- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Don't get me wrong. Daryl Gardener did a bang-up job for the Redskins at defensive tackle last season. He came to the rescue after Santana Dotson got hurt and played better than any D-lineman on the team, stuffing the run and providing consistent pressure up the middle.
That said, I'm not sure Dan Snyder should spend $4 million a year to re-sign a guy with a history of back problems, not when he's already spending $5 million a year on a middle linebacker coming off knee surgery. What if Gardener has more MRIs than sacks next season and Jeremiah Trotter doesn't recapture his old form right away? Where is the Redskins defense then?
Snyder, as we all know, has been one of the league's more careless shoppers in recent years. He's wasted millions on questionable acquisitions and put the club in serious salary cap straits as a result. Just once, it would be nice to see him do the prudent thing and say, "Look, it was great to have Daryl last season, but we're not going to press our luck and give him a $20 million deal, even with injury protections built in. For that kind of money, I want a surer thing."
For that kind of money, Snyder might even prefer a defensive end (Vonnie Holliday, anyone?). Then again, he could always draft a tackle (Penn State's Jimmy Kennedy? Washington State's Rien Long?) and save his free agent dollars for the offense, which sorely needs them. But that, of course, would involve thinking in the long-term, and Dan the Man has always been more concerned with the here and now.
What I keep wondering is: When are the Redskins going to find a few hidden gems in free agency instead of paying through the facemask for just about every significant player they sign? When are they going to come up with a Greg Spires of their own?
Perhaps you noticed Spires in the Super Bowl, making life miserable for Rich Gannon. He was the left end for the Tampa Bay Bucs, No.94 on your scorecard. Anyway, the Bucs picked him up last season for the low, low price of $2.4 million over three years, and things really came together for him. He had a couple of sacks in the postseason, kept Gannon, Donovan McNabb and Jeff Garcia from running wild outside the pocket what a discovery.
The Redskins also were looking for a left end a year ago, you may recall. They settled on Renaldo Wynn, who cost considerably more ($20.5 million for six years) than Spires did. It was a typical Snyder signing in that Wynn was a known quantity, a former first-round draft choice, rather than some nameless slug. (Nothing but the best for Dan.) And known quantities are almost invariably the most expensive items on the free agent market.
Spires, on the other hand, was largely a mystery man. He was drafted in the third round in '98, spent his first three seasons with the Patriots, then got cut and was with the Browns for a year. He did show some pass-rush ability his third season, racking up six sacks, but who figured him to start for a Super Bowl champion other than the Bucs, maybe?
Every year there are free agent success stories like his, players who emerge from total obscurity to become solid contributors, if not stars. I'm just curious to see when the Redskins are going to stumble across one. Instead of emptying the wall safe for Gardener, for instance, perhaps they should consider somebody like Cletidus Hunt, a lower-profile and three-years-younger defensive tackle with the Packers. Hunt is at the same stage of his career Spires was last winter and just had his best season (5 sacks in 14 games). Granted, he's been suspended for substance abuse (in '01), but not every substance abuser turns into Leon Lett.
The Redskins' last Super Bowl team was filled with such free agent finds. Who ever heard of Fred Stokes before he pulled on a Washington jersey? Fred was one of the last players taken in the '87 draft three picks away from being Mr. Irrelevant and had been on injured reserve twice in his two seasons with the Rams. Or what about Martin Mayhew? Or Danny Copeland? Or Brad Edwards? Or Ron Middleton? All played significant roles on that club, and all were virtually anonymous when they arrived at Redskin Park. (As was another free agent steal, Ray Brown, who made his mark later on.)
Name one free agent pickup on the current roster with a similar background, I mean who would compare with this group.
The Redskins should be poring over game tapes looking for undiscovered talent, not preparing $20 million contract proposals for 30-year-old defensive tackles with iffy backs. The Bucs showed the way not just with Spires, but with Joe Jurevicius and Michael Pittman, too and Dan Snyder would be wise to follow.

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