- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS

A year ago, the Washington Redskins arrived at the NFL scouting combine preaching the importance of building through the draft and vowing not to spend millions on free agents. That vision became reality when the Redskins’ opening night roster included only 12 new players, 10 of them draft picks.

But as free agency approaches Feb. 27, it appears Redskin One may have to fuel up for a busy opening few days in a competitive market low in numbers because 14 teams have used the franchise tag.

Coach Jim Zorn doesn’t expect the kind of spending spree from years past but indicated the Redskins will pursue free agents.

“There are some good free agents out there, so we want to compete for them to strengthen our football team,” he said. “Other teams know they have good players, too, so they’re signing them up or they’re getting tagged. The only thing we can do is compete for those athletes at the right positions but also athletes that make sense.”

Out of necessity, the Redskins’ top priority likely will be retaining cornerback DeAngelo Hall and left guard Pete Kendall.

Hall is certain to draw interest from other teams because top free agents Dunta Robinson (Houston), Kelvin Hayden (Indianapolis) and Nnamdi Asomugha (Oakland) have been franchised or signed long-term contracts.

Kendall is a need because the market features few quality guards and the Redskins have given no indication that second-year player Chad Rinehart is ready for full-time duty.

Zorn doesn’t expect Hall or Kendall to be re-signed before Feb. 27. Hall signed a seven-year, $70 million contract last year with Oakland, but the team cut him after eight games. If Hall is retained, the Redskins could part ways with Shawn Springs, who is still effective but often injured.

“The decisions are DeAngelo and Shawn Springs,” Zorn said. “The athletes we have there are very good, but free agency will determine direction and determine a couple of the situations. … I think it’s going to be a fast and furious pace by most NFL teams when free agency starts. If we don’t get it done then, it doesn’t mean we can’t get it done the next day or the next week.”

Elsewhere on defense, Zorn didn’t rule out the return of defensive end Jason Taylor despite an $8.5 million salary cap figure, but most of the topics he covered centered on an offense that finished 28th in scoring last season.

While starting to rebuild the offensive line would seem to be a priority, Zorn expressed faith in his aging group and wants it to include Kendall, who will be 36 when training camp starts. He hasn’t missed a snap in two years with the Redskins and could benefit from the franchise’s neglect in spending high draft picks on offensive linemen. Each projected starter is in his 30s, and two - left tackle Chris Samuels (triceps) and right guard Randy Thomas (neck) - will be coming off major surgery.

“Yeah, it’s an older group,” Zorn said. “You want to put me on the spot to be negative toward the guys we’ve got, and I don’t want to do that, but those guys’ careers are coming to a close. … We just need to go further down the line in the season with the O-line intact.”

At the skill positions, Zorn said the Redskins won’t add to the receiving corps and hopes for marked improvement from Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas, isn’t concerned with Clinton Portis’ hesitation to commit to the full offseason program and expects quarterback Jason Campbell to be on point despite not getting a contract extension.

“[Campbell’s] next step is to have a second year in this system where he’ll be able to improve his rhythm, improve the way he makes decisions, and I do think he’s an accurate passer,” Zorn said. “As far as the years or the extension, I don’t know how that’s going to play out yet. I think he can [stay focused]. He’s a quality guy. He won’t stay away because he wants to negotiate a contract. He’ll be there working hard and trying to be a better quarterback.”

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