- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Joe Gibbs insists he is committed to the Washington Redskins for years to come, quashing speculation that arose from comments the Hall of Fame coach made last week at a NASCAR media event.

“I want to do every single thing I can to restore the Redskins to winning football games,” Gibbs said yesterday during a wide-ranging press conference at Redskin Park. “I can tell you that my commitment is a minimum of five years [the length of his contract]. I want to get the Redskins back to winning. That’s first.”

Several national media outlets jumped on comments Gibbs made during last week’s NASCAR media tour in Charlotte, N.C., in which he joked, “if we don’t win a few more games next year, my time in football will be real short.”

Stories suddenly began popping up questioning Gibbs’ commitment to the Redskins and his long-term football plans following a disappointing 6-10 season.

“I was joking. I was telling a joke,” Gibbs said. “It’s amazing how many people evidently don’t have a sense of humor.

“My time in football is going to be shorter is what I should have said, meaning less time than racing, which is going to be forever. I was joking when I said that. I was laughing.”

Gibbs wasn’t in a laughing mood when he refuted claims he only returned to the NFL for the money or that he’s not devoting enough attention to football. The 64-year-old, who signed a five-year, $28.5 million deal with owner Dan Snyder last January, routinely works 18-hour days and sometimes sleeps in his office at Redskin Park.

“I’m giving this every single thing I’ve got,” he said. “I’m talking about hours, time and commitment. And I think most of you who are around here would testify to that.”

Gibbs and the Redskins set up yesterday’s press conference to discuss the team’s offseason plans and free agency preparations, but it was obvious the coach also wanted to use this forum to address the NASCAR speculation.

That said, Gibbs did spend the bulk of his 45 minutes at the podium talking about football-related matters, chief among them the potential trade of wide receiver Rod Gardner and the health status of linebacker LaVar Arrington.

Gibbs confirmed the club has given Gardner permission to seek a trade, proof that the fifth-year receiver no longer fits into Washington’s plans. Though the request came from Gardner via agent Joel Segal, the Redskins already had sent signals that they were looking to make a change.

“He requested a trade, and we felt it would be best for both of us,” Gibbs said.

Gardner’s likely departure makes the wide receiver position “a high priority for us” this offseason, according to Gibbs. He expects to have Laveranues Coles (who will not undergo toe surgery) back at 100 percent, and he also spoke highly of returning receivers Taylor Jacobs and James Thrash.

Clearly, though, the Redskins will be in the market for a big-name receiver this spring, whether through the draft or free agency. Don’t expect Washington to make a play at Randy Moss, though — Gibbs said he has no interest in acquiring the talented-but-troubled Vikings receiver.

As for Arrington, the Pro Bowl linebacker’s injured knee is showing signs of improvement, but the Redskins still may decide to send him back to orthopedic specialist James Andrews in a few weeks. Gibbs wouldn’t rule out the possibility of another surgery and called Arrington’s health “our biggest concern” among the 20 or so players recovering from injuries.

Among the other issues Gibbs addressed yesterday:

• The coaching and front-office staffs, fresh off vacation, will reconvene this week to discuss salary-cap concerns and free agency plans. The first step will be determining which of Washington’s pending free agents will return in 2005, and cornerback Fred Smoot tops that list.

Gibbs and Snyder met with Smoot’s agent last week at the Senior Bowl, but the sides appear far from an agreement. There is growing evidence the Redskins won’t be willing to meet the cornerback’s contract demands.

“Freddy Smoot is somebody we want to sign,” Gibbs said. “He’s been an excellent Redskin, and we’d like to have him. The question becomes where does Fred evaluate himself and think he belongs, and we’re trying to work out what our evaluation is.”

Gibbs also has held talks with linebacker Antonio Pierce, defensive tackle Joe Salave’a and offensive lineman Ray Brown and indicated all three are close to re-signing.

• Gibbs has held some talks with left tackle Chris Samuels about restructuring his cap-heavy contract, and something could be resolved in the next few weeks. The Redskins would like to redo Samuels’ deal in an effort to free up cap space to pursue free agents next month.

• Samuels’ fellow starting tackle, Jon Jansen, has recovered from his ruptured Achilles’ tendon and has been cleared by doctors to resume football activities.

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