- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006

With the new collective bargaining agreement approved, the 2006 salary cap in place, and free agency set to begin at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow, the Washington Redskins’ decision makers finally can begin implementing their offseason game plan.

The salary cap has increased from $94.5 million to $102 million, which undoubtedly helps the Redskins, who started the offseason with nearly $115 million committed to salaries. It’s unclear, though, how much freedom the team will have.

Cornerback Walt Harris, safety Matt Bowen, defensive tackle Brandon Noble, center Cory Raymer and punter Tom Tupa are expected to be released today. Those moves plus LaVar Arrington’s release and cutting kicker John Hall and receiver Taylor Jacobs would save $13.715 million.

But that doesn’t put the Redskins in spending-spree position. Tendering restricted free agent offensive lineman Derrick Dockery, linebacker Chris Clemons and defensive back Ade Jimoh costs a combined $2.136 million.

Translation: The Redskins still have to restructure the contracts of some veterans to get under the cap and free up enough money to pursue free agents and sign draft picks.

Most of the restructuring the Redskins did over the past two weeks was contingent on a new collective bargaining agreement not being finalized. It’s unknown how many veterans have been or will be asked to rework their contracts with the new cap in place.

Further cap relief will be produced by a possible Patrick Ramsey trade. Ramsey continued his job hunt yesterday in Detroit and will next travel to Miami.

At last month’s NFL Scouting Combine, coach Joe Gibbs said the team that adjusts best will have an advantage.

“You’re never going to have a sitting target,” he said. “Things are changing rapidly. In times of the biggest change, I’ve always looked at it as, if you can keep your head and be the smartest at handling [the changes], you may get a jump on everybody else.”

Minnesota, Arizona, Cleveland and Green Bay are all more than $30 million under the salary cap, so those teams will have the jump. Within the NFC East, Philadelphia (around $26 million) has the most cap space.

Twelve of last year’s 22 regular starters were acquired by the Redskins in free agency/trades during the first week of March 2003-05.

“We’re one of the aggressive teams in the league when it comes to signing free agents,” Gibbs said. “That’s the way we want to be. … If we weren’t aggressive over the last couple years, we wouldn’t have people like Phillip Daniels, Cornelius Griffin and Marcus Washington.”

The Redskins will have to be creative in free agency, just like they were in restructuring veterans’ contracts in the event a new CBA wasn’t agreed upon. The big-money players at their positions of need — like linebacker Will Witherspoon of Carolina, St. Louis receiver Isaac Bruce, Pittsburgh receiver Antwaan Randle El and New Orleans defensive end Darren Howard might be too expensive.

Starting tomorrow and continuing through the draft, the Redskins have to address several needs:

• No. 3 receiver: Santana Moss is a bona fide No. 1 receiver, but David Patten struggled (22 catches) before missing the last seven regular season games with a knee injury. The Redskins should pursue a receiver who is taller than 6 feet and can get downfield so defenses can’t focus completely on Moss. If not with their second-round draft choice, free agents in the non-big bucks category include Miami’s David Boston (if he’s healthy), Seattle’s Joe Jurevicius and Minnesota’s Koren Robinson. Buffalo might release Eric Moulds, who played for current Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams.

• Starting weak-side linebacker: Clemons, who has five sacks in 20 career games, is the Redskins’ top in-house replacement for Arrington. The free agent group isn’t strong. New England veteran Willie McGinest was released yesterday, but he is 34 years old and has played most of his career in a 3-4 defense.

• No. 3 cornerback: Harris’ departure means Carlos Rogers will enter camp as the starter opposite Shawn Springs. Jimoh is expected to return, but his forte is special teams and he’s a fourth corner at best.

• Reserve offensive linemen: Gibbs said at last month’s scouting combine that the Redskins will be looking for a guard-tackle combo type. Ray Brown has retired and Jim Molinaro, entering his third year, has played little in a reserve role. The key is finding a player who is competent at several positions so the Redskins don’t get into a position such as the one in the playoffs at Seattle, where an injury to Brown meant Raymer had to play guard for the first time in his NFL career.

• Pass rusher: Phillip Daniels led the Redskins with eight sacks, but Renaldo Wynn had only a half-sack as the team finished with 35. Sacks produce fumbles, which the Redskins had trouble with the first part of the season. A situational pass-rusher to replace Wynn on passing downs could improve the takeaway figures.

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