- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The Washington Redskins released veterans Bruce Smith, Jessie Armstead, Bryan Barker and Lional Dalton yesterday, clearing $10.9 million in salary cap space and positioning themselves to dive headfirst into the free agent market next week.

Meanwhile, the Redskins and Broncos have agreed to the parameters of the trade that will send cornerback Champ Bailey and a second-round draft pick to Denver for running back Clinton Portis, NFL sources said. The deal, however, remains several days from completion while the Broncos and Bailey’s agent, Jack Reale, negotiate a new contract for the four-time Pro Bowl player.

None of the cuts came as a huge surprise, but the announcement of all four on the same day was another signal the Redskins plan to reshape their roster dramatically. They certainly are positioning themselves to have enough salary cap space to make a major splash in free agency.

Smith’s release alone wipes $6.5 million off the books. Armstead was due to make $1.5 million this year, Dalton $1.4 million (plus $600,000 in roster and workout bonuses) and Barker $900,000. If the Bailey trade goes through, the Redskins will clear up another $6.8 million — the amount he would make as Washington’s franchise player this year.

The Redskins and Broncos moved closer to consummating the Bailey-for-Portis trade yesterday when Denver cleared a crucial hurdle by signing Al Wilson to a long-term contract without needing to use its franchise tag on the linebacker. With those negotiations out of the way, the Broncos can turn their attention to Bailey and the contract he seeks.

Reale said yesterday he is operating on the assumption Washington and Denver have agreed to the parameters of the trade and was planning to commence negotiations with the Broncos last night on Bailey’s new deal.

Bailey, who was given the franchise tag by the Redskins last week, rejected the club’s initial offer of nine years and $55 million last summer. NFL sources said he is likely to get a six-year contract with Denver worth about $50 million to $55 million.

Though it’s possible Washington will attempt to work out a new deal with Portis, the 22-year-old running back has no leverage to force a renegotiation before the trade is made official. Unlike Bailey, Portis still has two years remaining on his contract, and he’s due to earn $380,000 in 2004 and $455,000 in 2005.

Publicly, the Redskins maintain they are negotiating a Bailey trade with several teams in addition to the Broncos. The New York Jets reportedly have offered former Maryland running back LaMont Jordan, defensive end Shaun Ellis and tight end Anthony Becht for Bailey, but sources say Washington remains focused on completing the Portis trade with Denver.

The combination of a Bailey trade, yesterday’s four cuts and the possibility of more to come — running back Trung Canidate, tight end Byron Chamberlain and center Larry Moore all are vulnerable — could leave the Redskins in prime salary cap position entering free agency next week.

As they did last March, when they signed nine players in three days, the Redskins are expected to waste no time pursuing free agents this year. NFL sources said they already have shown interest in Seattle cornerback Shawn Springs as a possible replacement for Bailey. They also are likely to be interested in Tennessee defensive end Jevon Kearse (who was not given the franchise tag by the Titans before yesterday’s deadline), Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp and Minnesota tight end Jim Kleinsasser.

Smith, the NFL’s career sack leader, was perhaps the least-surprising member of Washington’s four roster casualties yesterday. Though he broke Reggie White’s league record with his 199th sack Dec. 7 against the New York Giants — he added No. 200 two weeks later in Chicago — Smith’s best days were long behind him. He lost the starting right end job to Regan Upshaw during the season and wound up with only 22 tackles and five sacks.

The future Hall of Famer is expected to announce his retirement after 19 seasons, though he has not publicly ruled out the possibility of returning to play for another team this year.

Armstead, 33, was the biggest contributor among the four released players, having started 31 games at outside linebacker for the Redskins the last two seasons and leading the club with 6.5 sacks in 2003. But some within the organization felt the 11-year veteran was past his prime and was not worth keeping for the final season of his three-year, $4.5 million contract.

Washington could pursue Armstead’s replacement in free agency, but there are signs Joe Gibbs and his new coaching staff would like to give young players already on the roster, such as linebackers Antonio Pierce and Lemar Marshall, an opportunity to start.

At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last weekend, Gibbs mentioned that several seldom-used players stood out while watching game tapes from last season and suggested they may be ready to take the next step.

“Sometimes on the film, we’d see some guys who only played a limited amount of time,” Gibbs said. “But what we saw, we liked, and we think they might have a chance to start for us.”

Barker, 39, enjoyed mild improvement as a punter last season after battling inconsistency and injury in 2002. Though his gross average went up only .1 yard a punt (to 40.2 yards), his net average rose from 30.0 yards to 34.3 yards. Still, the Redskins believe they can find a more reliable punter for less money than the $900,000 Barker was due to make this year.

Dalton, 29, was acquired in a trade from Denver during training camp last summer but never lived up to his potential. The 315-pound defensive tackle started nine games with Washington after Jermaine Haley suffered a broken thumb, but he finished the season with 17 tackles and one sack, certainly not enough production to justify the $2 million he could have earned in 2004 between salary and bonuses.

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