- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Are the Washington Redskins becoming the Florida Gators North?
The Redskins are considering a deal for Chicago Bears quarterback Shane Matthews, who won three SEC titles at Florida for Washington coach Steve Spurrier. Houston quarterback Danny Wuerffel will reunite with Spurrier on Friday when Washington trades defensive tackle Jerry DeLoach to the Texans for the former Gators passer. No trades can officially occur until Friday under NFL rules.
Redskins vice president of football operations Joe Mendes yesterday said he won't comment on pending personnel moves. Indeed, discussing another team's player violates NFL tampering rules. Still, Spurrier reportedly said the deal for Matthews was "close to done" and getting both former Gators quarterbacks would greatly help him install the "Fun 'N' Gun" offense.
Matthews could cost only a late-round pick after losing his starting job last year to Jim Miller, who led the Bears to the NFC Central title. Matthews was a two-time SEC Player of the Year and set 50 team and 13 conference passing marks. Wuerffel won the 1996 Heisman Trophy and three SEC titles under Spurrier. Ironically, Wuerffel also spent last season with Chicago before being taken by Houston in the expansion draft on Feb.18.
Seeking past players isn't unusual for a new coach. Predecessors Norv Turner and Marty Schottenheimer signed several players from Dallas and Kansas City, respectively, in their first seasons. Spurrier already has signed former Florida receiver Chris Doering.
Matthews would be favored over Wuerffel as the starter. He could be a cheaper alternative to signing free agents Trent Dilfer (Seattle) and Chris Chandler (Atlanta) or trading for Drew Bledsoe (New England). The Redskins are only $3million under the $71.1million maximum that already hampers re-signing many of their own unrestricted free agents.
Meanwhile, defensive tackle Kenard Lang and receiver Michael Westbrook look doubtful to re-sign when free agency begins Friday. Both former first-round picks appear ready to test the market as the most prominent of Washington's 17 unrestricted free agents.
Lang declined a contract offer late last season, feeling his ability to play both tackle and end could earn a lucrative contract on the open market. Lang seeks a signing bonus comparable to what linebacker LaVar Arrington ($10.75million) and offensive tackle Chris Samuels ($10million) received as 2000 first-round selections, according to NFL sources.
"Hopefully, I'll stay a Redskin. It's a matter of giving me a deal equal to my worth," he said. "Just give me what I'm worth. They talk about loyalty to a team, but that's out the window [in free agency]. The main thing is the signing bonus because that's the only thing that's guaranteed."
Lang's desire to return to end after spending last season at tackle is nearly paramount to the money. However, end Bruce Smith's recent decision to return means the Redskins must decide between Marco Coleman and Lang. Even if Lang signs elsewhere, Coleman may prove too costly to remain. However, the team can't release Coleman ($5.3 million) until after June 1 when his salary cap impact can be split over the next two seasons. That would be too late to keep Lang, who's expected to be among the first wave of marquee free agents signed over the next week.
"I'm hitting free agent market at the right time. There's not that many good defensive linemen," Lang said. "I'm still waiting for the Redskins [to make an offer]. I haven't thought about anywhere else. My heart is still in Washington. I've had my ups and downs, but I finished pretty well."
Westbrook is seeking a long-term deal that may be too pricey for the Redskins. While Washington might re-sign the unrestricted free agent to a shorter contract, sources said Westbrook's projected $3million annual cost is too high. Westbrook underwent an independent physical yesterday to show potential teams his past injuries have healed.
"I'd love to play here, but I don't think the Redskins want to do a long-term deal," Westbrook said.
Washington appears interested in St. Louis receiver Az-Zahir Hakim as its No.2 target with second-year receiver Rod Gardner becoming the lead this season. Hakim could also double as a punt returner, though he lost the job late last season after costly fumbles. The Redskins don't plan to re-sign returner Eric Metcalf, though. Hakim could seek a deal similar to San Diego receiver/punt returner Tim Dwight, who signed a five-year, $15million contract with a $5million bonus on Monday.
Staff writer Jody Foldesy contributed to this report.

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