- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 4, 2003

Re-signing wide receiver Derrius Thompson might look attractive to the Washington Redskins when the so-so market at his position is considered.

Thompson, 25, was solid as a first-time starter this season, catching 53 passes for 773 yards and four touchdowns. Although he initially appeared a suspect fit for coach Steve Spurrier's system he is big (6-foot-2, 216 pounds) and not a burner he was extremely productive by season's end.

In the last five games, Thompson caught 28 balls for 437 yards and three scores, thanks to Spurrier learning to use his bigger receivers, rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey emerging as the starter and Thompson's increased comfort.

Over the course of a season, those averages would translate to about 90 catches, 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Now the Redskins have until March4 to work out a long-term deal for Thompson. He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent when the market opens, and Washington has exclusive negotiating rights until then. Spurrier has said he would like to re-sign Thompson.

Some in the organization, however, seem infatuated with bringing in a free agent receiver like Buffalo's Peerless Price, who caught 94 passes for 1,252 yards and nine touchdowns this season.

But an examination of the expected market shows no star wideouts available beyond Price, who has questions such as, can he survive as a team's No.1, when he's not playing next to Eric Moulds? Also, Price would command a huge contract because he clearly would be the best receiver available. Arizona's David Boston is at that level, but there appears no way the Cardinals will let him reach the market.

After Price, the top receivers should include the New York Giants' Ike Hilliard, Tennessee's Kevin Dyson, Kansas City's Eddie Kennison and Atlanta's Brian Finneran. Hilliard and Dyson both have injury histories; Kennison has had issues of other sorts; and Finneran is more a possession guy like Thompson.

In other words, it might make sense to bring back Thompson, who already has a year in Spurrier's system and whose career is still rising, rather than bringing in a free agent just to bring in a free agent.

Agent Vann McElroy, contacted yesterday, wasn't sure about the Redskins' intentions but hoped a deal could be worked out before the market opens.

"I am hopeful to have discussions with the Redskins," McElroy said. "Derrius likes playing there, and we think it's a good place for him. But certainly there is a market for him, and seeing the other free agents out there, that market should only continue to emerge."

Two premier wide receivers are scheduled to be restricted free agents: the New York Jets' Laveranues Coles and Seattle's Darrell Jackson. But those players will command at least a first-round pick to pry from their clubs.

Chicago's Dez White, who has great speed but is inconsistent, is a restricted free agent who probably will be tendered at the lowest level. In his case, a third-round pick would be required as compensation.

If Washington focuses its free-agent dollars on other positions of need like guard, defensive tackle and a pass-rushing defensive end, the club could use its first-round selection (13th overall) on a speed receiver to go with Thompson.

That player then could compete with Thompson, Darnerien McCants and 2002 third-rounder Cliff Russell (a speed receiver who spent last season on injured reserve) for the starting job alongside Rod Gardner.

Adjusting to Spurrier's system is another consideration in bringing in a free agent. Hilliard obviously has a history with Spurrier, having played for him at Florida, but so did former Gators stars Jacquez Green, Reidel Anthony and Willie Jackson, all of whom flopped in the scheme this year.

Other free agents might need time to feel comfortable. Spurrier asks a lot from his wideouts. They must run precise routes, and they sometimes have a choice of routes depending on where defenders play. That's why the receivers and quarterback must be "on the same page," as players often say.

Also, the coach adjusted the Fun 'n' Gun to work for possession-oriented receivers toward year's end, and it's unclear whether there remains the same need for a speed guy. Spurrier even acknowledged in the latter stages of the season that receivers don't get as open in the NFL as he was used to at Florida.

Having Ramsey at quarterback also factors into a decision. Ramsey throws the ball much harder than Danny Wuerffel or Shane Matthews, meaning separation isn't as crucial.

Notes Cincinnati interviewed former Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin yesterday for its vacant coaching position, for which Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis is a top candidate. The Bengals seem likely to choose among Coughlin, Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey (who interviews today) and Lewis (who interviewed Tuesday) early next week. The Redskins signed three street free agents: linebacker Shamar Finney, defensive end Mike Cecere and tackle Pita Elisara.

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