- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

Even though Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs will meet with Mark Brunell today, the Jacksonville Jaguars likely will hear offers from other teams before striking a deal because the NFL does not allow trading until next month.

Word got out Saturday that the Redskins were talking to the Jaguars about the veteran quarterback, had arranged for today’s face-to-face meeting in Florida and — according to some reports — were close to finalizing a trade.

A quick deal, however, seems unlikely. The NFL trading period does not begin until March3, the same day free agency opens, and the Jaguars and Brunell are expected to use the next few weeks to see what other offers emerge.

As many as three other clubs are believed to be pursuing Brunell, NFL sources said, including the Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys. Those teams likely will offer Brunell an opportunity to start; where the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback would fit in with the Redskins is unclear.

The Redskins have stated their commitment to 24-year-old Patrick Ramsey for some time, and few observers around the league had reason to believe Washington was in the market for another quarterback. While it’s not implausible the Redskins could acquire Brunell and make him Ramsey’s backup, they would be paying an exorbitant salary for a second-stringer and would be hamstrung to address other more-pressing needs this offseason.

Brunell, 33, who lost his starting job this season to rookie Byron Leftwich, is due to earn $6.5million in salary in 2004, plus $2million in a roster bonus that kicks in March1. The Jaguars can’t afford that kind of money for a backup, so it has been well known they plan to trade or release Brunell in the coming weeks. As a result, they have given Brunell permission to talk to other teams.

Any team that works out a deal with Jacksonville almost certainly will negotiate a new contract with Brunell, but he’s still viewed by many as a capable NFL starting quarterback and therefore figures to command significant money.

He’s also commanding significant trade offers. NFL sources said the Redskins and others are willing to give up at least a second-round pick in April’s draft, a hefty price in Washington’s case because it owns only four draft picks to begin with (No.5 overall, No.42 overall, a third- and a seventh-rounder).

If the Redskins gave up their second-round selection and considerable money to acquire Brunell, they would have a hard time upgrading more obvious holes at running back, defensive line and tight end with their remaining draft picks and salary cap space.

In addition to the tangible costs of acquiring Brunell, the mere fact the Redskins are interested in him could have a psychological effect on many within the organization, particularly Ramsey.

Even if Brunell were to wind up playing elsewhere, Washington has let it be known that, at the very least, it has questions about its quarterback situation. It remains to be seen what effect that may have on Ramsey’s psyche or how it might alter his teammates’ confidence in their young leader.

Ramsey threw for 2,166 yards and 14 touchdowns in 11 games this season, but he was sacked 30 times and wound up on injured reserve with a broken foot that required surgery. Tim Hasselbeck filled in for Ramsey down the stretch of the Redskins’ 5-11 season. While the journeyman had his moments, Gibbs has expressed interest in bringing in a more reliable veteran to back up Ramsey.

Brunell, though, is more than just a reliable veteran. He ascended through the ranks to become one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, leading the Jaguars twice to the AFC Championship game. But the mobile left-hander has battled injuries and inconsistencies in recent years and became expendable when Leftwich emerged as Jacksonville’s quarterback of the future.

Many around the league believe Brunell, still the ninth-highest rated passer in league history, can return to his old form with a new club. Agent Leigh Steinberg said his client wants to be a starting quarterback and told the Florida Times-Union last week that Brunell’s first choice as an unrestricted free agent would be the Dolphins.

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