- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

The Redskins bid adieu to Kenard Lang on Tuesday. And in the days ahead, they may say sayonara to Shawn Barber, Stephen Alexander and Cory Raymer, too. Two years after Dan Snyder ran up a huge tab in free agency, throwing money around like he was playing Monopoly, the team is still feeling the effects.
Simply put, the Redskins are too cap strapped to hang onto their younger players. And that's not good if you're trying to build something. It's not good to let a 27-year-old defensive end get away, a player whose best years figure to be ahead of him, because you've got too much invested in defensive ends who are 32 (Marco Coleman) and 38 (Bruce Smith).
The contract the Browns gave Lang was hardly astronomical a $3.4million signing bonus and (probably) $8.6million paid out over the first three years. But the Redskins were in no position to match it because, two years ago, their owner just had to have Smith, Deion Sanders and Jeff George (among others). Snyder couldn't push himself away from the banquet table then, so now the Redskins are eating TV dinners.
I remember writing, when the Redskins signed Smith, that there was no way they could keep Coleman, too, especially since he and Bruce both played right end. But they did keep Coleman, of course by massaging the books and then moved him to the other side of the line. Lang's side. After that, Kenard became a part-time player, and then a tackle, and then, almost predictably, a Cleveland Brown. Playing alongside up-and-comers Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren, he's a good bet for 10 sacks next season, if not more.
Is Lang a superstar? No. But he showed last year he can be a productive player when suitably inspired. And I'd be surprised if his next five seasons aren't better than Coleman's. Heck, Coleman may not even have five more seasons.
The salary cap is about choices. Nobody can have it all and if you try, as Snyder did, you're only going to get yourself in trouble. The Redskins, it's clear, are still digging themselves out of the hole their owner left them in. And the rebuilding process is only going to take longer if they keep allowing young players just entering their prime (Lang, James Thrash last year) to walk out the door.
Even before Lang left or perhaps in anticipation of it defensive boss Marvin Lewis was contemplating a switch to the 3-4. That's how badly Snyder mismanaged the cap; the team might have to change the defense it has played since time immemorial. But what else can you do when you have almost no defensive linemen? Behind Smith and Coleman at the moment are Otis Leverette and LaDairis Jackson. The tackles, meanwhile, are Dan Wilkinson, Delbert Cowsette and Donovan Arp (Jerry DeLoach having been sent to Houston for Danny Wuerffel). Good luck trying to play a four-man front with that group.
Not to cast aspersions on the 3-4, but, well, Bill Parcells went away from it later in his career, didn't he? So did Dan Reeves and Dick Vermeil. The Patriots won the Super Bowl last season with a three-man front, but they were first team in 11 years since Parcells' '90 Giants to do it. That's all it takes, though, to spur a renaissance one club having some success. (OK, a lot of success.)
Smith was thrilled when the Redskins hired Spurrier, who, unlike his predecessor, doesn't believe in torturous training camps. But Bruce can't be too excited about the prospect of going back to the defense he played in Buffalo for 15 years. The 3-4 is just harder on defensive ends, that's all; they take more of a beating because they don't line up as wide. And that's the last thing a player wants at Bruce's stage of life.
Spurrier doesn't sound too concerned about Lang's leaving. But that's because he probably still thinks he's going to outscore everybody. So we win 38-21 instead of 38-14. What's the big deal? Once the games start, though, he may feel differently. Experience is important, sure, but it's still a young man's game. Young players give a team energy. (They also tend to spend less time in the training room.)
But Snyder, as always, is going to do it His Way. The Patriots, it seems, have made everybody brave maybe too brave. They signed a score of affordable free agents last year and won it all, and now other clubs think they can do the same thing. So they're shopping more at Kmart than at Neiman Marcus this offseason, looking for bargains.
The Pats were an aberration, though; we might not see another Super Bowl champ like them in our lifetimes. The reality of free agency is usually much different. The reality of free agency is that, by and large, you get what you pay for.


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