- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Once a year, right around this time, Dan Snyder gets to do his Oprah Winfrey imitation. He and Joe Gibbs gather all their most-desired free agents at Redskin Park — fly them in from here, there and Pittsburgh — and then Snyder gleefully announces, “Everybody gets a car!”

And darned if those players don’t sign on the dotted line.

In Dan’s case, the “car” isn’t a Pontiac G-6, it’s a contract that promises each of his visitors untold riches, often significantly more than any other club is offering them. So it went again this year. Antwaan Randle El and Adam Archuleta came, they saw … and Snyder conquered. Since buying into the NFL, the Redskins owner has become the prince of the pre-emptive strike. He’s Mr. Magic Fingers; he never saw a cap number he couldn’t massage.

The Redskins also went back to the Restricted Free Agent Well, from which they drew Laveranues Coles — Brandon Lloyd, late of the 49ers. The price: a couple of mid-round draft picks, a No. 3 this year and a No. 4 next.

Lloyd, of course, was taken in the fourth round by San Francisco 105 catches ago. It was almost as if the Redskins were saying to the Niners, “Here’s your No. 4 back. Try your luck again — and if they guy you draft turns out to be any good, we’ll take him off your hands, too.”

You heard a lot of talk in Ashburn yesterday about numbers — contract numbers, statistical numbers. The most significant number in the Redskins’ universe, though, is this: 91,704, the capacity of FedEx Field. It’s the number, it seems, that trumps all others. It certainly trumps 61,500, which is how many seats there are at Soldier Field. The Bears, you see, were also interested in Randle El (a Chicago-area guy) and Archuleta (who played under Lovie Smith in St. Louis); but when you have a stadium that’s 50 percent bigger than the competition’s, as Snyder does, you can guarantee more money and win just about any bidding war.

Here’s all you need to know about free agency in 21st century: Last year, David Patten signed with the Redskins — and left behind, without so much as a backward glance, Tom Brady, the youngest quarterback to win three Super Bowls (at 27). And this year, Randle El joined the Snydermen — and left behind Ben Roethlisberger, the youngest QB ever to win the Super Bowl (at 23).

Think about that for a moment. They’re receivers, highly dependent on the quarterback for their livelihood, and yet they just walked away from what could be the two most successful QBs of their generation. So don’t pay too much attention when these wideouts prattle on about how important winning is to them. Winning finishes a distant third behind Signing Bonus and Deferred Money.

But enough about finance, let’s talk about football — and how Lloyd, Randle El and Archuleta impact on the Redskins. For starters, Snyder appears to have finally figured out that if you’re going to throw big dollars around, you might as well throw them at players entering their prime instead of candidates for the Champions Tour. Deion Sanders and Bruce Smith were so old when they came to Washington that they ran on leaded gas. By contrast, Lloyd will be 25 at the start of next season, Randle El will be 27 and Archuleta will be 28. That makes much more sense — even though the price tags involved, as always, are a tad extravagant.

Better yet, neither of the two new receivers is coming in as a Marquee Guy, so they aren’t apt to disrupt the enviable team chemistry Gibbs has built. Lloyd was merely the best wideout on an atrocious 49ers club; Randle El, meanwhile, played in a run-first offense with the Steelers — and in Hines Ward’s considerable shadow. As he sees it, “I’m just a piece of the puzzle that’s going to try to help [the Redskins] get to the next level.”

It should be easy to keep Randle El happy, even if he turns out to be the No. 3 or No. 4 passing option, because there are so many other ways the Redskins can put the ball in his hands — as a punt returner, kickoff returner, runner of gadget plays (arguably his greatest skill, given his experience as a college quarterback). Randle El is kind of the wide receiver version of Brian Mitchell.

With so many people to throw to, Gibbs might not have to rely so heavily on Clinton Portis — which should only keep Sheriff Gonna Getcha fresher and perhaps even extend his career. Portis would be fine with that, Coach Joe claims. “He’s the kind of guy who says, ‘All I want [us] to do is throw three bombs … and get me a draw [play].’ ”

As for Archuleta, he’s clearly an upgrade over Ryan Clark, a fine fellow whose days here were probably numbered after LaDainian Tomlinson ran through him for the winning touchdown in Week 12. The issue with Adam is that his contract dwarfs Sean Taylor’s, and Sean, as we all know, was already unhappy with his deal. (Then again, it might be a moot point if this felony firearm case against Taylor goes the wrong way.)

The bottom line: The Redskins satisfied some needs and should be a better team come September.

The fine print: As usual, they’ll sweat the salary cap details later.

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