- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2008

Shawn Springs, Cornelius Griffin and Phillip Daniels are among the core players coach Joe Gibbs signed four winters ago to begin rebuilding the Washington Redskins.

Those players left Redskin Park yesterday for the final time this season with their futures uncertain following the Redskins’ 35-14 playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday.

The Redskins now enter the offseason — any questions about the future of Gibbs aside — with a roster that’s fairly set for next season but facing a salary cap crunch that could force them to bid farewell to a few key figures from their late-season surge.

Cornerback Springs, for example, doesn’t expect to return — defensive linemen Griffin and Daniels hope to — and quarterback Todd Collins is unsigned for next season.

The Redskins at this point exceed the $116 million salary cap for next season by about $21 million. Springs, Griffin and Daniels — all thirtysomething defensive starters — are among 18 Redskins who count more than $3 million against the 2008 cap.

The Redskins have a few obvious moves available that would ease the cap crunch: They can save about $9 million by turning Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley’s roster bonus into a signing bonus that can be prorated over five years.

They also can save $6.5 million by not picking up the option of former starting quarterback Mark Brunell, who turns 38 in September and didn’t play a snap this year.

Still, those moves would leave the Redskins over the cap with Collins, weak side linebacker Randall Godfrey and right guard Jason Fabini unsigned. Those players finished the season as starters because of injuries to Jason Campbell, Rocky McIntosh and Randy Thomas.

“It doesn’t matter,” Springs said when asked whether he would return to the club. “I just want a job. I’d love to stay. I’m from this area. I have a home here, but I understand this is a business, and you never know if you’re going to be here.”

Springs bounced back from an injury-riddled season last year to play well this season. But Springs turns 33 in March, and the Redskins might prefer, as is their wont, to pay his $8.4 million cap figure to a younger free agent corner like the New England Patriots’ Asante Samuel or Oakland Raiders’ Nnamdi Asomugha.

Daniels turns 34 in March. Griffin turned 31 in December. Strong side linebacker Marcus Washington, another member of the Redskins’ free agent class of 2004, turned 30 in October.

“We all came in together, and our goal was to win it [all],” Daniels said. “We haven’t done that, but we’ve made the playoffs twice in three years. When we got here, this place was a mess. A lot of us of are getting older, but we’re still playing well. And we’re the leaders on this team.”

Daniels is the likeliest to return since he’s in the last year of his contract and costs just $3.8 million and backup Demetric Evans has never been viewed as starter material.

Griffin will count $6.2 million if he remains and $3.1 million if he’s cut. Plus, the Redskins have Anthony Montgomery and Kedric Golston, both of whom have started for a year. Washington, meanwhile, counts $6.5 million. There’s no replacement for him under contract, although the Redskins could make a run at Chicago’s Lance Briggs as they did last offseason.

“Hopefully they keep people like Shawn around, keep the nucleus of the team together,” said Fred Smoot, who like Springs becomes more valuable with fellow cornerback Carlos Rogers likely to miss the offseason while recovering from major knee surgery.

Daniels called Griffin “strong as an ox” while advocating for his left side defensive line partner’s return. As for his future, Daniels isn’t worried even though he’s the team’s oldest starter.

“There are a lot of teams out there, and I know I’m better than a lot of guys playing my position,” he said. “Why worry about something you can’t control? I’ve done everything they’ve asked. I’ve moved inside on third downs. I’ve switched sides [after end Andre Carter was signed in 2006]. I won’t have surgery, so I can start working out a lot sooner than I did this year. Age is not a factor. I’ve brought a lot to this team. If I don’t fit their plans, they’ll let me know.”

If the Redskins are concerned about Griffin’s cap number, he’s willing to renegotiate as so many veterans have over the years.

“It could be my last year here, but I’m really not thinking about it,” said Griffin, who started every game in 2007 for the first time in his four seasons in Washington. “I’ve played pretty well this year. We’ve got the two young guys and me. I’ll listen if they want to talk about redoing my contract.”

The other Redskins with big cap numbers are offensive linemen Chris Samuels, Jon Jansen, Casey Rabach, Pete Kendall and Thomas (all of whom will be at least 31 next season); Carter; running backs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts; receivers Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd (who won’t return); and middle linebacker London Fletcher.