- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 6, 2004

The Washington Redskins picked up a punter but otherwise decelerated the free agent chase yesterday. While veteran punter Tom Tupa accepted a four-year deal and interior offensive lineman Eric Beverly visited, team officials continued to await word on tight end Walter Rasby and made no further plans for major acquisitions.

Of course, that depends on the definition of “major.” As coach Joe Gibbs said, “When you say ‘significant,’ we’ve got some things that are still really important to us.”

Nonetheless, the Redskins are taking a step back from the frenetic acquisition pace that netted 10 players through yesterday evening. A source close to the negotiations said Tupa agreed to join the Redskins, who have paced the league for a second straight year with a bounty including Pro Bowl players Mark Brunell, Clinton Portis and Shawn Springs.

“We’ve been very aggressive,” Gibbs said. “I don’t think you can get everything you want. But I’ve been very, very happy with what’s happened. I think we’ve got the right kind of guys and really helped our football team.”

Tupa, 38, replaces Bryan Barker and rounds out a solid group of Redskins specialists that also includes kicker John Hall, return man Chad Morton and long snapper Ethan Albright. Washington was interested in Tupa a year ago but stuck with Barker while Tupa re-signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A key reason for the Redskins’ interest was Hall, whose holder was Tupa on the New York Jets from 1999 to 2001. Despite Tupa’s advancing age, he has intangibles like reliability and the ability to hold that NFL clubs value over the pure distance a young punter might provide.

“You’d love to have young guys at every spot, but there’s a trade-off there as far as somebody who’s been here, had the experience and can do it,” Gibbs said. “You constantly try to make a good decision based off of balancing those two things.”

Meanwhile, Rasby, 31, finished a visit with the Houston Texans, and an NFL source said contract negotiations would follow. The New Orleans Saints, Rasby’s team last season, also are interested in retaining him but appear concerned about offers from Washington and Houston. It was unclear when his decision might come.

Washington’s top blocking tight end has been Robert Royal. The two-year pro has flashed potential since being taken in 2002’s fifth round, but he remains somewhat of a project after missing his rookie year with a high ankle sprain and 10 games last season with a fractured hip.

Rasby played for the Redskins in 2001 and 2002, getting signed for Marty Schottenheimer’s grind-it-out offense and becoming expendable after a year in Steve Spurrier’s Fun’n’Gun. Under Gibbs, the Redskins again have a Rasby-friendly offense.

“It’s very important for us to have the big blockers — the guys who can control the edge of the formation,” Gibbs said. “In football today, it’s evolved to a lot of defensive ends on tight ends. … It becomes a big priority to get a tight end who can be effective on a defensive end. It’s a big deal for us.”

Beverly, 29, arrived shortly after noon. His agent, Vern Sharbaugh, said Beverly has trips planned to other NFL teams.

Signing Beverly, who started at center and guard for the Detroit Lions in recent years, might lead to the release of former starting center Larry Moore, who missed the second half of last season with a broken foot. The Redskins would save $1.3million by cutting Moore, and they already have re-signed Lennie Friedman, who started the final eight games at center.

There has been some speculation that Washington might look for another starter at safety or on the defensive line, particularly a pass-rusher. But the Redskins now are weighing potential signings against the No.5 overall pick they hold in the April 24-25 draft, where they could select Miami safety Sean Taylor or Oklahoma defensive tackle Tommie Harris.

In the defensive backfield, St. Louis Rams cornerback Jerametrius Butler is being eyed by the Redskins, a source said.

The presence of linebacker Marcus Washington, who officially signed his six-year, $24million contract, is a big reason the Redskins aren’t looking for a pass-rushing end. Washington is expected to play strongside linebacker with LaVar Arrington on the weak side, and either could rush from an end position on third downs.

Gibbs wouldn’t confirm the lack of defensive ends in the Redskins’ plans but did explain the twin threat of Arrington and Washington.

“We all know that if you’ve got one person you’re worried about rushing the passer, that’s one scenario,” Gibbs said. “You can get the tight end chipping over there or the back chipping over there. But if you’re balanced up … I can tell you that complicates it from an offensive standpoint. It’s double jeopardy. It’s hard to help on two guys.”

Washington, 26, is considered an up-and-coming defender who could blossom in coming seasons. Big (6-foot-3, 247 pounds), durable (he has played in 63 of 64 NFL games) and instinctive, Washington not surprisingly drew interest from the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers as free agency opened Wednesday.

The Indianapolis Colts, who drafted Washington in 2000’s second round and employed him for four seasons, pretty much knew they had no shot at him.

“I wanted to get paid, and I think they only had $5.34 [million] left,” Washington said at his introductory news conference, a reference to the Colts’ recent $98million contract for quarterback Peyton Manning.

As for the Redskins’ finances, Gibbs emphasized that salary cap considerations are being monitored closely. NFL officials who have seen the Redskins’ cap situation say the club will face some big decisions in 2006, after two seasons under Gibbs, but the coach indicated he has no intention of working in a set window.

“It’s not a three-year thing with me,” Gibbs said. “I’ve looked at everything, and I believe we can keep our guys together. That’s a big deal with me. It’s a long-term deal. We’re looking for Redskins, and my goal is to keep them together into their 30s.”

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