- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

Washington Redskins defensive end Bruce Smith signed a three-year, $10million contract yesterday that gives the club a salary cap cushion this season and makes it far easier for him to return next year.

Smith's 2002 cap figure drops almost $2.1million. It allows Washington enough space to tinker with the roster, replace players who might be injured this year and make more lucrative offers to running back Stephen Davis and offensive tackle Jon Jansen, who are in line to become free agents next spring.

In 2003, Smith's cap hit falls nearly $3.6million. Before the new deal, he almost certainly would have been released as his 40th birthday approached on June18. Now his salary is barely above the minimum and Washington would save little if anything by parting with him.

The new deal did require Smith to take a $750,000 paycut this year, following a plan that had been discussed on and off during the offseason. His salary was scheduled to be $3.5million; now he gets a $2million signing bonus (prorated for cap purposes) and the minimum $750,000 salary.

Agent Leigh Steinberg reiterated that the paycut meant little to Smith in order to help Washington be more competitive. The Redskins' cap room had dwindled to about $800,000 because five players are on injured reserve.

"He is energized and anxious to be a part of the team for at least the next couple of years," Steinberg said. "He willingly facilitated the team's attempt to create the strongest possible roster. At this point, winning is paramount."

The deal also includes several incentives that will boost Smith's compensation if he performs well. First, if he records 12½ sacks to break Reggie White's career record (198) over the next two seasons, he will earn a $750,000 payout. He also will earn an extra $500,000 in 2003 if he plays in 75 percent of the defensive snaps and Washington wins at least 10 games.

Smith's salary is scheduled to be $6.5million in 2004, which would force another restructuring or lead to his retirement.

Guards to rotate

Offensive line coach Kim Helton said he is planning to rotate David Loverne, Ross Tucker and perhaps Kipp Vickers at left guard in Sunday's opener against the Arizona Cardinals. After each takes snaps against the same players, the team should have a better idea of who should start on a more permanent basis.

"I don't plan on a scenario where one guy's going to stay in the whole game," Helton said. "I do plan on having an opportunity for two guys who I think are equal players to go compete. I think when we get through playing this first game, a lot more things become clear."

Loverne didn't play against starters during the preseason but emerged as the front-runner when Tucker made several key errors last week against the New England Patriots. Helton will decide a starter today or tomorrow but it shouldn't matter too much if each gets a chance Sunday.

Part of Helton's planning right now seems to involve possible backup scenarios: Tucker has to be able to back up right guard and right tackle, and Vickers must fill in at left tackle if necessary.

"We can't just say [to Tucker], 'Hey, go have a nice day and play left guard,'" Helton said. "That's not his role on this team yet."

Samuels healthy, but

Helton didn't sound convinced that left tackle Chris Samuels should play on his healing left ankle, deferring questions about the Pro Bowl blocker to "the trainer and the head coach." Samuels later said Helton was being overprotective.

Samuels, who sprained his ankle in the Aug.10 exhibition at Carolina, once again participated in a full practice and afterward was upbeat.

"I know I'm going to play on it," Samuels said. "I'm really not worried about it. He could [worry]; it's not his ankle. He just needs to leave it up to me, in my opinion."

Defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, meanwhile, declared himself "100 percent" after recovering from back spasms and said he expects to play the whole game if necessary. He missed 14 games in 2000 and 2001 to back surgeries but said that's about the only thing that would keep him out as the regular season opens.

"Season, man, please," Gardener said. "Season, I don't miss a game. It has to be something real crazy like having surgery."

Samuels and Gardener joined linebacker Eddie Mason (shoulder) and defensive end Otis Leverette (knee) as probable for Sunday. Tight end Walter Rasby (knee) and linebacker Antonio Pierce (ankle) are out.

For Arizona, center Mike Gruttadauria (back) is probable. Tackle Anthony Clement (arm) and safety Adrian Wilson (shoulder) are out.

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