- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

Quarterback Mark Brunell, after evaluating at least four other teams without making official contact, has settled on Washington as his likely home. NFL and team sources said the sides have intensified negotiations with hopes of completing an agreement in coming days.

Although there is no guarantee a deal will be reached, Brunell’s desire to become a Redskin and owner Dan Snyder’s history of landing targeted free agents makes a union very likely.

“Mark’s enthusiasm towards the situation in Washington has grown enormously in the last week,” agent Leigh Steinberg said by phone last night.

Brunell had been weighing clubs like the Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although his current team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, was reluctant to grant contact, Brunell probably could have leveraged meetings with the $2million roster bonus he will waive to facilitate a trade.

But Brunell didn’t need official contact to get a good sense of what playing in Miami or Tampa would be like. After weighing the plusses and minuses of his possible destinations, he is focused on a pairing with Redskins coach Joe Gibbs and hopes for a legitimate Super Bowl run in the next two seasons.

Assuming contract parameters can be worked out, the Jaguars will swap Brunell for a third-round draft pick. The deal would be executed when the signing and trading period begins March3.

Meanwhile, Washington yesterday placed the franchise tag on cornerback Champ Bailey, NFL sources said. The deadline isn’t until Tuesday, but the Redskins hope using the tag early will clear up any uncertainty as they seek to set up a trade for the market’s opening March3.

Many teams are believed interested in talking to Bailey’s agent, Jack Reale, starting today at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The Detroit Lions, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals all have reported interest, while the Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans are believed to be in the hunt.

Trading Bailey would replenish the Redskins’ dwindling stock of draft picks. After acquiring Brunell, Washington would be left with selections in the first, second and fifth rounds. The club’s asking price for Bailey is believed to be first- and second-round picks.

Bailey’s departure also would open up cap space to sign Brunell and pursue other big-name free agents. NFL sources said Snyder intends to have another aggressive start to the signing period, using his private jet to fly across the nation to pick up coveted veterans. Defensive end Jevon Kearse and defensive tackle Warren Sapp are believed to be on Washington’s wish list.

The first pickup, though, likely will be Brunell. The quarterback himself acknowledged the high probability of a deal in an Internet report late Tuesday.

“Things have really picked up,” Brunell told CBS Sportsline. “I’m excited about the chance to play for the Redskins. To have this work out this way, if the deal does get done, would be a great thing for me and my career.”

One tricky element remains in the Brunell acquisition: the presence of young incumbent Patrick Ramsey. Brunell, according to a source, is not concerned about the possibility of a quarterback controversy.

Still, it remains to be seen whether his logic is correct. Gibbs has stressed that Ramsey won’t be traded and that he will have a chance to compete for the starting job. With Ramsey on hand, fans and media could call for a switch if Brunell struggles early next season.

Ramsey’s camp has indicated to Gibbs that he would want a trade if Brunell were acquired, but the young quarterback has no leverage to force such a move. Ramsey is relatively inexpensive and Gibbs, according to team sources, is determined to have two starting quality passers on his roster.

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