- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 16, 2002

The Washington Redskins' exodus of free agents accelerated yesterday as three starters signed elsewhere: tight end Stephen Alexander with San Diego, guard Dave Szott with the New York Jets and linebacker Shawn Barber with Philadelphia.
The Redskins have lost five starters and have yet to sign any of their other 12 unrestricted free agents. The club has made just one significant acquisition, center Larry Moore on Wednesday, since picking up linebacker Jessie Armstead and wide receiver Reidel Anthony on the first day of the signing period March 1.
Meanwhile, coach Steve Spurrier seemed intrigued by signing free-agent quarterback Jeff Blake instead of trading for former Florida star Shane Matthews after Blake completed a visit with the Redskins.
"I think he's a good passer," Spurrier said. "He's got a good, strong arm. If I get the chance to coach him, I look forward to it."
Spurrier's impression of Blake, 31, was considered a key issue. Others were whether Blake's foot is healthy resolved yesterday when he passed a physical and whether the Redskins are willing to meet his price. Blake visited Buffalo on Thursday before flying to Washington for dinner with Spurrier and owner Dan Snyder, and the Bills are prepared to give him their starting job.
With Washington, Blake would have to beat out Danny Wuerffel, another Spurrier protege, and youngsters Dameyune Craig and Sage Rosenfels. But the 1995 Pro Bowl pick and 10-year NFL veteran made clear that he would be undaunted by the competition, saying, "Who am I competing against?"
The Redskins might start bidding against Buffalo or use Blake to pressure Chicago into trading Matthews. The Bears rejected a seventh-round pick but might reconsider because Matthews doesn't appear to be in their plans.
Houston also is interested in Blake but offered him only a one-year deal. The Texans, incidentally, took a look at Redskins free agent Kent Graham yesterday. Baltimore is interested in Blake but cannot sign him until after June 1.
Blake has ties to Buffalo, having been coached by Bills offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride at East Carolina. But Blake also is intrigued by Spurrier's high-scoring offense.
"It's a very tough decision to make," Blake said. "I have to evaluate a lot of things and, of course, money's going to play a part."
Among the departing players, Alexander got a five-year, $15million deal with a $3million signing bonus and a guaranteed 2003 salary from San Diego. Szott agreed to the Jets' offer of three years and $4.2million with no bonus. Barber accepted a one-year deal from the Eagles that allows him to likely start for a Super Bowl-caliber team and then retest the market next spring.
The trio followed center Cory Raymer (San Diego) and defensive lineman Kenard Lang (Cleveland) as Redskins starters to depart this offseason. Remaining among free-agent starters are quarterback Tony Banks, wide receiver Michael Westbrook, guard Ben Coleman and fullback Donnell Bennett.
Alexander left Washington following a disappointing, injury-marred 2001 season. He caught nine balls after making the 2000 Pro Bowl with 47 receptions. His departure leaves the Redskins with two primary options at tight end: veteran Walter Rasby, a quality blocker, and Zeron Flemister, a swift prospect. Spurrier said he would like to acquire at least one more tight end.
Szott was interested only in the two New York teams or Washington because his son, Shane, has cerebral palsy and needs special schools. With the Jets, Szott gets to remain in his Morristown, N.J., home. Washington still needs two starting guards; Szott played the left side last season while Coleman started on the right when healthy. The Redskins have not attempted to re-sign Coleman.
Barber who accepted a one-year, $1.5million deal with a $750,000 signing bonus suffered a torn ACL in the third week last season. After showing promise in 1999 and plateauing in 2000, he appeared ready to resume his upward track in 2001 while playing alongside LaVar Arrington, his close friend. Now that resurgence will have to happen in Philadelphia, where he is expected to start over Quinton Caver and Ike Reese.
The Redskins also signed young defensive lineman Tim Engelhardt, and fullback Bryan Johnson signed his one-year, $300,000 tender offer.


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