- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

The Washington Redskins met with Jermaine Lewis yesterday, making the veteran return man a viable backup option should their deal for restricted free agent Chad Morton fall through.
Lewis, a Maryland native and former Terrapins star receiver, represents the Redskins' contingency plan should the New York Jets choose to retain Morton, who on Thursday signed an offer sheet with Washington worth nearly $8million over five years. The Jets have until 4 p.m. Thursday to match the offer or accept the Redskins' fifth-round draft pick as compensation.
Morton, 25, remains the Redskins' primary target to take over kickoff and punt return duties next season. But while they wait for New York to make its decision, club officials have turned their attention to Lewis.
Lewis, 28, was a two-time Pro Bowl selection (1998 and 2001) with the Baltimore Ravens but struggled last year after being taken by the Houston Texans in the expansion draft. Lewis caught two passes for 41 yards and ranked 18th in the league in punt returns (7.9 yards) and 35th in kickoff returns (20.9).
The unrestricted free agent was hindered by an ankle injury that limited him to 12 games, but yesterday he declared himself healthy after undergoing a physical and meeting with team officials at Redskin Park.
"They have the offer out to Morton, so they have to see how that pans out with the Jets," Lewis said. "Me and him, we do the same thing. So I obviously have to wait and see what happens with that situation."
Lewis has attracted interest from several other teams. He previously visited Cincinnati and Miami and will be in Jacksonville on Monday.
"Right now, I'm just kind of weighing my options," he said.
One thing Lewis may have going for him is his willingness to be strictly a kickoff and punt returner. Though he said he still thinks he can be a productive wide receiver, Lewis knows he's most marketable as a return specialist.
"I feel like if I'm compensated as one of the top return men, I can focus on that," he said. "I've done it before in my past. So [the chance to play receiver] is not a deal-breaker or anything like that. Whatever works best, I'll do."
Meanwhile, Washington lost Derrius Thompson to the Miami Dolphins yesterday when the free agent receiver signed a three-year deal worth about $3.6million.
Thompson caught 53 passes for 773 yards last season, second only to Rod Gardner, but did not fit the speed receiver mold the Redskins desire. Washington never made any attempt to re-sign the 25-year-old.
One receiver the Redskins have set their sights on, free agent Kevin Dyson, visited the Carolina Panthers yesterday. Dyson, who met with Washington officials Tuesday and Wednesday, continues to mull his offers.
Joining Dyson in Charlotte yesterday was former Redskins running back Stephen Davis. Davis, the recent victim of a salary cap cut, has offers from both the Panthers and Texans and apparently will make his decision early next week.
Another Washington free agent, quarterback Shane Matthews, will visit the Minnesota Vikings this weekend.
And offensive lineman David Brandt, who made the Redskins' roster as an undrafted rookie in 2001 but retired shortly thereafter, plans to make a comeback. Agent Joe Linta confirmed this yesterday and said his client is planning to report to the Redskins' offseason program.
Washington, however has a sudden glut of offensive linemen after last week's signings of guards Randy Thomas, Dave Fiore, Lennie Friedman and Tre Johnson, so it's likely Brandt will be released and forced to look for work elsewhere.
Staff writer Jody Foldesy contributed to this report.

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