- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

The Washington Redskins began pursuing a pair of restricted free agents yesterday, New York Jets kick returner Chad Morton and Green Bay Packers safety Matt Bowen, NFL sources said.

In each instance, the player's current team has the right to match Washington's offer. And the Redskins, if the player accepts their offer sheet, would have to surrender draft-pick compensation based on the player's draft round. For Morton, it would be a fifth-rounder and for Bowen, a sixth.

To pursue Morton, the Redskins acquired a fifth-round pick from New England for a seventh-rounder this year and a fourth-rounder next year.

"We will use that pick on a restricted free agent in the near future," personnel director Vinny Cerrato said.

Washington's fifth-round pick had been traded to Detroit for guard Brenden Stai last year. Stai was cut yesterday after the Redskins signed four guards in the first three days of free agency. The Redskins also traded their fourth-round pick Friday to St. Louis for running back Trung Canidate.

Morton, 25, returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last season for the Jets. He is the Redskins' No. 1 option at kick returner, sources said, even though the club has been in contact with Jermaine Lewis and has scheduled a tentative visit with him. An intriguing fallback plan fell through yesterday when Brian Mitchell signed with the New York Giants.

Bowen, 26, was mostly a reserve safety for Green Bay last season. He can play both free and strong safety but is considered more of a free safety. He has great speed, an almost certain part of Washington's interest. The Redskins have their own restricted free agent, David Terrell, slotted to start at free safety but are looking to upgrade.

Prying Morton could be more difficult than Bowen because the Jets have plenty of cap room while the Packers have little.

Wide receiver remains a key interest of the Redskins. They have been talking to Raghib "Rocket" Ismail in hopes of obtaining his speed and having him provide veteran leadership to an otherwise young corps. At punter, the Redskins are interested in Tom Tupa and Hunter Smith, among others.

Among Redskins free agents, defensive tackle Daryl Gardener appears likely to sign with Denver today; running back Stephen Davis is visiting Houston today and Carolina later this week; and wide receiver Derrius Thompson was in Miami last night for a visit today.

Stai is close to being injury-free after missing the final 11 games last season because of torn cartilage in his knee. He underwent arthroscopic surgery at season's end and should receive medical clearance to be able to practice in a few weeks, agent Paul Sheehy said.

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