- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Washington Redskins kick returner Michael Bates was granted his release yesterday after realizing his dismissal was imminent.

Bates said he wanted a chance to sign elsewhere early in free agency rather than months from now, when teams probably would offer only a minimum-salary deal. Bates believed the release was coming after the Redskins placed him on the expansion list Feb.18. Washington didn't withdraw Bates from the list after losing guard Matt Campbell to Houston.

"It's business, no hard feelings," Bates said from his Charlotte, N.C., home. "This allows me to have some type of free agency instead of waiting until June or July."

Bates' release saves the Redskins $750,000 against the salary cap, with $50,000 remaining as a prorated bonus. Washington is now $2.3million under the $71.1million limit.

Washington has been largely inactive during free agency, but NFL sources said Bates' release doesn't indicate the impending signing of a marquee player. Still, the Redskins are expected to release receiver Kevin Lockett ($1.2million), deep snapper Ethan Albright ($532,000) and cornerback Donovan Greer ($933,000) to create more cap room.

Bates, 32, was a standout special teams cover player while also averaging 23.5 yards per kickoff return, the team's highest since 1995. The five-time Pro Bowl selection delivered several jarring hits on kickoff and punt coverage to twice earn the team's "Golden Glove" award for standout special teams play. Bates was voted special teams captain by teammates.

The Redskins' lean financial outlook probably cost Bates. Washington won't re-sign punt returner Eric Metcalf and could merge the two roster spots with a younger, less expensive player. Bates' loss will be felt in the locker room. He was considered a team leader, rallying a beleaguered special teams unit that had been awful in preceding years.

"My age may have been a little bit of a factor. They look at 3-0 and that's the magic number," Bates said. "I feel young. All I can do is look at Darrell Green (42 years old) and Bruce Smith (38). They're still playing well. All it takes is one team to like me."

Certainly, Bates will have suitors. However, the free agent market has been sluggish after massive salary cap cuts before March 1. That has depressed contracts and caused many teams like the Redskins to simply wait to sign players later for less. Bates might attract only a veteran minimum-salary deal of $525,000 if he remains unsigned by June, but he could get a few hundred thousand dollars more if signed sooner.

Meanwhile, guard Dave Szott and linebacker Shawn Barber visited the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, respectively. Both are expected to visit the New York Giants, too. The Redskins are interested in re-signing both veterans. However, Szott wants to remain near his Morristown, N.J., home. Barber is looking for a bigger deal than the Redskins are offering and would be a reserve behind recently signed Jessie Armstead unless the team moved to a 3-4 defense.

The Redskins also are on the verge of losing tight end Stephen Alexander, who visited San Diego, Houston and Detroit over the past week. San Diego offered more than a $2million bonus.

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