Blake, a highly paid backup now that Aaron Brooks has emerged. They might have a shot at the New York Jets' Vinny Testaverde, whose contract calls for his $9 million salary in 2003 to be guaranteed if he is on the roster next June 4. But there is a good chance Testaverde will rework that deal. The contact of Miami's Jay Fiedler is set to void at season's end, but the Dolphins will retain the right of first refusal.

Or Washington could try to sign someone like Gus Frerotte, the current Denver Broncos backup whom the club ignored this past offseason. Other backups whose contracts expire include Cincinnati's Scott Mitchell and Seattle's Dilfer. Quarterbacks who could be cut include Cincinnati's Akili Smith, Denver's Steve Beuerlein (currently injured), Detroit's Charlie Batch and Miami's Cade McNown. And currently available are Ryan Leaf and Jim Harbaugh.

Hampering the Redskins' efforts in that limited market will be the expansion Houston Texans, who begin play next season.

It's unlikely that Schottenheimer would select a quarterback in the draft, especially a franchise-type player in the first round. The coach spent a fourth-round pick on Sage Rosenfels in April and believes that he could be the long-term solution.

Asked if Rosenfels could start next season, Schottenheimer replied, "I think it depends on who he's competing with. And I'm reluctant to sell a guy short." The coach conceded Rosenfels "obviously needs a lot of time," but later added, "I think Sage has got a very, very bright future, particularly because of his intelligence and his work ethic."

At this point, Banks is long-term option No. 1. Schottenheimer believes the Redskins were lucky that Banks was cut the week they got serious about signing a veteran backup.

"I like the upside of Tony," Schottenheimer said. "I've been impressed with him as a person. I think what's happened is there's probably been a maturing process that's taken place over the last couple of years since he was in St. Louis [from 1996 to 1998 as a second-round draft pick]. He's a very skilled player for the position. He's bright. He has a very good arm. He has very good mobility.

"He lacks, in our system right now, familiarity. And anybody that thinks he's going to come in and set the house on fire on Sunday is probably going to be disappointed. But he's got a lot of very positive upside, if you will."

The bleak free-agent picture, obviously, could change. Some current backup could unexpectedly come of age, like the Redskins' Trent Green in 1998, and create a quarterback overload on some team. But for now, the upcoming offseason looks nothing like the past one.

A confluence of unique situations set up last spring's quarterback market. The Redskins picked up George and felt comfortable letting Johnson, a 1999 Pro Bowl pick, play out his contract. Grbac had a $10 million roster bonus due that triggered his release by Kansas City. Flutie was mired in a quarterback controversy in Buffalo that dictated he or Rob Johnson had to go. Green was available to trade because Kurt Warner emerged as a star in 1999. And Dilfer was considered a marginal player despite starting on Baltimore's Super Bowl-winning squad.

If someone is available in free agency this spring, the Redskins should have enough salary cap room to compete for him. Despite heavy 2002 hits from releasing Deion Sanders ($5.3 million) and George ($3.2 million) in recent months, the club still has just $56.8 million committed to 33 players next season.

Notes Schottenheimer named veteran Matt Campbell the starting right guard ahead of rookie David Brandt, who remains hampered by a sprained knee. Said the coach: "I don't know that David is 100 percent yet, but at this point I think the experience that Matt brings to what we're doing is probably the key there." …

Schottenheimer confirmed that LaVar Arrington almost certainly will not play Sunday, which had been assumed because the strongside linebacker suffered a Grade II MCL sprain Monday at Green Bay… .

Schottenheimer sounds more likely to constrict the playbook Sunday, though he stressed that it would be for overall offensive confidence, not simply for Banks.

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