- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Isaac Newton came up with that … or maybe it was Nate Newton. Really, who can keep track of these things?

Anyway, since the Redskins opted not to re-sign Champ Bailey, one of the NFL’s most adhesive cornerbacks, two of their division rivals have made moves to acquire big-time receivers. The Eagles, amid much legal wrangling, have added Terrell Owens, and the Cowboys have negotiated a contract with Keyshawn Johnson (though they still need to complete a trade with the Bucs).

This brings the Bailey-for-Clinton Portis swap into sharp relief. Yes, the Redskins picked up a terrific offensive weapon, but at what cost to their defense? Philly is suddenly much more problematical with T.O. as Donovan McNabb’s principal target, as Dallas will be with Keyshawn running curl patterns. Who’s going to cover those guys next season? Fred Smoot? Shawn Springs?

Maybe.

With Bailey, there was no maybe. Oh, he wasn’t perfect, but he was darn reliable. The last time the Redskins played the 49ers, in September 2002, T.O. had an extremely quiet afternoon: two receptions for 33 yards. (He scored a touchdown, true, but it came on a reverse.) And the last time the Redskins played the Bucs, Johnson didn’t catch a ball in the first half. (He scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter, true, but only when matched up against a safety.)

Owens, Johnson, Marvin Harrison, Isaac Bruce — Bailey helped keep all of them under control. But now he’s gone, and the Eagles and Bucs are looking to exploit the situation. Which isn’t to say they wouldn’t have gone receiver hunting, anyway; both clubs needed to improve in that area. But the Redskins’ dealing of Champ gave them added incentive. After all, the strength of the Washington defense, the secondary, is no longer quite as much of a strength.

It’s about time Philly did something about its nondescript pass-catching corps — before McNabb became eligible for the Senior Tour, I mean. With a little more offense, the Eagles might have played in a couple of Super Bowls by now and perhaps even won one. But in recent years, they’ve had to work around the limitations of James Thrash, Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell, none of whom possesses the qualities of a No.1 receiver.

Andy Reid has done wonders getting his team to the NFC title game — three straight times — with such a motley crew of wideouts. He turned Thrash and Pinkston into 60-catch men and even began to get some production last season out of Mitchell, a former first-round pick who has tended to play like a seventh-rounder. It’s scary to think about what he might be able to do with a talent like Owens, whose top totals in San Francisco were 100 receptions (2002), 1,451 yards (2000) and 16 TDs (2001). And T.O. should have some good years left; he doesn’t turn 31 until December.

More than anything, his signing of a seven-year, $42million contract — on top of the eight-year, $66million deal given to Jevon Kearse — shows that Philly owner Jeffrey Lurie is finally ready to whip out his wallet and match Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones dollar for dollar. Well, maybe not dollar for dollar. Dan is, after all, a veritable ATM. The Eagles have been well under the salary cap the past few seasons, though, and that may finally be changing.

Granted, Owens can be a first-class jerk — as can Johnson. But they’re usually much better behaved when they’re getting the ball a lot, and in Philadelphia and Dallas they’re going to get the ball a lot. Bill Parcells will make Keyshawn his unquestioned go-to guy, just as he did when they were with the Jets. (In Tampa, Keyshawn became convinced, in true Tommy Smothers fashion, that Jon Gruden liked Keenan McCardell best.)

Losing also has brought out the worst in the two receivers. But they figure to do plenty of winning with their new teams. Andy Reid, not one of the more lovey-dovey coaches around, gushed about T.O.’s work ethic at Pro Bowl practices. “A lot of guys come out there and glide through,” he said. “With Terrell, you’d think we were in [the middle of] season. He’d go out and practice like it was his last chance to show what he could do.”

So there’s been an action in the NFC East, and there’s been a reaction. I can hardly wait to see if there’ll be a reaction to the reaction. Will Dan the Man feel obliged to find cap space now for Bobby Taylor, the Eagles’ free agent corner? The Redskins are still looking for a third cover guy, their attempt to sign Jerametrius Butler having been thwarted by the Rams.

It’s such fun, this offseason back-and-forth. If only Isaac Newton, the Don Coryell of 17th century physics, were alive to see it.

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