Bailey gives hint he is considering free agency

Washington Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey needed only two words yesterday to make his strongest statement to date about the possibility he would like to move to another team this offseason.

Bailey was discussing how free agents from other teams might be dissuaded from signing with the Redskins because of the team’s growing track record of futility. Asked whether such thinking makes him less likely to re-sign, he replied, “No comment.”

Meanwhile, coach Steve Spurrier said quarterback Tim Hasselbeck’s poor outing in Sunday’s 27-0 loss to the Dallas Cowboys did not alter plans for Hasselbeck to return as Washington’s backup in 2004. The coach continued to compliment Hasselbeck for how well he has played in general given the short time he has spent with the team.

Bailey is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, but the Redskins retain a crucial bargaining chip in the franchise tag, which essentially bars Bailey from signing with another club in return for a one-year contract based on the five highest-paid players at his position.

In the preseason, Bailey rejected Washington’s opening contract offer for nine years and $55million. He had at least nine points of contention with the proposal, mostly concerning the amount of money and the manner in which it was scheduled to be paid out.

Now, though, another element appears to have crept into Bailey’s thinking: After five seasons of turmoil and progressively less success in Washington, he simply wants out.

Bailey has become increasingly vocal about key issues this season and less afraid to express controversial points of view. His biggest frustration has been the Redskins’ five defensive coordinators during his tenure, with the distinct possibility that there could be a sixth in six years in 2004.

The prospect of further change and dicey odds of improvement seem to have Bailey thinking about other NFL clubs as the offseason approaches. He knows that it’s only going to become more difficult for the Redskins to turn things around with each season they get worse.

“It’s hard to get free agents if you’re not winning,” Bailey said. “People want to go win games. … I wouldn’t want to go to an organization where teams are just losing and don’t have potential to win.”

Washington would like to free up salary cap space with the contract of linebacker LaVar Arrington or tackle Chris Samuels this offseason. Such a move would allow the team to put the franchise tag on Bailey, which would act as leverage in talks for a long-term deal, and still pursue pricey fixes for positions like the defensive line.

However, the odds of a deal for Arrington or Samuels are extremely long because the players have little incentive to rewrite the remaining years on their current contracts. Washington might be forced to limit its acquisitions while the tag, which should be in the $6million range, sits on Bailey.

Regarding Hasselbeck, the young passer is trying to regroup after a four-interception outing that generated a passing rating of 0.0. The performance scarcely resembled the way he played in his first three extended NFL outings, the last of which earned his first NFL win and a rating of 128.0.

But Spurrier is sticking by Hasselbeck, at least for now. The coach said Hasselbeck was under a lot of pressure from Cowboys rushers when he completed just six of 26 passes, and he added that receivers weren’t always open, either. Asked whether plans to retain Hasselbeck had changed, Spurrier said, “No.”

“Tim has performed, we think, very well for a young man who came in five, six weeks ago [actually about 7[1/2]] and has played almost four full games now,” Spurrier said. “He’s done pretty well.”

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