- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

Mark Brunell’s shaky quarterbacking cost him his starting job in 2006, but Brunell saved the Washington Redskins more than $4 million by redoing his contract yesterday.

Brunell, who was due to earn $6.64 million in the third year of a six-year deal, agreed to what is basically a one-year, $2.4 million contract to back up Jason Campbell. With that, the Redskins went from being tight against the NFL’s $109 million salary cap to having about $6 million to spend as the free agent signing period begins tomorrow.

Tendering punter Derrick Frost — but not fellow restricted free agents Ryan Boschetti and Jim Molinaro — by today’s deadline will cost $850,000. However, the Redskins more than paid for Frost when they saved $1 million yesterday by cutting tight end Christian Fauria, a disappointment in his only Washington season before going on injured reserve in November.

The Redskins can save another $2.223 million by cutting receiver David Patten, who has just one catch since going on IR in November 2005, and kicker John Hall, who missed half the games with injuries the past three years. Both will be 33 this fall.

The presence of veteran receivers Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El, Brandon Lloyd and James Thrash means Patten won’t be missed, while Todd Yoder — who could re-sign as early as today — was an effective replacement for Fauria down the stretch in 2006. And young kicker Shaun Suisham, who’s bound to the Redskins as an exclusive rights free agent, was as accurate in his December trial as Hall ever was.

With more than $8 million then to spend, the Redskins could afford four starter-level players. Assuming there’s no last-minute push to re-sign left guard Derrick Dockery, Washington would need to replace the four-year starter.

For now, Mike Pucillo, who re-signed yesterday for the $595,000 minimum for his four years of experience, would inherit the job. Pucillo, 27, started 12 games for Buffalo in 2003 and six for Cleveland in 2005 before coming to Washington last season.

However, the Redskins’ bigger concerns are at middle linebacker — where some believe they already have an agreement in principle with Buffalo’s London Fletcher-Baker on a long-term contract — and cornerback, where they’re expected to make a serious run at the Bills’ Nate Clements. With most of the Redskins’ 31 rivals having many more millions more to spend and not much talent available, it promises to be a seller’s market that will bid up the prices for top free agents.

If the Fletcher-Baker deal isn’t consummated and Clements opts to sign elsewhere, the Redskins could trade for middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, the 2004 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year who struggled when the New York Jets switched to a 3-4 scheme in 2006, and cornerback Dre Bly, who wants out of Detroit and whom the Lions are shopping.

Cornerback Fred Smoot, a Redskins starter from 2001 to 2004, also would be a possibility if, as expected, he’s cut by Minnesota after two contentious seasons with the Vikings.

If the Redskins need to clear more cap space, they can approach veterans like offensive tackle Chris Samuels ($8.85 million), cornerback Shawn Springs ($7.35 million), running back Clinton Portis ($7.09 million), defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin ($6.16 million), linebacker Marcus Washington ($6.02 million), guard Randy Thomas ($5.41 million), Moss ($5.03 million) and center Casey Rabach ($3.65 million).

Portis and Moss are the only players on that list who won’t be 30 by October. If the Redskins sign Clements, Springs might be released. Griffin seriously slumped the past two years and could be in trouble if the Redskins use the No. 6 choice in April’s college draft on Michigan defensive tackle Alan Branch.

Defensive ends Phillip Daniels, who will be 34 on Sunday, and Renaldo Wynn, a 32-year-old backup last season, also are in serious jeopardy of becoming ex-Redskins with their respective cap costs of $3.21 million and $4.03 million and with Washington eyeing ends Gaines Adams and Jamaal Anderson with the sixth pick.