- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2003

The Washington Redskins continued their free agent frenzy yesterday, finalizing deals with a pair of promising but modestly priced defensive linemen and welcoming talented kicker John Hall for a visit.
Becoming the club's fourth and fifth additions two days into the signing period were defensive end Regan Upshaw, a capable pass-rusher who will start ahead of Bruce Smith on the right side, and defensive tackle Brandon Noble, a blue-collar nose guard who will absorb interior double-teams.
Upshaw and Noble were among the four free agents who toured Redskin Park on Friday. By signing they followed the lead of the other two, guards Randy Thomas and Dave Fiore. Washington also traded for running back Trung Canidate on Friday, and last night Hall looked like he might become the sixth new Redskin when he visited the complex.
Both of the newest additions were a bit under the radar at their respective positions, something reflected in their contracts. Upshaw agreed to a five-year, $7.5million deal with a $2million signing bonus, while Noble signed for four years and $7million, NFL sources said.
The two were targeted by Washington's scouting department, and owner Dan Snyder swayed them with the same lavish treatment he afforded Thomas, who signed a blockbuster seven-year,$28 million contract. The Redskins remain confident that their strategy of "aggressive discipline" is succeeding.
"Because we've done our homework, [Upshaw and Noble] kind of rose to the top of our list," personnel director Vinny Cerrato said. "It's all part of the evaluation process."
And there were no signs that the organization was done yet. NFL sources said the Redskins remained interested in wide receivers Raghib "Rocket" Ismail and Ike Hilliard, returner Jermaine Lewis and safeties Dexter Jackson and Lee Flowers. Cerrato, however, said no visits besides Hall's were immediately scheduled.
Opening up the salary cap space for Washington to complete yesterday's signings were tackle Chris Samuels and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who agreed to restructure the majority of their compensation this year, sources said. That allowed the Redskins to prorate the impact of those costs for cap purposes.
Samuels alone saved the club nearly $3.7million of space by restructuring most of his salary and all of a $1million roster bonus and $400,000 workout bonus. Trotter added more than $800,000 of room by redoing his deal. The moves meant Washington did not have to make any cuts, though guards Rod Jones and Brenden Stai remain vulnerable.
A key element in all of Washington's signings so far has been age; none of the players is older than 28. Hall, who turns 29 in a little over two weeks, would be the oldest newcomer if he signs.
The Redskins like Hall for a number of reasons, including his strong leg (unlike a number of free agents, he can kick off as well as do field goals) and experience at Giants Stadium, one of the toughest places in the league to kick. Hall said last night that "there's a few teams interested" but that he had no other visits set up.
Upshaw, 27, is expected to provide a consistent pass rush on the right side without giving up anything against the run. Smith, who turns 40 in June, picked up nine sacks last year but wasn't effective as a run stopper. Defensive coordinator George Edwards didn't hesitate to say that Upshaw is now the starter.
Smith gave indications at the Super Bowl that he plans to play for another year, but whether he is willing to be a reserve behind Upshaw is unclear.
The Redskins, meanwhile, don't appear as likely to cut Smith now as they did at season's end. Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who sources said would have held Smith to a high standard, is gone, and Smith enjoys a close relationship with Snyder. Plus, Smith is scheduled to be paid the minimum for a player of his experience ($755,000).
"[Smiths situation] is still undecided at this point in time," Edwards said. "Hopefully, we'll still have Bruce and have a role for him. He's contemplating some things, and we're contemplating some things. We'll see how it materializes."
Upshaw's trademark is emotion both the good and bad aspects of it. The former first-round pick (1996 by Tampa Bay) can rally his teammates and whip past opposing blockers, but he also once spit in an opposing player's face and draws more than his share of penalties.
"I play aggressive," Upshaw said. "When I go out there on the field, I'm trying to knock the guy out in front of me. Either he's going to knock me out, or I'm going to knock him out. That's how I play. And sometimes people take that aggressiveness and think it's something it's not."
Noble, 28, is far more understated, almost a reminder of departed Redskins center Cory Raymer in his looks and demeanor. His 41 NFL starts haven't made many highlight films, but his comfort over center will allow his fellow defensive tackle to play exclusively over guard something tackles like because it can lead to more sacks and big plays.
Last year, by contrast, Redskins defensive tackles stuck to certain sides of the center, and one would slide into the "nose" depending on the formation.
"I'm obviously not a real flashy athlete," Noble said. "I'm not going to run a 4.2 [in the 40-yard dash] or jump out of a building. But I'll go out there and hold up a double-team all day long."
The Redskins did lose one player who they expected to sign as recently as last week. Defensive lineman Carl Powell, a valuable reserve at end and tackle last season, signed a two-year deal worth nearly $2million with Cincinnati. His signing bonus of $500,000 was about $50,000 more than Washington was offering, but more important was the Bengals' apparent intention of slotting him as the starting left end.

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