- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2002

As the Washington Redskins enter the final week of their first season under Marty Schottenheimer and look ahead to a possible playoff run in 2002, the key question is whether they need major or minor changes in the offseason.

The biggest potential switch, of course, involves Schottenheimer's control of the personnel department. Owner Dan Snyder is considering hiring a general manager-type figure, a move that would lessen Schottenheimer's influence on the players being signed and drafted by the club.

But following Sunday's 40-10 victory at New Orleans, and considering the chance of a .500 finish this weekend against the Arizona Cardinals, Snyder might determine that the Redskins (7-8) need only minor alterations for 2002. Schottenheimer, for his part, has not begun to consider whether fine-tuning or an overhaul is in order.

"We really need to sit down at the end of the season and evaluate everything," Schottenheimer said yesterday. "Right now it's kind of week to week to week. I could stand here and give you some gibberish, but that wouldn't be accurate."

A win over the Cardinals (7-8) would give Washington a two-game run and an 8-3 record since mid-October. On Sunday Redskins quarterback Tony Banks said such a finish would deserve offseason continuity. He referenced the 1999 Baltimore Ravens, who finished strong (winning four of five) and took momentum into the offseason that led to a Super Bowl title.

"We went 8-8 in 1999, had a great offseason and took that into 2000," said Banks, the Ravens' starter in 1999 who lost the job midway through 2000. "The rest is history."

The Ravens are just one recent example of a non-playoff team using late momentum for a playoff run the following year. Fitting the pattern this season are Green Bay, which ended 2000 with four straight wins; San Francisco, which won four of its last six; and Pittsburgh, which won four of its last five.

But Schottenheimer didn't give the idea much credence, saying, "I think basically anytime you prepare, work hard and win you feel better about yourself."

Whatever Washington's finish and Snyder's decision, there will be key personnel issues to sort out this offseason. The Redskins at least are in far better shape than last year with regard to the salary cap, currently with 36 players under contract for about $58 million, or some $13 million below the 2002 cap.

Tenders for exclusive-rights players and restricted free agents, as well as increases in the minimum base salaries and 2001 earned incentives, will eat up a good bit of the current space. But certainly Washington will not be in slash-and-burn mode like last offseason, when the club parted with Brad Johnson, Deion Sanders, Mark Carrier, Dana Stubblefield and Larry Centers, among others.

Washington will have 17 unrestricted free agents, and some of those will be trying to make a final impression in the Cardinals game. Most scrutinized among those players will be Banks, who is getting a close look from Schottenheimer in these final weeks.

Schottenheimer was impressed with Banks Sunday despite the passer's limited production (9-for-15, 94 yards, one interception). However, the coach backed off a statement earlier this season that Banks is his top option for quarterback of the future.

"I think what we'll do is wait until the season concludes and then evaluate any and all positions with regard to next year," Schottenheimer said, adding that he has not looked at the veteran quarterbacks who might be acquired through free agency or trade. The group is limited, led by Seattle's Trent Dilfer and Chicago's Jim Miller (free agency) and New England's Drew Bledsoe (trade).

Which Redskins return and which depart will have much to do with who is running the personnel department. Snyder is eyeing former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf, who said in an interview yesterday that returning to the NFL is "the furthest thing from my mind" and that he has had no contact with any Redskins official, including Snyder.

"The only team I have contact with is the Packers," said Wolf, 63, a consultant with Green Bay since he retired and moved to Annapolis last year. "I've been relaxing and having a good time. Right now I'm retired. I don't see anything that could change that, but a person should never say never."

Wolf added that he couldn't envision being the Redskins' GM unless Schottenheimer approved of the move.

"Marty has done an outstanding job, especially considering the number of changes [only 20 of the current 53 players were with the team last season] and how their season started [0-5]," Wolf said. "I would think that if they brought in a GM that Marty would want to hire his own man. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Marty has accomplished in his career, but we don't really know each other."

Wolf spent nine years in Green Bay during which the Packers won a Super Bowl, lost another and made the playoffs six times. He said being the Packers' GM was "the best job in the world" but added that he grew frustrated and tired in an era in which decisions are increasingly driven by the cap.

Notes Wide receiver Michael Westbrook appeared to suffer the most serious injury Sunday, a sprained ankle, but Schottenheimer believes Westbrook could play against Arizona. The joint was swollen yesterday. Running back Stephen Davis aggravated a knee injury but yesterday was feeling better, Schottenheimer said. Safety Ifeanyi Ohalete bruised a knee; X-rays revealed no fracture.

Schottenheimer is hopeful linebacker LaVar Arrington, who was inactive Sunday with a sprained knee, will be able to play against Arizona. Right guard Ben Coleman, who also has been nursing a sprained knee, should play.

•Staff writer David Elfin contributed to this report.

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