- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2001

The buzz of the Washington Redskins' offseason has faded to simply zzzzz.

One year after collecting virtually every prominent free agent in a $100 million payroll, the Redskins are salary cap poor. Prominent players were cap casualties. Mid-level starters departed for more money. Free agent signings have included a snapper, kicker and punt returner.

Oh, where have you gone, Deion Sanders?

The 2001 Redskins are the antithesis of last year. Need a big-name player? Too bad can't afford it. Want to trade up for the second and third picks in the draft? Sorry, the Redskins have only four selections in seven rounds their fewest since 1979 (five in 12 rounds).

The only marquee name acquired over the offseason was coach Marty Schottenheimer. The only drama is the location of this summer's training camp.

It's a snoozer of an offseason compared with the past four. Owner Jack Kent Cooke died in 1997 while the stadium originally named for him was completed. Talks to sell the team started in 1998, when a big TV contract allowed blockbuster marquee moves like acquiring defensive tackles Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson. Prospective owner Howard Milstein was thwarted by the NFL from buying the Redskins in 1999, allowing Dan Snyder to emerge with the team shortly before the season's start.

The 2000 offseason was a primer on spending big money. The Redskins signed defensive end Bruce Smith, quarterback Jeff George, safety Mark Carrier and Sanders. They re-signed defensive end Marco Coleman, running back Stephen Davis and linebacker Derek M. Smith. Washington drafted linebacker LaVar Arrington and offensive tackle Chris Samuels with the second and third picks, respectively.

Those were giddy times. Something every week seemed to build the team toward the Super Bowl. Washington even opened training camp as a 5-2 favorite to win the championship in several Nevada sports books. But a run of injuries, poor kickers and every team pointing for the Redskins resulted in coach Norv Turner being fired before season's end and an 8-8 record that missed the playoffs.

Schottenheimer has long said the team can't escape the problems of the salary cap. Last year's misspending brought carryover fiscal problems to this season. Guards Tre Johnson and Keith Sims,Stubblefield and receiver Irving Fryar were among those released just to get under the limit by March 2. Dangling less than $200,000 under the cap forced Washington to twice cut two players just to sign one.

Thirteen players participated voluntarily in minicamp last weekend. Schottenheimer liked several, but could only sign punt returner Winston October for the rookie minimum $209,000, and several others might sign later. Schottenheimer just doesn't want to max out the cap after restructuring receiver Michael Westbrook's contract Monday to create a seven-figure cushion needed to sign the coming rookies. After all, the team still needs six more players to reach the 53-player limit after losing 10 starters from last year.

That depleted roster showed greatly at minicamp. With seven players in NFL Europe and Sanders playing baseball, only 39 veterans attended. If not for the 13 unsigned prospects, there would have been some drills barely worth running. The leading receiver in drills was Derrius Thompson, who caught no passes last year in four games. There were only three quarterbacks and one fullback. Defensive tackle Kenard Lang has been moved from end and even played fullback during one drill. There was one prospective punter and one kicker; past camps would have seen two each.

How slow was minicamp? Even Snyder opted to attend the Final Four in Minneapolis. Seems the former Maryland student preferred the Terps.

Schottenheimer pledges some moves after June 1 when high-priced veterans are released and forced to accept bargain wages. It worked for the Redskins in 1999 when offensive tackle Andy Heck, fullback Larry Centers and Coleman posted strong seasons after signing in June.

Until then, the only drama is who the Redskins will take with the 15th overall selection. A linebacker, receiver and guard are possibilities. The full 80-player minicamp follows April 27-29. Free agents signing will soon follow.

Training camp is just 114 days away.

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