- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

The Washington Redskins actually stepped up their frenetic acquisition pace yesterday, signing kicker John Hall, quarterback Rob Johnson and guard Lennie Friedman and re-signing guard Tre Johnson.
Continuing to capture the players identified by their scouting department, the Redskins made the first move in overhauling their specialists (Hall), found a backup for second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey (Rob Johnson) and bolstered the depth on their interior offensive line (Friedman and Johnson).
The additions followed a two-day start to free agency that was pretty wild in its own right. On Friday, the first day of the signing and trading period, the Redskins signed guards Randy Thomas and Dave Fiore and traded for running back Trung Canidate, and on Saturday they added defensive end Regan Upshaw and defensive tackle Brandon Noble.
Meanwhile, even considering the Redskins' widespread interest and activity through three days of free agency, a rather stunning name has popped up on their list of possibilities: Brian Mitchell.
The club's longtime star kick returner, who played the past three seasons for Philadelphia but continued to live in Centreville, is attracting interest from Washington and is willing to consider a return for the end of his Hall of Fame career, NFL sources said.
Mitchell, 34, left the Redskins on acrimonious terms in 2000, when he was cut and the club split its return duties between Deion Sanders and James Thrash. But three years have passed and both sides have softened their feelings to the point that a reunion is possible.
"There's absolutely no question that if the Redskins were interested in Brian, Brian would be interested in playing for the Redskins," agent Steve Baker said. "Brian wasn't happy how he left, but he loved his experience as a Redskin."
Baker confirmed that he's been in contact with the Redskins regarding Mitchell, who yesterday visited the New York Giants and had one other visit scheduled. Mitchell continued to impress in Philadelphia in recent years last year ranking second in the NFC in kickoff returns and third in punt returns but the Eagles only want to bring him back for the minimum.
Washington, for its part, also is evaluating several other options at kick returner. Sources said the No.1 choice is Chad Morton, a restricted free agent of the New York Jets who scored twice on kickoffs last season.
However, Morton's restricted status poses a real problem. First, signing him away would require a fifth-round pick (his draft round in 2000) as compensation. The Redskins traded this year's fifth-round pick to Detroit for guard Brenden Stai, who's becoming an increasingly likely cut, and their fourth-round pick was shipped to St. Louis for Canidate. Second, the Jets, rich in salary cap room, have the right to match any offer.
The Redskins also are interested in Jermaine Lewis, and the draft is considered a viable avenue. The plan seems to be to monitor each possibility (Morton, Mitchell, Lewis and the draft) and then strike the best deal.
Washington is focused on bolstering its special teams after a rough performance in 2002. Besides signing Hall and investigating a variety of returners, the Redskins also are looking hard at some punters, among them Tom Tupa and Hunter Smith, sources said.
Tupa seems to be a particularly good fit because of his history with Hall. The two played together with the Jets in 1999 and 2000 (with Tupa going to the Pro Bowl in 1999), and Hall didn't hesitate yesterday to call Tupa his favorite holder in the NFL.
"He's just an outstanding person," Hall said. "He can punt, he can throw the ball, he can do anything. He's a great athlete and a great holder."
Throwing the ball, of course, is another way in which Tupa might fit the Redskins: his quarterbacking skills would allow coach Steve Spurrier to devise some creative plays.
Hall, who turns 29 later this month, signed a five-year, $7.13million deal with a $1.6million signing bonus, NFL sources said. He has surpassed the 100-point barrier in four of his five NFL seasons. Last year he ranked eighth in the AFC with 107 points and made 77.4 percent of his field goals.
"I'm very impressed with the organization and the community," Hall said as he left Redskin Park in the afternoon. "[The Redskins have] done a very good job presenting [themselves]. … It seems like a good fit."
Rob Johnson, who turns 30 later this month, agreed to a two-year deal for $2million with a $250,000 signing bonus. His talent, arm strength and stature (6-foot-4, 212 pounds) are far above those of Danny Wuerffel, who was the fallback plan as Ramsey's reserve. After washing out in Buffalo, Johnson was a backup to Brad Johnson with the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Friedman, 26, signed a one-year contract for the minimum salary ($450,000) plus a $25,000 signing bonus. The second-round pick by Denver in 1999, who started 14 games in 2001 but missed most of last season with a thumb injury, is slated at least as a reserve guard and could compete for the starting center position against Larry Moore.
"He's such a good athlete," personnel director Vinny Cerrato said.
Tre Johnson, 31, went to the 1999 Pro Bowl as a Redskin but is injury-prone. In 2000 he tore the ACL in his left knee, and in 2001, after signing with Cleveland, he tore his quadriceps where it attaches to his right knee. He never got into optimum shape last year after re-joining the Redskins at midseason, but the club now hopes he can be a valuable reserve on a one-year deal for the minimum salary ($655,000).
"The last time he was healthy [in 1999], he was a dominant force," Cerrato said.
The Redskins, despite nine pickups in three days, aren't done yet. They continue to look for speed at receiver talking to Raghib "Rocket" Ismail, though oft-mentioned Ike Hilliard re-signed with the New York Giants as well as a starting-caliber safety and the aforementioned specialists.
Among Redskins free agents, running back Stephen Davis is scheduled to make the first of several visits to Houston tomorrow, and Denver seemingly is prepared for a strong run at defensive tackle Daryl Gardener today.

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