- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

On the surface, the opening weekend of free agency looked like a typical Dan Snyder flash-and-cash extravaganza.

The Redskins flew legitimate NFL starters in on the private plane of Snyder, escorted them around town in limousines, entertained them in a Verizon Center luxury suite and shelled out $50 million in contracts — nearly $20 million of that in guaranteed green.

A closer look, however, shows this isn’t developing like a typical free-spending offseason by the Redskins.

The Redskins didn’t go hog wild this weekend despite the pressure to win that follows a plunge from the playoffs to the 5-11 record the team posted last year — the worst of coach Joe Gibbs’ 15 seasons in Washington.

Rather, the Redskins played it safe. They wouldn’t be the Redskins if they left the first few days of free agency without some new toys but look at the two players they signed. The Redskins signed only players they knew — a marked contrast to last year’s bust of a class (Adam Archuleta, Brandon Lloyd, Antwaan Randle El and Andre Carter).

Middle linebacker London Fletcher ran the defense of Redskins assistants Gregg Williams and Jerry Gray for the Bills from 2002 to 2005, so his transition to Washington should be smooth.

Fletcher will be 32 in May — a fact that summons bad memories of former signee Mike Barrow, who never got on the field in the 2004 season. But Fletcher has not missed a game in the past nine seasons and ranked as one of the NFL’s leading tacklers. And he didn’t stop pushing himself after getting his first big contract to leave the Rams for the Bills five years ago, so why would he now?

Cornerback Fred Smoot returned to Washington even more ahead of the game than Fletcher. Smoot started for the Redskins from 2001 to 2004 and already knows many of his new teammates as well as Williams’ scheme. Smoot was a disaster the past two years for the Vikings both on and off the field but seems determined to redeem himself in Washington.

He’s not yet 28 and joins Shawn Springs as a proven NFL starter, forcing youngster Carlos Rogers to fight to remain in the lineup.

And look what the Redskins didn’t do. After Smoot agreed to return, the Redskins didn’t double their pleasure (like they did by adding receivers Randle El and Lloyd last March) by making fellow corner Travis Fisher, a five-year starter for the Rams, an offer he couldn’t refuse. Rather, they shook Fisher’s hand and sent him on his way.

And when Derrick Dockery left for the Bills on Friday, leaving a hole at left guard, the Redskins didn’t panic and sign Leonard Davis, an underachiever in six years with the Cardinals, to a record contract. Instead, they let Davis fly home to Texas, where he signed a $49.6 million deal with the Cowboys.

It wouldn’t be stunning if Snyder and Co. turned around and gave big money this week to former New York Giant Luke Petitgout to replace Dockery, but Gibbs sounds content to add a young guard later in free agency or to choose one in the later rounds of April’s draft. Whomever they bring in would compete with backups Mike Pucillo and Taylor Whitley, each of whom has started for a season for other teams.

These are the Redskins who gave up a possible first-round pick for free agent-to-be T.J. Duckett after running backs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts were injured in August? Fletcher and Smoot won’t fix all the problems that plagued a defense that crashed from ninth in the league in 2005 to 31st last year. And the solid offensive line now has an issue at left guard. But it was refreshing to see the Redskins buying with restraint last weekend and not as if they had won the lottery.

Since Snyder sent old-school coach Marty Schottenheimer packing five years ago, the Redskins have shopped so sensibly only in one other offseason: 2005. That year they added only two free agents — receiver David Patten and center Casey Rabach. Each signed a second-tier contract. Rabach, then with the Ravens, even drove himself to Redskin Park.

Funny thing: That’s also the only year the Redskins made the playoffs after a full Snyder offseason. Coincidence?Z

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