- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder recently placed director of player personnel Vinny Cerrato in charge of next year's draft and free agency, a move that signals the team's readiness to spend heavily to acquire players in the offseason.

The move makes Cerrato the Redskins' de facto general manager and represents a demotion for vice president of football operations Joe Mendes, who had been responsible for those areas. Mendes now will handle contract negotiations and the salary cap, according to NFL and team sources.

Mendes declined to comment, and Snyder doesn't accept interview requests during the season.

Mendes and Cerrato have had a strained relationship Redskin Park employees reported overhearing several shouting matches between the two in recent months and a blowup on Nov.17 prompted Snyder to reshuffle management, according to sources.

Mendes' future with the team now is uncertain, and several other front-office employees also are expected to leave after the season.

The return of Cerrato as the team's de facto general manager indicates the Redskins are preparing for an aggressive offseason. The team spent nearly $100million in 2000, when Cerrato occupied the same position.

That year, the Redskins signed cornerback Deion Sanders, quarterback Jeff George, defensive end Bruce Smith and safety Mark Carrier. Those players mostly were short-term failures whose dramatic impact on the salary cap prevented the Redskins from retaining their top free agents or acquiring others over the past two years.

The Redskins are only about $3million below the projected cap for 2003, though current figures will change significantly before the new salary cap takes effect in early March. The club isn't yet positioned for a big spending spree. However, running back Stephen Davis is expected to be released, a move that would clear $5.2million in cap space. Reworking the contracts of several veterans would free millions of dollars more.

The Redskins again could take a short-term approach, paying large bonuses in order to delay a heavy salary cap impact. The team is expected to pursue running backs, receivers, guards and perhaps a quarterback in the offseason.

Under Cerrato, the coaching staff increasingly will be used to analyze draft prospects and free agents. Some members of the staff were influential in the personnel process last offseason, but their role is expected to increase, particularly with regard to coach Steve Spurrier.

Cerrato's quick resurgence matches the swift downfall he suffered when he was fired by coach Marty Schottenheimer in January 2001 after two seasons with the franchise. The firing made Snyder furious, but he deferred to Schottenheimer because he had given the coach complete operational control.

Snyder rehired Cerrato after he fired Schottenheimer in January 2002.

Cerrato's only draft with the Redskins, in 2000, produced mixed results. Cerrato selected linebacker LaVar Arrington, who went on to the Pro Bowl, and offensive tackle Chris Samuels with the second and third overall selections. However, Cerrato's remaining six picks produced little, and only one, defensive tackle Del Cowsette, remains on the team. Several trades involving low-round selections also were suspect.

Mendes preached fiscal conservatism throughout the offseason, but team sources said Snyder was frustrated by lengthy offseason contract talks that included a 16-day holdout by quarterback Patrick Ramsey, the team's first-round draft choice. The Redskins' failure to sign a proven guard also has been criticized.

Talks to rework Davis' deal and keep the two-time Pro Bowl running back with the Redskins have been nonexistent since the season began. Davis has a $11.4million salary cap number next season, so the Redskins must renegotiate his deal or release him. The team tried to pressure Davis to renegotiate during the offseason but settled for a minor restructuring during the preseason.

The club made a six-year, $24million offer to extend the expiring contract of offensive tackle Jon Jansen, a cornerstone of the line. Jansen rejected the deal, and talks have not restarted. Both Davis and Jansen appear unlikely to remain with the Redskins next season.

Mendes will return to the duties he previously held under general manager Charley Casserly for seven years. Mendes resigned in July 2000 after a series of high-profile deals under Cerrato. Mendes was a consultant for player agents for 18 months before he returned to the Redskins.

Staff writer Jody Foldesy contributed to this article.

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