- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2004

The Washington Redskins are set to make Clinton Portis one of the NFL’s highest-paid running backs, agreeing yesterday to a stunning eight-year, $50million contract.

Even though Portis had no leverage in discussions because he has two remaining years on his rookie deal, Washington agreed to replace his existing contract with a blockbuster pact that will take a major slice of the club’s spending room in free agency.

Portis will become a Redskin tomorrow when Washington’s trade with the Denver Broncos becomes official. Denver was completing the other end of the trade yesterday by finalizing a contract agreement with Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey.

When the signing and trading period opens at 12:01a.m. tomorrow, the Redskins will ship Bailey and a second-round pick to Denver for Portis, as well as a third-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for quarterback Mark Brunell.

Washington agreed to two huge contracts before the market even opened. The club also negotiated a seven-year, $43million contract with Brunell, though it should be noted that Brunell, unlike Portis, had heavy leverage and would have blocked a trade without a new pact.

Those deals will kick off a signing and trading period in which Washington again is expected to be one of the few big spenders. The Redskins will use owner Dan Snyder’s private plane to pick up coveted free agents tomorrow, just as they did last season when they acquired nine players in the first three days of the signing and trading period.

Sources familiar with Washington’s deliberations said Tennessee Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse, New York Giants defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, Minnesota Vikings tight end Jim Kleinsasser and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Shawn Springs are expected to be among the Redskins’ first targets.

Portis had been seeking a new contract since his superb 2002 rookie season. The Redskins were expected to address the issue later this offseason, once they shopped for free agents and knew how much cap room they had left.

Instead, Washington moved quickly to lock up Portis. The deal puts Portis just shy of his position’s benchmark — Tennessee’s Eddie George and the Indianapolis Colts’ Edgerrin James both average $7million a year — and one league official said Portis’ contract was the largest given to a non-quarterback after just two seasons in the NFL.

The deal, however, could constrict Washington as it pursues free agents this week and beyond.

Portis’ new contract calls for a first-year cap figure of $3.7million, thanks in large part to a $1.4million roster bonus. Considering Brunell will receive a first-year cap figure of $2.2million, the Redskins already are set to spend more than a third of their projected $15million-to-$16million of cap room before the first free agent flies in.

Sources said Portis’ deal also included a signing bonus of $11.5million, making for $12.9million of essentially guaranteed bonus money. Additional roster bonuses in 2007 and 2008 total about $4million.

Redskins officials declined comment on the contract, but sources said the club wanted to make Portis happy, particularly given that the first minicamp is later this month. Portis had dropped hints in Denver that he might hold out without a new contract, though he apparently had no plans for a holdout in Washington.

The rarely implemented “Deion Sanders rule” influenced the Redskins to split the $12.9million of upfront money into an $11.5million signing bonus and a $1.4million roster bonus, a source with knowledge of the talks said. The rule penalizes clubs for excessive signing bonus in low-salary situations. Portis’ base salaries are particularly low because he is just a two-year veteran.

That said, losing an additional $1.4million against the cap could crimp Washington in coming weeks. An extra $1.4million, for instance, could have been used to acquire a solid upper-tier free agent at another position.

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