- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

The Washington Redskins positioned themselves to obtain a new starting free safety yesterday, signing restricted free agent Matt Bowen to an offer sheet that the Green Bay Packers appear unlikely to match.

At issue is the clubs' differing perceptions of Bowen's role in 2003. The Redskins see him as a starter ahead of David Terrell, and with that in mind they signed him to a four-year, $6 million offer sheet that included a $1.6 million signing bonus, NFL sources said.

The Packers already have starters in Darren Sharper and Marques Anderson and a former first-round draft pick, Antuan Edwards, as a reserve. They aren't expected to pay that kind of money for a backup.

Meanwhile, veteran defensive end Bruce Smith still intends to play next season though Washington signed Regan Upshaw to start ahead of him. Smith, 39, indicated at the Super Bowl that he wants to play another year, and yesterday agent Leigh Steinberg confirmed that nothing has changed.

"His intentions are to play," Steinberg said. "He still wants to win the Super Bowl, and he still wants to break the sack record."

Smith needs three sacks to match Reggie White's NFL career record of 198, and it now appears he will do so in Washington. Sources said the Redskins would have cut Smith for a younger player of equal production had Marvin Lewis remained defensive coordinator, but Lewis' departure and Smith's close relationship with owner Dan Snyder now make a release unlikely.

Defensive coordinator George Edwards already has said Upshaw will start at Smith's right end position. But that isn't a problem, according to Steinberg.

"He made the assumption there was going to be competition," Steinberg said.

The Packers have a week to match Bowen's offer sheet. If they do not by 4 p.m. Tuesday, he will become a Redskin and Washington will surrender its sixth-round draft pick (based on his draft round in 2000) as compensation.

"I'm just looking for the best place, the best opportunity," Bowen said as he left Redskin Park in the afternoon. "That's what I see here."

Asked whether he believed Green Bay would match, he replied, "I really don't know. … I know I've got a great opportunity here."

The Redskins also are pursuing another restricted free agent, New York Jets return man Chad Morton. The sides are negotiating an offer sheet, and sources said the talks are tricky because they want to craft a deal New York won't match. The conventional way to do that is inflate the first-year cap figure, but in this case the Jets have plenty of cap room and the Redskins don't.

Still, Washington views Morton, 25, as a kickoff and punt returner and occasional contributor at running back and wide receiver, meaning his value to the Redskins is much higher than it is to the Jets. Morton's duties in New York are pretty much limited to kickoff returns, and he is eager to expand his role.

"The role [the Redskins have] described is intriguing," said Steinberg, who also represents Morton.

No visit by Morton is planned, in large part because both sides already like what they see. Morton, besides looking forward to his prospective role, was coached at Southern California by Redskins offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. Washington, for its part, has determined that Morton is the best available kick returner.

The compensation for Morton would be a fifth-round pick. The Redskins didn't have one until they traded a seventh-rounder and a 2004 fourth-rounder to New England on Monday.

The draft is viewed as a viable alternative for finding a kick returner, and Washington remains interested in Jermaine Lewis.

The Redskins' other top priority is a speed wide receiver, and there aren't many options after Raghib "Rocket" Ismail retired yesterday. Washington had been courting Ismail. The club also is considering free agents at punter, including Tom Tupa and Hunter Smith, and might add depth on the defensive line.

Bowen, 26, won St. Louis' rookie of the year award in 2000, when he played in 16 games and started two. He was injured much of 2001 before playing all 16 games last season for Green Bay with six starts. His size (6-foot-1, 210 pounds), speed and age make him attractive to Washington.

Among Redskins free agents, defensive tackle Daryl Gardener is close to a deal in Denver. Running back Stephen Davis is visiting Houston and is headed for Carolina next. Wide receiver Derrius Thompson journeyed to Minnesota last night after concluding a visit to Miami. And linebacker Kevin Mitchell is leaning more strongly toward re-signing in Washington though he remains interested in competing for a starting job elsewhere.

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