- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2002

In a swift, surprising turnaround yesterday, the Washington Redskins signed veteran quarterback Shane Matthews after watching their four passers struggle through much of last weekend's minicamp.
Just a few days ago coach Steve Spurrier said he wasn't interested in pursuing Matthews, his former star at Florida. The organization seemed to have moved on particularly by drafting Tulane's Patrick Ramsey in the first round since trying to trade for Matthews in February and March. The Chicago Bears initially held out for a higher price; Washington then backed off by the time Matthews could be had for a swapping of low-round selections, and then for nothing when he was cut following the draft.
Over the weekend, however, the Redskins watched a green Ramsey struggle to make even basic throws and saw leading candidates Sage Rosenfels and Danny Wuerffel also play with varying effectiveness. Not wasting any time, Washington agreed to a one-year, $675,000 deal with Matthews before he made scheduled visits to the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans.
"We sat down and assessed where we were, and we just felt it was the right move," Redskins director of football operations Joe Mendes said yesterday. "He's a veteran whom we had the opportunity to sign. He knows the system. He gives us a chance to get better."
Ramsey's strong arm was on display during the individual drills at minicamp but his passes fluttered and sometimes were intercepted when he had to think about his targets in team drills. And he didn't even get into the full-squad work until Saturday because Spurrier had him watch the first day of minicamp.
Rosenfels and Wuerffel struggled Friday before Wuerffel, another Spurrier protege, seemed to raise his play a bit Saturday. Spurrier said Rosenfels emerged from the workouts No.1 with Wuerffel more or less at the same level. But the organization apparently had doubts about whether it could win this year with Rosenfels or Wuerffel.
Washington has invested heavily to field a winner, signing Spurrier and defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis to the league's biggest contracts for their posts and picking up defensive standouts Jeremiah Trotter, Renaldo Wynn and Jessie Armstead.
Matthews, who turns 32 on June 1, brings more experience than Washington's other quarterbacks combined. He has 15 NFL starts, all from 1999 to 2001. Of the other quarterbacks only Wuerffel has a start six, all prior to 1999. Matthews, who was undrafted coming out of Florida, said he is eager to make good on the promise he showed in recent seasons and finish his career strong.
"I wasn't trying to make a lot of money," Matthews said from his home in Gainesville, Fla. "I wanted to play for Coach Spurrier. I figure I have two, three, four years left in me. I'd like to end my career there."
Matthews' most productive season was 1999, when he returned to the Bears after spending two seasons on the bench for the Carolina Panthers. That year he threw for 1,645 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions in eight games and seven starts, posting a solid 80.6 rating. A hamstring pull, though, sidelined him and eventually ended his season.
Matthews began last season as Chicago's starter but injured his ribs and lost the job to Jim Miller. Miller led the talented Bears to the division title and a first-round playoff bye. This offseason Miller signed a new contract with Chicago and the club added veteran Chris Chandler, the Atlanta Falcons' starter for much of last season.
Two Southeastern Conference Player of the Year awards were among the honors Matthews earned at Florida, where he had a 28-8 record as a starter and threw for 9,282 yards and 74 touchdowns in three seasons. He set 50 school and 19 conference marks as a Gator.
Knowledge of Spurrier's system and eight years NFL experience make Matthews the favorite to win the Redskins' job. However, he has been somewhat injury-prone and his arm is below average for an NFL quarterback. The 6-foot-3, 193-pounder can throw deep, but he has to make an early decision and put air under the pass rather than gun it downfield like Brett Favre or Drew Bledsoe.
Despite Matthews' credentials, Spurrier, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, has made it clear he will not hesitate to rotate quarterbacks or play a less experienced one if that passer shows the most talent.
"I know he's going to play whoever performs the best," Matthews said. "My expectations are high. It's going to be a good competition. The Redskins have a very talented team, and if the quarterback can play smart and run the offense efficiently, we're going to win a lot of games."
The surprise signing leaves Washington with about $300,000 of salary cap space. Matthews counts just $475,000 against the salary cap, thanks to the league's new cap reduction for veterans. In fact, if the Redskins end up releasing quarterback Dameyune Craig in coming days no move was imminent yesterday Matthews will account for virtually no change in cap room.

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