- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2004

The Washington Redskins have jump-started contract talks with two key players, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell and Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey.

Redskins contract specialist Eric Schaffer met with Brunell’s agent, Leigh Steinberg, in the Los Angeles area Tuesday and Bailey’s agent, Jack Reale, in the Atlanta area Wednesday, NFL and team sources said yesterday.

Washington hopes to acquire Brunell to at least compete with incumbent Patrick Ramsey and is exploring the possibility of re-signing Bailey before having to use the franchise tag by Feb.24.

Word of Schaffer’s meeting with Steinberg confirmed speculation that the Redskins were discussing contract terms with the three-time Pro Bowl player. Washington appears to lead the chase for Brunell, but several other teams could make bids by the time the trading period opens March3.

Talks with Bailey, meanwhile, showed that the Redskins aren’t moving directly to the franchise tag after the four-time Pro Bowl corner rejected their opening nine-year, $55million proposal in the preseason.

The discussion’s new parameters were unclear, but December’s nine-year, $68million extension for linebacker LaVar Arrington should serve as a foundation. In fact, the league consensus seems to be that Arrington signed a Redskins-friendly pact; Bailey is expected to seek a deal not necessarily as long but with better terms.

“We’re talking concepts,” Reale said. “I would expect there would be some effort at [a new deal by the Redskins]. I’m completely open-minded. Our meeting was very cordial.”

If Washington cannot agree to a new deal with Bailey, it would tender him with a one-year, $6.8million offer. But there is some speculation around the NFL that the Redskins then might trade Bailey for a first-round pick and turn their attention to another free-agent corner like the San Francisco 49ers’ Ahmed Plummer.

Two sources, one with the Redskins and another with no ties to Washington or Jacksonville, disputed a published report of the terms of the Redskins’ proposal to Brunell. Although it was unclear how much Washington is thinking of paying Brunell, sources said the team did not offer three years and $20million with an $8 million signing bonus.

The Jaguars reportedly are requiring teams to make a trade offer before allowing contact with Brunell, but a Redskins source said no specific draft pick has been discussed. There is growing thought that a third-round pick probably will be the ultimate compensation.

A source close to Brunell’s talks said financial terms are not as important to the quarterback as finding the best place to compete for a Super Bowl title. Brunell seems to have a great deal of control over his destination because of a $2million roster bonus, which he can delay if Jacksonville trades him to his preferred city.

Brunell isn’t the only quarterback the Redskins are eyeing, but he is the top choice. The team also was represented at Drew Henson’s workout yesterday in Houston, and today coaches and scouts will meet to finalize a list of other veteran passers, including trade targets like the 49ers’ Jeff Garcia and Seattle Seahawks’ Trent Dilfer.

A key issue in the Brunell talks is whether coach Joe Gibbs is being absolutely candid about his plans for Ramsey. The coach has said Ramsey won’t be traded and will have a chance to compete with any quarterback the Redskins sign.

If the statements are true, particularly the first one, there could be a quarterback controversy. Brunell wants to avoid that, so he might take a hard look at other teams, particularly the Miami Dolphins or Dallas Cowboys. The San Diego Chargers and possibly Tampa Bay Buccaneers also are interested.

Redskins sources said Gibbs’ promise not to trade Ramsey is genuine. And Gibbs himself, in Daytona Beach, Fla., in anticipation of Sunday’s Daytona 500, reiterated that the young quarterback is “not going anywhere.”

“Nobody’s even called us because they know we’re not going to trade Patrick Ramsey,” Gibbs told WRC-TV (Channel 4).

Ramsey, more at ease at Redskin Park than he was Wednesday after meeting with Gibbs, said he believes his coach.

“I don’t know him the way a lot of people do around here, but one thing I do know is he’s a man of integrity,” Ramsey said. “All I’ve ever heard is that he’s a man of his word. He told me it’s going to be that way, and I believe that.”

Gibbs’ hope, according to team sources, is to get the two best quarterbacks he can. The coach still regards Ramsey as the future of the position but wants to have a starting-quality veteran, preferrably Brunell, to ensure that the team won’t be derailed by injury at that spot.

Ramsey reiterated that he won’t seek a trade if Brunell is signed, saying, “I want to play for Joe Gibbs. I want to play here. There’s no question about that. The one thing anybody can get from this, I think, is I want to play here.”

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