- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2000

The offseason officially began for the Washington Redskins yesterday, and it will be a busy one.

The Redskins are looking for a coach for the first time in seven years and, perhaps, an entire staff of assistants. Twenty-nine players, including seven starters, will be either unrestricted or restricted free agents March 2.

And the 800-pound gorilla? The salary cap situation.

With just 31 players under contract, the Redskins already are about $5 million over the cap. The expected retirement of receiver Irving Fryar and the possible release of oft-injured guard Tre Johnson and receiver Michael Westbrook (each of whom spent most of 2000 on injured reserve) would save $7 million.

However, that would leave the Redskins with nearly half (25 spots) of a 53-man roster to fill with just $2 million. That will necessitate contract renegotiations for high-priced veterans like defensive tackles Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson, safety Sam Shade and cornerback Darrell Green.

The offense the expertise of coach Norv Turner and his interim successor, Terry Robiskie had a rough season. The Redskins ranked 11th in yards but 24th in scoring. None of the seven teams that scored fewer points than the Redskins won more than five games.

The Redskins are set with backfield starters. Longtime NFL starter Jeff George will replace departing free agent quarterback Brad Johnson. Stephen Davis, who rushed for more than 1,300 yards in each of the past two seasons, is at halfback. Larry Centers, the top pass-catcher the past two years, is at fullback.

However, reserve halfbacks Adrian Murrell (unrestricted) and Skip Hicks (restricted) could be gone, as could backup fullback Mike Sellers (restricted). Tight end Stephen Alexander is going to his first Pro Bowl, but longtime blocking specialist James Jenkins won't return.

The receiving corps is a mess.

Albert Connell won't be back after blowing his shot at being the No. 1 guy. James Thrash, a surprise with 50 catches, also is unsigned and might be more expensive to sign than expected. Westbrook, who has stayed healthy in just one of his six years, might be cut. Andre Reed figures to join Fryar in retirement. That leaves Derrius Thompson, who has never caught an NFL pass.

The Redskins want to sign a top free agent wideout, such as future Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (who caught 75 passes this year at 38) of the 49ers. They are planning to use their first-round draft pick on a receiver like Miami's Santana Moss (they probably will have to trade up), but those moves won't come cheap.

The offensive line has wonderful young tackles in Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen. But if Tre Johnson is let go, a dire situation at guard becomes a disaster. Keith Sims likely won't be ready for training camp after rupturing his left Achilles' tendon Dec. 10. Veteran Andy Heck is really a tackle, and neither Mookie Moore nor Derrick Fletcher showed they were ready this year. So more money has to be spent on guards. Free agent Jay Leeuwenburg, who credibly replaced Johnson over the final 11 games, is the likeliest option.

The defense, which was fourth in yards allowed and tied for seventh in points surrendered, is in much better shape.

It's hard to argue with a front of Pro Bowl end Marco Coleman, sure Hall of Fame end Bruce Smith, Stubblefield and Wilkinson. However, the 2001 price tag of those four is a staggering $23.405 million. That's more than a third of the cap. By comparison, top backup Kenard Lang looks like a steal at $1.466 million. The other leading reserves, Nolan Harrison and N.D. Kalu, are both free agents.

Middle linebacker Derek Smith is unrestricted and might not be back. Weak side linebacker Shawn Barber is restricted and should return. But if the Redskins don't re-sign Smith or fellow free agent middle man Kevin Mitchell, they have a hole to fill. Even if strong side backer LaVar Arrington is moved inside, he will have to be replaced and not by backup weak sider Eddie Mason. Greg Jones, who began the season as the strong side starter, is a free agent and won't be back.

The secondary is set with Pro Bowl starter Champ Bailey, Deion Sanders, Green and youngsters David Terrell and Lloyd Harrison at corner and Shade, Mark Carrier and rookie Josh Symonette at safety.

However, unless Scott Bentley's 50-yard field goal Sunday convinced the Redskins that he should be their kicker, they need to find someone to assume the duties at which five men failed in 2000. Punter Tommy Barnhardt, who had an average year at 37, is a free agent, and his return is questionable. The coverage teams need a major overhaul, but snapper Joe Zelenka is under contract.

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