- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2005

By giving $23.5 million in guaranteed money to the left tackle and the new center and getting back a healthy right tackle, the Washington Redskins believe their offensive line finally will live up to being dubbed the “Dirtbags.”

“It’s time for us to be good,” line coach Joe Bugel said yesterday after the Redskins announced the restructuring of left tackle Chris Samuels’ contract. “We’re out of excuses.”

Samuels’ seven-year, $46.5 million deal, which includes a Redskins record $15.75 signing bonus, came the same day center Casey Rabach agreed to leave Baltimore for Washington for a reported $13.75 million over five years. Rabach is expected to be introduced at a press conference today at Redskin Park. Samuels’ bonus is the third largest given to an NFL offensive lineman.

Rabach, 27, who figures to supplant holdover Cory Raymer, will man the middle of a line that includes Samuels, 27; left guard Derrick Dockery, 24; right guard Randy Thomas, 29; and right tackle Jon Jansen, 29, who has been cleared to resume full-time training eight months after tearing his Achilles’ tendon.

Ray Brown performed admirably in Jansen’s place last year and could challenge Dockery this summer, but at 42 Brown is not “a key to the team,” as Thomas termed Jansen. Bugel, in turn, used “cornerstone” to describe Samuels, a Pro Bowl choice in 2001 and 2002 who slumped in 2003 before reviving under his new position coach last season.

“I don’t think you can win in the NFL without a great left tackle, and Chris is in the top four or five,” Bugel said. “He had an excellent year last year.”

The line is the most expensive and one of the few without a 30-year-old starter in Washington history. The Redskins believe it has to be better than last season’s mediocre unit, which was a major reason the offense had the NFL’s second-fewest touchdowns and third-fewest yards in 2004.

“It was embarrassing at times last year,” Samuels said. “[But] one thing that encouraged me was that late in the year we didn’t quit. I knew this is where I wanted to be. Buges broke me of the bad habits I had developed in 2003. Coach [Joe] Gibbs told me he would be here for a while. I want to be here with him. I won’t let these coaches down. I won’t let my teammates down. I’m a Redskin for life.”

Probably not for life but likely for the rest of the careers of Gibbs and Bugel, both 64.

“We’ve been waiting apprehensively to get something done with Chris,” Gibbs said of the long-running negotiations. “Last year we went though a long, tough, hard year. One of the things I appreciated was Chris’ leadership. He’s somebody we can count on. We appreciate him being a part of the Redskins’ long-term future.”

That also should be true of Rabach, who spent his first three seasons as a backup center and guard for the Ravens before taking over after center Mike Flynn broke a collarbone before the 2004 opener. Rabach started every game as Baltimore finished ninth in rushing and just missed the playoffs. The timing, heading into the expiration of Rabach’s rookie contract, couldn’t have been better, even if it meant a change of location when the Ravens opted not to spend big money on him.

“Baltimore had a great line, and I guarantee you the center was a big part of it,” Thomas said.

Rabach, 6-foot-4 and 301 pounds, is a Wisconsin product like Raymer, who Gibbs said isn’t necessarily on the way out even though he turns 32 today.

“Cory is someone we like,” Gibbs said. “If we [sign Rabach], it doesn’t affect his future other than bringing a good player to this team.”

Veterans Raymer, Brown (assuming he re-signs) and Lennie Friedman would be the backup linemen along with 2004 rookies Mark Wilson and Jim Molinaro. All except Raymer can play multiple spots.

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