The Washington Redskins can spend the rest of the offseason diagramming plays or revising schemes because the personnel moves largely are done.
Drafting Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington and Alabama offensive tackle Chris Samuels in the first round Saturday capped a successful offseason run of filling needs. After earlier signing Buffalo defensive end Bruce Smith, Detroit safety Mark Carrier and Minnesota quarterback Jeff George, the Redskins now are just worrying about a punter and several reserve roles. The only remaining prominent offseason move may be signing Dallas cornerback Deion Sanders in June.
“Going into the draft, we felt we had improved our team that won the division a year ago,” coach Norv Turner said. “With the two picks LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels those guys can make an immediate impact so we’ve improved ourselves a great deal.”
The Redskins even filled a vacancy on special teams yesterday, obtaining San Francisco deep snapper Joe Zelenka for a conditional 2001 draft pick. Zelenka played 13 games last season as an undrafted rookie free agent before dislocating his left thumb.
The Redskins still have some tough contract talks, though. Unlike the swift signing of Smith and Carrier by offering large bonuses, the Redskins seem reluctant to overpay running back Stephen Davis even though he is coming off a team-record 1,405 yards last season. Team officials only have spoken to Davis’ agent once briefly since making Davis the franchise player in January. The designation guarantees Davis $3.7 million, but he wants a multi-year deal that includes a hefty bonus. The Redskins seem reluctant to commit long-term to Davis after just one standout season.
Instead, owner Dan Snyder wants to sign Arrington and Samuels in coming weeks. Given they are the second and third overall selections, respectively, means blockbuster bonuses that will be deferred over several years. Still, Snyder said the rookies are his top negotiations priority.
Next comes Sanders, who is seeking a $10 million bonus when reportedly becoming a free agent on June 2. While the Redskins are very interested in “Prime Time,” they’re worried Sanders’ baseball commitments might delay his arrival until October. Combined with foot and knee problems, Sanders might prove too risky for even Snyder to sign.
Quarterback Brad Johnson’s bid for a contract extension comes after Sanders’ talks. Johnson becomes an unrestricted free agent next year, and the Redskins know it will cost millions of dollars more to keep him once he’s on the open market. After all, the Redskins lost quarterback Trent Green to St. Louis last year when failing to sign him before free agency’s start. Johnson comes off a Pro Bowl season and will command a multi-million dollar signing bonus.
No wonder the Redskins want to limit Davis to a one-year deal with no bonus. Arrington, Samuels, Johnson and Sanders could combine for more than $20 million in bonuses.
Punter is the sole unfilled key role remaining. Rodney Williams is the only punter on their roster, and he’s playing in NFL Europe. The team will sign two punters for the April 28 minicamp so special teams can practice. Player personnel director Vinny Cerrato said he expects to sign a veteran free agent after June 1. Until then, the Redskins are basically without a punter after trading three-time Pro Bowler Matt Turk to Miami in February for a seventh-round pick in 2001.
The Redskins also are reviewing options over returners. Running back Brian Mitchell may remain despite career-lows in punt and touchdown returns in 1999. However, signing Sanders means Mitchell is a probable salary cap victim. Otherwise, Mitchell could return given a paycut from his $1.65 million deal. Sources close to Mitchell said he would be willing to take a paycut to remain after 10 seasons. Receiver James Thrash could return kicks while cornerback Champ Bailey may return punts.
Meanwhile, the Redskins will tinker with the roster. They signed 26 rookie free agents yesterday, mostly filling reserve and special teams roles. The names will be released today.