- The Washington Times - Friday, November 5, 2004

When Ryan Clark arrived at Redskin Park on the eve of training camp in July, he recognized just one player: Fred Smoot. The two had known each other a little bit from their days as college rivals with Smoot at Mississippi State and Clark at LSU.

Much had changed since then. Clark was a little-known safety trying to earn a job in the NFL. Smoot was a well-established (and well-paid) member of the Washington Redskins secondary. So imagine Clark’s surprise when Smoot approached and offered any assistance needed.

“He was like, ‘Man, if you need a place to wash your clothes, a place to eat, or whatever, I’ll help you out. I’m here for you, because I know you don’t have anybody up here,’” Clark recalled yesterday. “A lot of people would be like, ‘You’re in the NFL — you don’t need any help.’ But that’s not Fred. That’s what’s cool about him. He’s become like a brother to me.”

The relationship Smoot has fostered with Clark, who has since become the Redskins’ starting strong safety, speaks volumes about the status the fourth-year cornerback now holds within the organization. Once a loudmouth jokester, Smoot at 25 has become the well-respected big brother of the Washington defense.

And if things go according to Smoot’s plan, he’ll continue to own that role for years to come.

“I told [the club] I want to have my golden years here,” Smoot said. “If I’m going to win in the NFL, I want to win as a Redskin.”

A free agent-to-be at the end of the season, Smoot revealed yesterday that he and the club have begun discussing a long-term contract extension.

“Yeah, we’ve been talking,” he said. “I just keep everything to myself. But yeah, we’re talking. It’s under way.”

Smoot wouldn’t divulge details, but his agent, James “Bus” Cook, acknowledged that the two sides have had “some discussions” and he believes a deal could be worked out.

“I think they’d like to get it done, and we’d like to get it done,” Cook said. “If we can work out the right numbers, there’s probably a good chance we can have something by the end of the year.”

Currently enjoying the best season of his career with 30 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles through seven games, Smoot figures to be a hot commodity if he ever reaches the open market. He won’t get the kind of seven-year, $63million deal ex-teammate Champ Bailey took from the Denver Broncos, but he’ll still get a sizable raise from the four-year, $2.8million contract he signed as a rookie in 2001.

“He’s definitely going to be in high demand,” Clark said. “His price tag is rising, so we better take care of that before he gets on the market. I pray to God we can keep him.”

If coach Joe Gibbs’ fondness for Smoot is any indication, it appears the Redskins will be more than willing to spend the necessary money.

“He’s very talented, and I think he’s one of those guys who likes being out there,” Gibbs said this week. “He’s got a great attitude — he was in here [Tuesday] on his day off. For me, he’s been someone I think is a real Redskin. He’s our kind of guy and a big part of the team.”

Informed yesterday of Gibbs’ kind words, Smoot replied, “That always makes you feel good. Like Coach said, he’s looking for Redskins for life. Hopefully, I’m one of those.”

As much as Smoot looked up to Bailey during their time together in Washington — the two still talk regularly — he has tried to model himself more after Darrell Green, the future Hall of Fame corner who nurtured Smoot four years ago.

Green was a Redskin for 20 years. Although Smoot has no illusions about hanging around that long, he certainly sounds as though he doesn’t want to play anywhere other than Washington.

“I love D.C.,” he said. “I love the people. Nobody’s got the fans we’ve got. Regardless of what the record is, who we’re playing, our fans are going to be there. And just the city, man, I love it.”

Smoot’s desire to remain in town stems from his confidence in Gibbs and the coaching staff. Bailey fled to Denver because he was fed up with the constant turnover in the coaching staff and locker room. Smoot sees a franchise that is finally on the verge of stability.

“I’m looking at the situation like Coach Gibbs is going to be here,” he said. “When [Bailey] was leaving, it was like he didn’t know who was going to be the coach. But if Coach Gibbs is going to be here and I go to another team, that’s change again. I’d rather stay here.

“It’s not one of those battles where we’re in two different places,” he added of his talks with the Redskins. “We’re on the same frequency right now. I’m sure it’ll get done.”

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