- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

The Washington Redskins have not yet made a firm offer to any of their 17 unrestricted free agents, part of a conservative game plan under which they hope to re-sign the players later at bargain rates.
As free agency begins tomorrow, the Redskins are just $3million under the $71.1million salary cap limit and in need of a starting quarterback. The team has opted to keep its remaining funds available to pursue some of the NFL's leading free agents. NFL sources confirmed that the Redskins have made no offers to their own free agents.
Joe Mendes, the Redskins' vice president of player personnel, said the team will be more disciplined than it was in its free-spending recent years.
"You have to wait for the market to set itself and not be overreactive to any particular player or need you may have," he said. "It takes a great deal of discipline. Clubs have to pay the price for their mistakes in everything they do whether it's the draft or free agency, but free agency is the one that's greatest and has the longest effects."
The Redskins may trade for Chicago quarterback Shane Matthews, though the Bears now appear reluctant to part with the backup until starter Jim Miller or a successor is signed. The Redskins also are considering St. Louis Rams receiver Az-Zahir Hakim as their No.2 receiver and punt returner. Otherwise, it may be a quieter offseason than the past three, turbulent years.
Mendes, who returned to the Redskins in January, is trying to bring a more deliberate style to the front office in his first offseason. That means no rush to overpay free agents that later prove costly against the salary cap.
"If you don't get one of those players, then don't panic at the next phase," Mendes said. "Just because you pay a player a lot of money doesn't mean he's a good player."
Several Redskins free agents said they expect to sign with other teams. Defensive tackle Kenard Lang, receiver Michael Westbrook, tight end Stephen Alexander, center Cory Raymer and linebacker Shawn Barber should draw interest leaguewide. The Redskins are gambling that other teams won't offer those players better deals, though Raymer and Alexander could draw interest from Houston. Lang and Westbrook may be too expensive to retain.
"With a player that we may think we don't have a chance to re-sign, the market may change on that particular player," Mendes said.
Losing certain free agents would cause the Redskins to reassess which other players they will retain. If center Mark Fischer or Raymer signs elsewhere, the Redskins probably would re-sign the other.
"It's almost like a block of Jell-O that keeps moving," Mendes said. "If you can obtain one thing in free agency, then it affects something else."
Mendes said there has been no serious internal discussion about free agent quarterback Chris Chandler, who was released by the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday. Instead, Matthews ($750,000) would save the Redskins several million dollars over the cost of signing free agents Trent Dilfer or Chandler or trading for the New England Patriots Drew Bledsoe. NFL sources said the Redskins could offer a late-round pick for Matthews when trading begins tomorrow. Washington also will swap defensive tackle Jerry DeLoach for Houston quarterback Danny Wuerffel tomorrow, reuniting Washington coach Steve Spurrier with his former 1996 Heisman Trophy quarterback at the University of Florida.
The offensive line will be one of the top concerns because guards Ben Coleman and Dave Szott, in addition to Raymer, are unsigned. Szott may sign with the New York Giants; Coleman and Raymer will consider other offers.
The Redskins appear to be waiting to create cap room when signing a free agent before releasing any players. Deep snapper Ethan Albright, returner Michael Bates, receiver Kevin Lockett and cornerback Donovan Greer are possible cuts.


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