- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

One-upping last year’s blistering start to free agency, the Washington Redskins swept into the market yesterday by negotiating deals with three players to set up a total of six acquisitions in just over 24 hours.

Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin signed a six-year, $25.5million contract that included an $8million signing bonus, and cornerback Shawn Springs agreed to a six-year, $30million deal, including $10million to sign pending a physical today.

The talented pair is projected to start next season, Griffin on what was a poor defensive line and Springs in place of recently departed Champ Bailey.

Washington also re-signed interior offensive lineman Lennie Friedman, who started eight games in 2003 after center Larry Moore was injured. Friedman, who signed for three years and approximately $2.6million, should at least compete for the job again this season.

Also visiting Redskin Park was tight end Walter Rasby, who played for the Redskins in 2001 and 2002 and was productive for the New Orleans Saints last season. Rasby, a blocking tight end, could sign today.

Free agency’s biggest prize, however, will not become a Redskin. Defensive end Jevon Kearse signed an eight-year, $66million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles that included $20million in essentially guaranteed money.

The Redskins were interested in Kearse and acknowledged him as the top available pass-rusher, but club sources said Washington dropped out of the bidding quickly when Kearse’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, began advertising big numbers.

Nonetheless, it was an extremely active first day for Washington, which also executed long-planned trades for quarterback Mark Brunell and running back Clinton Portis and Tuesday signed defensive end Phillip Daniels.

After breaking for dinner Tuesday night, Redskins officials regrouped at Redskin Park at 10:30p.m., braced for the 12:01a.m. opening of the market and worked straight through to about 6a.m. yesterday.

Led by owner Dan Snyder, coach Joe Gibbs and vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato, club officials handled a series of phone calls with players and agents as the team methodically arranged yesterday’s deals.

“We had our list,” Gibbs said. “We had all our coaches assigned. Some of them were already on planes going places. At 12:01 [a.m.], we were on the phone. I was calling a bunch of people from here, and they were calling from on the road. To me, it’s exciting. It’s one of the biggest nights we have.”

Snyder’s private plane picked up Portis, Rasby and Griffin, all of whom visited Redskin Park, and was scheduled to pick up Springs for an evening arrival in the Washington area. The club also held introductory news conferences for Brunell and Griffin; one for Portis and perhaps another for Springs will occur today.

Redskins officials finally broke for dinner last night, but their work will continue in coming days as the club tries to fill holes at linebacker, punter and perhaps along the defensive line and at safety.

Immediately on the club’s list appears to be Chicago Bears linebacker Warrick Holdman, who is expected to be cut today in advance of a roster bonus due tomorrow. There also was word around the league that Indianapolis Colts linebacker Marcus Washington would visit tomorrow. In addition, the Redskins are one of several teams interested in Cleveland Browns punter Chris Gardocki.

In coming days, Washington could exceed last spring’s take of nine players in the first three days of the signing and trading period.

“I feel very fortunate [to have] an owner who’s very aggressive and is willing to say, ‘Hey, if you want this guy, if you’ve evaluated him and think he fits in on this football team, we’re going to do the best we can to get him,’” Gibbs said. “One of the things I admire about Dan, he makes quick decisions. I think that is a real plus.”

Griffin, 27, was being courted by several other teams — the Houston Texans, the New Orleans Saints and Bears — but the Redskins were able to complete a deal fairly early in the day.

Outstanding athleticism for a 6-foot-3, 300-pounder is Griffin’s trademark, though he is perceived as still needing to meet his NFL potential. In four seasons with the New York Giants, the former second-round pick out of Alabama proved capable of stopping the run and flashed pass-rush skills.

Springs, who turns 29 next week, is a former third overall selection by the Seattle Seahawks and 1998 Pro Bowl pick whose talents have been derailed by injuries in recent years. If he remains healthy, he could form a formidable cover tandem with Fred Smoot — though it might be unfair to compare Springs to Bailey, who is viewed as being in a very elite group of corners.

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