- The Washington Times - Friday, December 31, 2004

The Washington Redskins are all but certain to enter the offseason with their two major unrestricted free agents unsigned.

Cornerback Fred Smoot and linebacker Antonio Pierce, two key members of the NFL’s second-ranked defense, no longer are in position to sign extensions before Sunday’s finale against the Minnesota Vikings at FedEx Field.

Smoot openly wondered yesterday whether he has played his last game as a Redskin, saying he “can’t say” he’s as optimistic about re-signing as he was a few weeks ago. And Pierce could be re-starting talks after changing agents.

Smoot’s development was more ominous. The four-year pro, who won’t play against the Vikings while recovering from a bruised kidney, was fairly convinced of re-signing a few weeks ago. But now a “gut feeling” has him thinking differently.

“I want to be here bad,” Smoot said. “But it ain’t about me wanting to be here. It’s about them wanting me to be here.”

He added, “You’re only where you’re wanted.”

Agent James “Bus” Cook didn’t return a phone call, but a source close to Smoot said there are indications that at least one coach wants to part ways with him. Coach Joe Gibbs, however, said the club’s feelings about Smoot haven’t changed.

“We really like Freddy Smoot,” Gibbs said. “We think he’s a heck of a player. He’s got a great outlook on things. We got going hard on [an extension] in the middle of the year. We reached a point there where it was a stalemate. We’re going to do everything we can to try and sign him.”

Added assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams: “We have not even gotten that far in the evaluations. He’s been a joy to coach. I love coaching him. He picks up everybody’s spirits. I would say that he’s got a pretty good chance to be around here.”

Smoot’s status, however, might come down to money. Vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato had this to say through a team spokesman: “We offered to make Fred one of the top-10 highest-paid cornerbacks in the game. We remain optimistic that an agreement can be worked out.”

Pierce, meanwhile, quietly switched last week from agent Mitch Frankel to Drew Rosenhaus, expanding Rosenhaus’ already sizable cache of Redskins. Among his other Washington clients are running back Clinton Portis and safety Sean Taylor.

The decision to switch, according to Pierce, came down to Rosenhaus’ media savvy. Unlike some agents, Rosenhaus interacts frequently with reporters, leaving fewer contract questions to his clients.

Pierce also said he was referred to Rosenhaus by former Redskins linebacker Jessie Armstead. Armstead, like Pierce a former undrafted rookie, became a role model when the two played together in 2002 and 2003.

In some ways, the switch to Rosenhaus might clear the path to an extension, because the agent has a good relationship with Redskins owner Dan Snyder. However, Frankel and the Redskins held extensive negotiations, exchanging at least four proposals, and now there’s a chance Rosenhaus will start talks from scratch.

Asked whether he would do that, Rosenhaus declined comment. He did say that a deal almost certainly won’t get done by the end of the season.

There is no deadline associated with signing a player by season’s end, but free agents who don’t sign by then often feel less pressure to get a deal done quickly. Once they’ve played their last game, they figure there’s no reason not to wait until early March to see what the market will bear.

Notes — Linebacker Marcus Washington (knee) and cornerback Shawn Springs (foot) remained sidelined at practice, but Williams expects both to play. Said Williams: “They’ve improved each and every day. I would expect them to play at this point in time.” …

A court date for former Redskins safety Ifeanyi Ohalete and Portis should be set in coming days, said Ohalete’s lawyer, John Steren. Ohalete filed suit in Maryland District Court on Wednesday charging that Portis never paid $20,000 of the $40,000 he contractually agreed to pay for Ohalete’s No.26 jersey.

Rosenhaus told the Associated Press that Portis holds “a position on that that is different from theirs” but declined to elaborate when contacted by The Washington Times. Asked whether that comment means Portis intends to contest the charge, rather than settle it, Rosenhaus replied, “I’m not going to get into what we’re going to do or our strategy.”

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