- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The Washington Redskins might place the franchise tag on cornerback Champ Bailey in coming days to nudge trade talks with other teams.

The move isn’t required until Tuesday, but the Redskins apparently want no obstacles in their quest to trade Bailey, a move that in turn would facilitate an aggressive start to the free-agency period, NFL sources said yesterday.

Moving Bailey and his $6.8 million salary cap figure would free up room for acquiring big-name veterans. The club already is in talks to trade for Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell, and stars like defensive end Jevon Kearse and defensive tackle Warren Sapp are believed to be atop Washington’s wish list.

Last year the Redskins, with owner Dan Snyder back in a lead role in the personnel department, signed or traded for nine veterans in the first three days of the period. Snyder’s private jet flew back and forth across the country as many other NFL teams played the market more cautiously.

Teams generally wait until the deadline to apply the franchise tag. But the Redskins apparently don’t want confusion while Bailey’s agent, Jack Reale, is meeting with teams this week at the NFL Scouting Combine.

It has been a foregone conclusion that Washington would use the tag, because its deadline is Tuesday and the trading period doesn’t begin until March3. If the Redskins didn’t use the tag, Bailey would hit unrestricted free agency on the latter date.

The franchise tag gives a player’s current team the right to match any offer and receive two first-round draft picks if he is signed away, in return for a one-year guaranteed salary based on the average of the five highest-paid players at his position. In Bailey’s case, the tag requires a $6.8million tender offer.

In practice, the tag all but removes a player from the market unless his current club is prepared to discuss a trade. A year ago, the Buffalo Bills used the tag to get the Atlanta Falcons’ first-round pick in exchange for wide receiver Peerless Price. Bailey, another team and the Redskins will attempt to work out a similar sign-and-trade agreement.

Talks are expected to heat up between Reale and other NFL teams — believed to include the Detroit Lions, Falcons, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans — at the combine, which starts today in Indianapolis.

But no deal will be complete until the prospective club agrees to trade terms with Washington, which has entered the process with immense expectations — believed to be first- and second-round picks.

Teams are expected to wait the Redskins out, knowing that Washington, eager to move Bailey and boost coach Joe Gibbs’ roster, probably will lessen its demands in time — first as the March3 start to free agency approaches (the Redskins want cap space to pursue free agents) and then as the April24-25 draft approaches (they want compensation in 2004, not 2005, picks).

Although the Redskins aren’t expected to try to sign Bailey to a long-term deal, March17 would be a significant deadline for such a move. After March17, franchise rules make it an offense for a player to agree to a long-term deal with his current team. The rules do not apply to sign-and-trade agreements.

Bailey’s tag will count $6.8 million against the cap as soon as it is applied, a move that will push Washington over the spending limit unless it begins making cuts. Once the free-agency period starts on March3, all teams must stay below the cap.

Almost certain to be released is defensive end Bruce Smith, who has left open the possibility of staving off retirement if Gibbs is interested. Also vulnerable are linebacker Jessie Armstead, punter Bryan Barker, running back Trung Canidate, tight end Byron Chamberlain, defensive tackle Lional Dalton and center Larry Moore.

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