- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 30, 2001

NEW ORLEANS There's nothing simple about playing in the "Big Easy."
The Washington Redskins (6-8) will be out of the playoff chase when they play the New Orleans Saints (7-7) tonight. And yet this game and next week's finale may show the way toward a turnaround in 2002.
While nearby Bourbon Street revelers get ready to ring in the new year tomorrow, the Redskins will start preparing for next season tonight. Coach Marty Schottenheimer is staying with veterans instead of using prospects who could decrease the Redskins' chances of winning. Many veterans, after all, have to prove they're worth keeping next year.
"A lot of guys are playing for jobs," quarterback Tony Banks said. "A lot are playing just to get better."
Banks probably must reverse his recent slide to return. The NFL's 27th-ranked offense is on pace to score the team's fewest points since the NFL changed to a 16-game schedule in 1980. Banks has passed for only two touchdowns in the last six games and none in the past two critical losses that ended the Redskins' hopes of an NFC East championship or a wild card berth.
Schottenheimer would prefer re-signing Banks rather than spending heavily for a marquee free agent or first-round draft choice. That's why Banks remains in the lineup instead of rookie Sage Rosenfels or backup Kent Graham.
."He's been under some fire, and I want to see how he manages," Schottenheimer said. "We haven't even given any thought to what we might do beyond this week."
Banks isn't alone in trying to secure a new deal. Receiver Michael Westbrook, defensive tackle Kenard Lang, guard Dave Szott and center Cory Raymer are among the unrestricted free agents who feel that a fast finish will increase their marketability.
"You don't want to look bad even if the game means nothing," tight end Walter Rasby said. "You conduct yourself as a professional."
Still numb from the postseason elimination, many players spoke of finishing 8-8 like last year by sweeping New Orleans and Arizona on Jan. 6. At least, it wouldn't be a losing season after that 0-5 start.
"Eight and eight looks and sounds a lot better than 7-9," Banks said. "There's a huge difference in the preparation you take into the offseason."
The .500 mark also might save the jobs of Schottenheimer and his staff after one season. Team sources confirmed a widening rift between the coach and owner Dan Snyder, and the team is expected to hire a player personnel director who would report directly to Snyder and usurp Schottenheimer's current complete control.
NFL sources said former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf has been contacted by Redskins officials. There have been no formal talks, but Wolf made it known it would take 5 percent of team ownership to lure him from retirement, and Snyder hasn't flinched. If the deal happens, Wolf would get at least $40 million, considering that the Redskins sold for $800 million in 1999 and have greatly increased their revenues since. Wolf also might cost the Redskins a second-round pick because he remains under contract to the Packers as a consultant. Washington sent two third-round picks to Kansas City for Schottenheimer in January.
The Redskins' offensive play calling could be influenced by coming offseason moves, too. Coordinator Jimmy Raye could be released after the season barring a sudden scoring spurt. Schottenheimer recently said he plans no changes, but team sources said Schottenheimer will re-evaluate his staff and Snyder wants Raye replaced.
Snyder wouldn't renew defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's contract in 1999 and hired Ray Rhodes without coach Norv Turner's input. Snyder also fired special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel late last season while dismissing Turner.

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