- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2002

New Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier inherits young talent at several key positions and enough salary cap space to pursue free agents at others, two signs that outgoing coach Marty Schottenheimer left the club in fairly good shape.
"In my opinion, as we leave, the Washington Redskins are a good football team, a team that I think is poised to take a step," Schottenheimer said yesterday at his farewell news conference. "The opportunity, in my view, is there next season to challenge for a division title."
Such instant success for Spurrier largely will depend on which additions are made to a young core that includes linebacker LaVar Arrington, tackles Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen, cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Fred Smoot and wide receiver Rod Gardner. Spurrier's key needs are expected to be a starting quarterback and at least one addition to the receiving corps.
The most discussed target at quarterback is New England's Drew Bledsoe, who might be obtained in a trade. However, the Redskins might want to use their first-round draft pick (No.18 overall) to select a speedy receiver, and the Patriots are expected to receive at least a first-round pick in return for Bledsoe.
Bledsoe would be affordable against the cap because his prorated signing bonus would remain with New England following the trade. Thus the Redskins would have to account only for his base salary ($5million in 2002). Another quarterback who might be obtained in a trade is Chicago's Shane Matthews, a star under Spurrier at the University of Florida.
If Washington looks to unrestricted free agents, there are increasing indications that Chicago's Jim Miller will test the market. Seattle's Trent Dilfer and Denver's Gus Frerotte also are expected to be available. And the Redskins, of course, could attempt to re-sign Tony Banks or Kent Graham.
The Redskins also might look to the draft, though it would be hard to justify a long-term approach at quarterback while Spurrier is the NFL's highest-paid coach.
It is unclear what effect Schottenheimer's departure will have on the Redskins' 17 potential unrestricted free agents. Several indicated in recent weeks that they would take a harder look at other NFL teams if Schottenheimer left because they would be starting over in a new Redskins system anyway.
However, one pending free agent might be more likely to stay: receiver Michael Westbrook, who hoped for a big seventh season but was largely forgotten in Schottenheimer's offense. Westbrook did not return a phone message.
Among other unrestricted Redskins, the key appears to be whether they believe they can fit in Spurrier's system.
"If you're not accustomed to the system, it could be a problem," said right guard Ben Coleman. "Me, I'm accustomed to it. I played in it for five seasons in Jacksonville. Spread offense, go down the field I'm used to that."
Coleman said he would like to return if the other members of the offensive line do; starting center Cory Raymer and left guard Szott are unrestricted. Szott, though, is one Redskin who might not re-sign now that Schottenheimer is gone. The 12-year veteran has spent virtually his entire career under the coach.
Cap space and two solid draft picks (Gardner and Smoot) appear to be the legacy of Schottenheimer, whose 8-8, non-playoff season otherwise seems destined to become a footnote in Redskins annals.
"He wasn't here but just one year," Redskins Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen said with a shrug. "It's difficult. He came in and did what he was supposed to do a football man coming in, getting this thing back on track."
Under Schottenheimer, Washington did move from some $18million over the 2001 cap (when he was hired) to about $14million under the 2002 cap (now). The Redskins confronted a window to win after having the highest payroll in NFL history in 2000, but Schottenheimer attacked their cap problems immediately and put them in solid long-term shape.
His efforts boiled down to releasing several high-priced veterans and signing only free agents who commanded little or no signing bonuses. Coleman received the largest up-front money $623,000 on a one-year deal. In 2000, in contrast, eight Redskins got bigger signing bonuses, with Deion Sanders' $8million leading the way.
Among those affordable players were starters like Coleman, Szott and Banks, as well as reserves like Graham and running back Ki-Jana Carter.
"We acquired some players who, in the course of the season, showed their value," Schottenheimer said.
Several of Schottenheimer's personnel decisions were widely criticized, including the ones to cut fullback Larry Centers and retain quarterback Jeff George. But team sources said Centers did not want to be in Washington and that George was in part a concession to Snyder, who pushed to sign the passer in 2000 and favored him over 1999 Pro Bowl pick Brad Johnson.
"I don't regret anything that has taken place this entire season, other than the fact that we didn't win the championship," Schottenheimer said when asked about his personnel decisions.
The other part of Schottenheimer's legacy might be toughness. Sam Huff, another Redskins Hall of Famer, recalled what Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher wrote on a blackboard before facing Washington last season: Hit them in the mouth, and they'll quit.
"I think Marty made a lot of progress with this team," Huff said. "It was known to be a soft team. Marty got them to play this game hard. … They've had four head coaches in two years, and they don't know who's going to coach them next. But football is a simple game. I was taught, when all else fails, go get the guy with the ball."

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