- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2005

If the first day of NFL free agency doesn’t give us quite the thrill it used to, it’s because, well, we know better now. After a dozen of these farmer’s markets, we know the hit-miss ratio is about the same as for the first few rounds of the college draft — and the negative effect on a team’s salary cap can be even greater.

Redskins fans are certainly familiar with both sides of the coin. For every Shawn Springs there has been a Mark Brunell, for every Marcus Washington a Jeremiah Trotter. Still, that hasn’t stopped Dan Snyder from dispatching his helicopter hither and yon, picking up this prospective signee, dropping off that one (preferably in time for the 6 o’clock news), dangling yet another by his legs at 1,000 feet until he scribbles his autograph on the dotted line.

So yesterday’s less-than-frantic start to free agency in Redskinsland was a hopeful sign indeed. Snyder and his staff made some nice moves, no question but, even better, they didn’t try to shoot the moon in the first 24 hours — as they’ve been known (if not prone) to do.

Heck, their signing of center Casey Rabach, late of the Ravens, was downright frugal, when you stop and think about it. The player he’s replacing, after all, is Cory Raymer, so the team won’t even have to buy a new set of monogrammed towels.

Rabach is a Joe Gibbs-type acquisition — nothing flashy, just a guy who’ll help keep Patrick Ramsey off the injured list. He also has the versatility to play guard, no small consideration in these days of thinning rosters. (It isn’t just defenses that are looking for multiple-position talents, it’s offenses, too.) With Jon Jansen reclaiming his right tackle spot and Rabach taking over at center, Coach Joe might finally have his offensive line they way he wants it.

Now if he can just figure out those pesky zone blitzes.

The retaining of Joe Salave’a, a useful defensive tackle, is another piece of good news, especially since the defense is expected to lose Fred Smoot and Antonio Pierce. The year-to-year turnover during the Snyder Era has been dizzying — about the only people left from his first season are a couple of cheerleaders — and the club desperately needs some stability, some continuity. Hanging on to Salave’a is a step in that direction.

Of course, one of the reason’s for yesterday’s relative quiet — all across the NFL front — is that quite a few teams have quite a few dollars to spend. The top free agents, in other words, are going to get lots of offers, and they’re nuts if they don’t wait for all of them to come in.

The biggest early splash was made not by the Redskins but the Ravens, who rebounded from Rabach’s defection by reeling in former Titans receiver Derrick Mason. Here’s how welcome Mason will be in Baltimore: In his last four years, he has averaged nearly 86 catches — 10 more than any Ravens wideout has ever had in a season (and 11 more than any Colts wideout ever had). Mason and a healthy Todd Heap will give young quarterback Kyle Boller many more throwing options than he had last season. (And Ozzie Newsome probably isn’t done renovating his receiving corps; he also might be eyeing Rod Gardner.)

After Mason, the hottest report may have been that the Raiders had all but closed a deal with Jets running back LaMont Jordan, the ex-Maryland Terp. Jordan, as I’ve said before, could be a late bloomer along the lines of Stephen Davis, and he and Randy Moss (who officially joined Oakland yesterday) would liven up Norv Turner’s offense considerably. The Raiders might not be able to stop anybody next season, but their “O” — featuring Moss and Jordan, plus Jerry Porter, recovering Ronald Curry (ruptured Achilles’) and developing linemen Robert Gallery and Jake Grove — should be fun to watch.

Later in the day, the Patriots took another hit in their offensive line. Last year it was Pro Bowler Damien Woody, who went to Detroit; this year it’s steady Joe Andruzzi, who has followed Romeo Crennel to Cleveland. Obviously, the Pats feel they can get by with Russ Hochstein at left guard, just as they did in Super Bowl XXXVIII — and they likely can. But only because they’re the best-put-together club in the league. Just about any other team would be having night sweats.

The rest of the NFC East, like the Redskins, started out slow. Or rather, it did until the Cowboys made two late strikes, signing cornerback Anthony Henry away from the Browns and nose tackle Jason Ferguson away from the Jets. Then the Giants got into the spirit and plucked Antonio Pierce off you-know-who’s roster. Ouch! (You can’t say we didn’t see it coming, though.)

Things are almost too quiet in Philly,considering how far the Eagles are under the cap ($16 million to $17 million). Andy Reid’s team can’t possibly make as much noise as it did last season, when it added Jevon Kearse and Terrell Owens, but it still has the money (and draft picks) to improve itself significantly.

Right now, though, we’re pretty much in a holding pattern, which is fine by me. I mean, it’s better, way better, than: “Redskins Sign Bruce Smith.”


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