- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS — The Redskins came to terms with Mark Brunell late last night on a seven-year, $43million contract, paving the way for the 33-year-old quarterback to become the new starting quarterback in Washington.

Brunell will officially join the Redskins on March3, when the NFL’s trading period commences, with Washington expected to send the Jacksonville Jaguars a third-round draft pick to complete the transaction.

Brunell, who had been in negotiations with the Redskins for the last two weeks, receives an $8.6million signing bonus and the likely nod from coach Joe Gibbs as the starting quarterback over 24-year-old incumbent Patrick Ramsey.

The deal was completed around 11p.m. after a day of on-and-off negotiations between the Redskins and agent Leigh Steinberg.

“Mark’s comfort level with Coach Gibbs and his enthusiasm progressively increased,” Steinberg said. “They’ve been talking several times a day, and he really got to understand his vision, both in the long term and the short term.”

As recently as two weeks ago, Brunell, the ninth-rated passer in NFL history, assumed he would be released by the Jaguars and become a free agent. But the Redskins ignited trade talks, and the deal came together quickly.

“The last two weeks have provided a very good adjustment and transition period,” Steinberg said.

Meanwhile, the list of legitimate suitors for Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey has been pared down to about six teams, with the agent for the four-time Pro Bowl player opening negotiations with several of those clubs last night.

“I think it’s been narrowed down to a half-dozen teams or so, and then we’ll have to sort it out from there,” said agent Jack Reale, who planned to meet with as many teams as he could last night at the NFL Scouting Combine.

The clubs actively pursuing Bailey remain unknown, but Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci has already publicly stated his team’s contact with the Redskins. The New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals have reportedly shown interest, while the Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints are also believed to be in the mix.

Though the Redskins and Reale will be talking with only a handful of teams, a trade is not likely to be finalized this week, as Bailey mulls his options and Washington seeks its best trade offer. A deal cannot be formally announced until the NFL’s trading and free agency period opens March3.

The Redskins, who on Wednesday placed the franchise tag on Bailey, are believed to be asking for first- and second-round picks as compensation for one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Bailey, in turn, is seeking a hefty, long-term contract from another club after rejecting Washington’s nine-year, $55million offer last summer.

The Redskins were not willing to budge on their preseason proposal, which included $14.7million in guaranteed money, but Reale and Bailey are banking on a different team shelling out both a mammoth contract and the top draft picks Washington seeks.

Based on Mariucci’s high praise of the 25-year-old corner yesterday at the combine, Reale and Bailey may have good reason to believe they’ll get what they want.

“He’s a great player,” Mariucci said. “He’s been a Pro Bowler. He’s young. He’s healthy. He’s got size and skill. He’s going to help any team that he plays for. He’s a premier player in the league, it’s that simple. The question is: Where does he want to continue his career, and then who can afford him, work a deal that makes sense for everybody?”

Detroit would appear to be an attractive option for Bailey. His brother, Boss, just completed a standout rookie season at linebacker. The Lions, who own the sixth overall pick in April’s draft, also could pair Bailey with fellow Pro Bowl cornerback Dre Bly to form one of the deadliest duos in the NFL. And George Catavolos, Bailey’s former defensive backs coach with the Redskins, now holds the same position in Detroit.

Mariucci said he planned to meet with officials from Washington “soon.” It’s believed he was among those meeting with Reale last night.

“We are in very, very preliminary discussions with the Redskins,” Mariucci said earlier in the day. “We’ve made a few phone calls to set up an in-person conversation. We haven’t done anything with it yet. … Nothing’s been decided other than, ‘Let’s get together and talk about it.’”

Though Detroit is the only club to publicly express interest in Bailey, it is far from a lock to land the coveted corner. Atlanta would seem an equally intriguing possibility for Bailey, who grew up and went to college in Georgia and might relish the opportunity to return home.

And it’s certainly possible one or two other teams have quietly put themselves in the running and could emerge as Washington’s eventual trade partner.

“We’ll look at every situation very carefully and individually,” Reale said. “And then Champ will weigh the things that he finds most attractive and make a decision that’s right for him.”

The Redskins would free up considerable salary cap space while also restocking their small number of draft picks if they trade Bailey. Wednesday’s decision to use the franchise tag means Bailey would count $6.8million against the cap this year. With last night’s completion of the Brunell deal, Washington now owns only three draft selections — picks in the first, second and fifth.

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