- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

A year ago, Steve Spurrier was stocking his receiver corps with former Florida Gators. Now he's going to build his offense around a product of gasp! "Free Shoes University" (as he once called Florida State). How times have changed at Redskin Park.

The Jets have decided not to match the Redskins' bountiful offer for will o' the wisp Laveranues Coles, giving Spurrier another weapon to Fun 'n' Gun with. With Rod Gardner at the other wideout spot, free agent signees Randy Thomas and Dave Fiore plugging holes in the offensive line and Patrick Ramsey settling in as the starting quarterback, the offense should do a much better job of pitchin' and catchin' this season.

Frankly, I like the makeup of this Redskins team a lot more than last year's team. Last year's team was a Marty Schottenheimer team; its defensive bent didn't play to Spurrier's strengths at all. But now the Ball Coach has some, if not most, of the necessary tools. If he can't put up more than 19 points a game with this bunch, he might have to bring in double gasp! some University of Miami receivers.

The Redskins front office is also to be commended for taking advantage of the Jets' stinginess with Coles and stealing him for a mid-first round draft pick. Had the Jets tendered Cole an offer of $1.8 million instead of $1.3 million which he clearly was worth the Redskins would have had to cough up a third-rounder in addition to their No. 1, and that might have been more than they were willing to pay. (Coles was, after all, a third-round pick himself.) But the 13th pick in the draft for an 89-catch wideout just entering his prime? A no-brainer, if you ask me.

Things are never simple as far as Dan Snyder is concerned, though. Once again, he has taken a "damn the salary cap, full speed ahead" approach to team building. In the 2000 offseason, he threw his money at declining stars like Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jeff George and Mark Carrier. Now he's giving golden handshakes to (presumably) ascending players like Coles, Thomas, Brandon Noble and Matt Bowen.

Some would call that progress, and it is a step in the right direction. But by continuing to engage in such short-term thinking, cap-wise, by continuing to look for shortcuts instead of trying to assemble a contender over a period of time, Snyder is setting the Redskins up for more payroll woes in a year or two.

Remember, he hasn't just spent the last month negotiating contracts; he's spent it renegotiating contracts, pushing cap dollars into the future so he could binge on free agents. And the problem with free agents, of course, is that they tend to be much more expensive than draft picks. The 13th pick in last year's draft, for instance, receiver Donte Stallworth, signed a deal with the Saints worth $8.9 million over five years, $5.9 million of it in bonuses. The Redskins' deal with Coles is worth $35 million over seven years, including $13 million up front a sizable difference.

Dan the Man's acquisition of strong safety Bowen, another restricted free agent, is also illustrative, though on a smaller scale. Bowen got a four-year, $6 million contract from the Redskins, one that called for a $1.6 million signing bonus. A sixth-round pick, which is what the Redskins gave up in compensation for him, gets the minimum salary (around $250,000) and a piddling bonus (perhaps $80,000). That's not to say swapping a sixth-rounder for a starting safety is a bad move, it's just to point out that there's a price you pay when you do it. If you want the Sure Thing in the NFL or, at least, the Surer Thing it costs extra.

The Jets opted to let Coles go because they're looking down the road at negotiations with quarterback Chad Pennington and pass rusher John Abraham at the end of the season. Those talks would be a lot more problematical, they feel, if they handed Coles a $35 million deal. Snyder, on the other hand, isn't looking any farther than the hood ornament on his limo. It's all about the here and now for Dan. Never mind that Champ Bailey is in the last year of his contract, or that LaVar Arrington's cap number in future seasons has assumed gargantuan proportions, or that Ramsey could command big money in another few years. To Snyder, the 2003 season isn't everything, it's the only thing.

His credo, from the moment he walked through the doors at Redskin Park, has been: nothing succeeds like excess. His ticket prices are excessive, his anniversary celebrations are excessive (the Redskins' 70th birthday?), the number of seats he has squeezed into FedEx Field is excessive, the salary he pays his coach is excessive and all these free agent signings are a bit over the top, too. The NFL season, coaches are fond of saying, is a marathon, but Dan Snyder keeps trying to turn it into a 60-yard dash. We'll see if this year's sprint works out any better than the one three years ago.

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