- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

By this time next week, the Washington Redskins could look radically different — again.

What sources were saying last week became unequivocally clear Tuesday when the club carved out a treasure trove of salary cap space: The Redskins plan another massive spending spree to open the signing and trading period, which begins at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

Cutting Bruce Smith, Jessie Armstead, Lional Dalton and Bryan Barker created $10.9million of cap space, and a pending trade of cornerback Champ Bailey would generate another $6.8million.

The nearly $18million of spending room will be used for quarterback Mark Brunell (whom the Jacksonville Jaguars have agreed to trade) and running back Clinton Portis (assuming the Bailey deal goes through with the Denver Broncos), as well as what is shaping up as a glittering list of free agents.

A year ago, the Redskins had owner Dan Snyder’s private plane flying all over the country when free agency opened. The club played host to guards Randy Thomas and Dave Fiore and defensive linemen Brandon Noble and Regan Upshaw, and it traded for running back Trung Canidate. Overall, the Redskins acquired nine players in the signing and trading period’s first three days.

Expect more of the same this week. After adding key offensive pieces in Brunell and likely Portis, the Redskins will turn their attention to defense, where they appear to be eyeing Tennessee Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse, New York Giants defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Rod Coleman, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Shawn Springs, Chicago Bears linebacker Warrick Holdman and Carolina Panthers safety Deon Grant.

“We’ve got a plan on defense,” coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday. “I know the first two moves that everybody’s been talking about … have been on offense and are high-profile things. But I think we’ve got a whole plan laid out for the defensive coaches. We know exactly what the numbers are of people we want to try and get. We’ve pretty much picked out the people we want to try and get. Now the question is, what can we get?”

They might not be able to get Kearse. Sources familiar with the team’s deliberations said Washington is concerned about his price tag, and the club is strongly considering St. Louis Rams end Grant Wistrom.

Also of note is that the Redskins are not interested in Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp, according to sources. Sapp is the most high-profile defensive tackle available, but the Redskins apparently like more reasonably priced, up-and-coming options like Coleman and Griffin, both 27.

Others Washington is in line to sign are highly-regarded Minnesota Vikings tight end Jim Kleinsasser and Bears defensive end Phillip Daniels, a probable reserve.

The list of players is enormous. Officials from other NFL clubs laugh or just sigh when discussing it. But it is realistic given Washington’s aggressiveness and the $18million of cap room the club now has.

Brunell, for instance, will have a first-year cap figure of about $2.2million. A player like Kearse probably would exceed $2.6million, but he would carry the costliest figure. Players like Coleman, Griffin and Springs would cost much less than $2million for the first year.

Washington can fill the majority of its holes in the first few days of free agency without worrying too much about the cap. And if more space is needed, it can be had from cuttable players like center Larry Moore (whose release would save $1.3million), running back Trung Canidate ($915,000) and tight end Byron Chamberlain ($710,000).

Amazingly, the Redskins seem to have become more aggressive with the addition of Gibbs, perhaps because he learned in auto racing how the team with the most resources could buy key advantages. Gibbs seems to have embraced the quest for pure talent of Snyder and vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato.

While much of the league once again is taking a cautious approach to the initial free agency surge, the Redskins have established themselves as the pacesetter for a second straight year.

“I hope [for a quick start],” Gibbs said. “I think this is a huge opportunity, because you’re looking at this as the first place you can really solve problems. Hopefully, we’re going to try to solve a lot of problems in free agency.”

Of course, there will be cap ramifications for the big spending. Already the spring of 2006 is shaping up as a difficult time for Washington, and the roster could require a purge at some point if the Redskins don’t balance their aggressive offseasons with some low-key ones.

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