- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

The Washington Redskins sustained their bull rush through free agency yesterday, agreeing to terms with linebacker Marcus Washington, bringing in punter Tom Tupa and re-signing a pair of veterans.

Washington, 26, is expected to start on the strong side next season while Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington moves to the weak side, a club source said. Washington arrived in the area last night and dined with coaches, and he was expected to sign his contract then. Agent Pat Dye confirmed the agreement at six years and $24million, with $7million in bonus money.

Tupa, 38, visited the team’s headquarters in the evening and also could sign before he leaves town. The Redskins were interested in Tupa last offseason but stuck with Bryan Barker, who was cut last week. Tupa worked with Redskins kicker John Hall as a New York Jet from 1999 to 2001 and earned high praise from Hall.

Officially re-signing were long snapper Ethan Albright and linebacker Kevin Mitchell, two important pieces of Washington’s special teams. Albright signed a one-year, $785,000 contract and Mitchell was believed to have gotten a similar minimum salary deal.

The club’s only setback came early in the day when tight end Walter Rasby left town without a deal. Rasby fulfilled a scheduled visit with the Houston Texans, and an NFL source said the New Orleans Saints, his team last season, are interested in retaining him.

Signing Washington, who played his first four seasons for the Indianapolis Colts, would make nine Redskins pickups as free agency swings into its third day, providing the club a fair shot at exceeding last year’s take of nine players in the first three days of the signing and trading period.

So far the Redskins have traded for quarterback Mark Brunell and running back Clinton Portis, signed defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, defensive end Phillip Daniels and cornerback Shawn Springs, and re-signed center Lennie Friedman, Albright and Mitchell.

Before Washington’s agreement, the Redskins planned to bring in former Chicago Bears linebacker Warrick Holdman next week. It is believed the Redskins now will abandon their pursuit of Holdman.

Several club officials said there are no plans to cut linebacker Jeremiah Trotter after June1. There has been speculation that Trotter, inconsistent in two seasons as a Redskin, might be released when the move could be made in a salary-cap friendly manner this summer.

But the Redskins apparently plan to keep Trotter as middle linebacker and play Arrington and Washington on either side. Although Arrington, at 6-foot-3, 253 pounds, is bigger than the normal weakside linebacker (think 237-pound Jessie Armstead last season), he has the necessary quickness and could be an intriguing pass-rusher there, away from the opponent’s tight end.

The presence of Arrington and now Washington appears to be a key reason the Redskins are not chasing another defensive end. The club exited the bidding for star Jevon Kearse early Wednesday, and club sources said there are no immediate plans for any of the remaining ends.

That said, Arrington, who played third-down defensive end under Marvin Lewis in 2002, sounded somewhat concerned about a similar role when he spoke Wednesday at Redskin Park. The three-time Pro Bowl pick prefers to play off the line and run to the ballcarrier.

“The potential is always there for me to put my hand on the ground until we get a true speed rusher, and I don’t know there are any out there anymore,” Arrington said shortly after Kearse came to terms with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Pairing Arrington and Washington, though, would give Redskins defensive boss Gregg Williams tremendous versatility. Washington is a former second-round pick out of Auburn, where he played defensive end. At 6-foot-3, 247 pounds, he is a big, instinctive playmaker who can blitz or rush out of a three-point stance.

Another key part of the Redskins’ defense will be Springs, who officially signed his six-year, $30million contract after passing a physical.

Springs’ recent history of injuries contributed to his drop in status among NFL corners. A former third overall pick in the draft by the Seattle Seahawks and 1998 Pro Bowl pick, Springs hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2000.

Coach Joe Gibbs emphasized that the Redskins are “very cautious” with the injury histories of free agents, saying the medical staff gives each player a grade that is factored heavily into potential agreements.

“You’ve only got so much allocated at each position,” Gibbs said. “If somebody’s not out there [due to injury], that’s a real problem.”

Springs is determined to re-establish his reputation. In an otherwise jovial introductory news conference, the Silver Spring native grew serious when asked about his slide and replied, “After being with the Redskins, I’ll be back to No.1.”

In Washington, he faces the challenge of replacing four-time Pro Bowl pick Champ Bailey, whose No.24 jersey he received.

“I have a lot of respect for Champ,” Springs said. “I think people will be surprised when they see the new No.24.”

Notes — The Redskins should get some competition for their restricted free agents in coming weeks. The agents for wide receiver Darnerien McCants and fullback Bryan Johnson said they have been contacted by a number of teams, though no offer sheets are imminent.

McCants would bring fifth-round compensation if the Redskins don’t match, while Johnson requires no compensation. However, Washington has maintained it will match any offer for its four restricted free agents, safety Ifeanyi Ohalete and linebacker Antonio Pierce being the other two. …

The decision to trade Bailey came down to the gap in contract negotiations and his threat to hold out from training camp, Gibbs said. “I was told he wasn’t coming to camp,” the coach added. “That was something that was very important to me.”

Bailey did become ambivalent about his future in Washington after cycling through five defensive coordinators in five years. However, the threat to hold out from camp is common among players with the franchise tag, a key piece of leverage as they pursue long-term deals.

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