- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

The Washington Redskins stormed into free agency yesterday by signing top guards Randy Thomas and Dave Fiore and trading for speedy running back Trung Canidate.
The club also was close to deals with defensive tackle Brandon Noble and defensive end Regan Upshaw, NFL sources said.
Thomas, Fiore, Noble and Upshaw all visited Redskin Park. Wide receiver Raghib "Rocket" Ismail was on hand for a second straight day, but sources said the sides continued to disagree on contract terms.
Relentless might be the best way to describe Washington on the first day of free agency. Implementing the tactic of "aggressive discipline" outlined by vice president of football operations Joe Mendes, the Redskins ardently pursued the top players identified by their scouting department.
"The biggest thing is that we had a plan," personnel director Vinny Cerrato said. "The hard work that we put in over the few last months has paid off so far. We expect it to pay off more."
Thomas, 27, was regarded as the best guard on the market after rising with the New York Jets. He agreed to a seven-year contract valued at $28million, including a $7million signing bonus, according to sources. The money is almost unprecedented for a guard, a position overlooked by most teams (including the Redskins until now).
Fiore, 28, has had some injury problems, including a torn ACL in his right knee last season. But he was acquired for a much more modest $6.4million over four years with a $1.5million signing bonus. And he brings outstanding strength and speed and an impressive work ethic from the San Francisco 49ers.
The pair could make Washington's offensive line one of the league's best if they can create chemistry and stay healthy. Thomas will team with tackle Jon Jansen for a superb right side while Fiore works with Pro Bowl performer Chris Samuels for a promising left.
For years the Redskins have employed the league's conventional wisdom and attempted to bottom-feed at guard. At times it produced success, as with Dave Szott, and at others it flopped, as with Rod Jones last season.
This time Washington made guard and protecting second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey its top priority.
"What's happening is how defenses are changing in the National Football League," Cerrato said. "They're putting their bigger, better players on the inside. To have lesser people in there makes it very difficult. Guard is becoming a more important position."
Versatility is one of Fiore's strong points; he has played every offensive line position, including tight end, in the NFL. But he and agent Arthur Weiss emphasized that a key reason for signing was the opportunity to start at one position after years of being shuffled in San Francisco.
"That was one of the things that drove me to be here," Fiore said. "I felt I had a chance to stay at one position and concentrate on one position. That, I think over the long term, is going to help me be a better player and help the team be more successful."
Canidate, who turns 26 on Monday, at least partially fills Washington's desire for speed on offense. Cerrato noted that the draft is poor in running backs, so it made sense to give up a fourth-round pick (as well as guard David Loverne) for Canidate, a former first-rounder who was stuck behind Marshall Faulk in St. Louis.
The club also is looking for speed in its receiving corps, evidenced by the interest in Ismail, whose MRI on Thursday revealed no major problems in his neck. Washington eventually might look at wideouts Ike Hilliard (New York Giants) and Kevin Dyson (Tennessee), as well. Cerrato said the club is not interested in David Boston (Arizona), though a number of people in the league expected the Redskins to pursue him.
The Redskins have expressed interest in a number of other players who could visit in coming days, including defensive end Chike Okeafor (San Francisco) and quarterback Jake Delhomme (New Orleans).
The Redskins certainly are using all their available salary cap room. Washington had less than $2million of space after Wednesday's cuts and tender offers; signing Fiore and trading for Canidate pretty much used up that room. Thomas won't officially sign his contract until today, by which point the Redskins will have to release a player or two or restructure a contract. Jones is a likely cut, and guard Brenden Stai could be pressured to reduce his $1.2million salary or be released.
Among Washington's free agents, defensive tackle Daryl Gardener scheduled a visit to Denver on Monday, and wide receiver Derrius Thompson set up one in Miami the same day.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide