- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

Maybe the Washington Redskins should move their home games to Verizon Center because they have better success there than at FedEx Field.

Coach Joe Gibbs left Redskin Park after 6 p.m. last night saying he was surprised that the Redskins had yet to corral a free agent on the first day of the signing period. That changed in the next three hours. Middle linebacker London Fletcher agreed to a five-year, $25 million contract including a $10.5 million signing bonus while joining Gibbs and the day’s other visitor, ex-Redskin cornerback Fred Smoot, in watching the Washington Wizards play at Verizon Center.

Fletcher, who turns 32 in May, has led his team in tackles in all eight of his seasons as a starter (1999-2001 with St. Louis and 2003-06 with Buffalo). Fletcher, who played for Redskins defensive coaches Gregg Williams and Jerry Gray in Buffalo, will replace fellow former undrafted rookie Lemar Marshall in the middle of a Washington defense that sank from ninth in the league in 2005 to 31st last year as the Redskins tumbled from 10-6 to 5-11.

Marshall, who played well in the middle in 2005, will return to the weak side where he started in 2004. He would compete with Rocky McIntosh, Washington’s second-round choice in the 2006 draft.

Last March, Gibbs escorted receiver Antwaan Randle El, defensive end Andre Carter, safety Adam Archuleta and quarterback Todd Collins to a Wizards game. All four free agents signed with Washington.

And Smoot could well become the sixth player to follow suit today.

“We’re just working as hard we can [on signing Smoot and Fletcher],” Gibbs said before leaving Redskin Park. “We know Smooter. And he knows us.”

Smoot didn’t want to leave Washington in March 2005, and he wants to return after two tumultuous years in Minnesota ended with his release on Thursday.

“Coming back to Washington would probably be the best thing for me,” Smoot said. “This is where I had my best years. I’m comfortable here. I don’t think it will be that hard to get a deal done. I think both sides feel the same way.”

Smoot, 27, was a solid starting cornerback for the Redskins from 2001 to 2004. However, Washington couldn’t get him re-signed during or after the 2004 season and he left for Minnesota. Smoot was benched in 2005 while also breaking a collarbone and being one of the organizers of the infamous “Love Boat” incident in which he pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct misdemeanor. Smoot was kept out of a game in 2006 for disciplinary reasons and finished the year with a broken jaw.

Smoot isn’t the only corner being courted by the Redskins.

St. Louis’ Travis Fisher, 27, will visit today along with massive Arizona offensive lineman Leonard Davis.

Fisher missed 21 of 48 games with injuries, including the same broken arm twice, the past three years. If both Smoot and Fisher sign, that won’t bode well for incumbent No. 1 corner Shawn Springs, who has a $7.35 million salary cap number, was hurt three times in 2006 and will be 32 next Sunday.

The inconsistent 6-6, 366-pound Davis — the second pick in the 2001 draft behind quarterback Michael Vick — has started at tackle the last three seasons but would return to guard in Washington, replacing free agent Derrick Dockery, who signed with Buffalo yesterday. Davis is 28.

The Redskins weren’t as successful in coaxing Fletcher’s Bills teammate, Nate Clements, to town. He visited San Francisco and signed with the 49ers yesterday.

The Redskins did re-sign safety Vernon Fox to a multi-year contract yesterday. Fox, 27, was signed off waivers last August as a special-teams player and eventually became a starter. With Vincent cut, Fox will compete with 2006 free agent bust Adam Archuleta and Pierson Prioleau, out last year with a knee injury, to start.

Washington also created some cap room by extending right guard Randy Thomas’ contract, lowering his cost for 2007 from $5.41 million. Thomas, 31, still had three years left on his deal. The Redskins also extended fullback Mike Sellers’ contract. The 31-year-old Sellers was set to make just $50,000 above the $720,000 minimum for an eighth-year player so the deal was made to keep him in Washington past this season rather than to save cap space.

Fox’s return leaves the Redskins trying to re-sign only a couple of backups, tight end Todd Yoder and cornerback Ade Jimoh.

Washington isn’t expected to pursue re-signing running back T.J. Duckett, linebacker Warrick Holdman or tight end Brian Kozlowski. Offensive tackle Todd Wade has made it clear he wants a shot to start, something that won’t happen in Washington where Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen are entrenched. Cornerback Kenny Wright and linebacker Jeff Posey likely will return only if other options evaporate.

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