- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

‘Tis the Ka-ching Season in the NFL, that time of year when cap-rich teams throw obscene amounts of money at, for the most part, modestly talented players. Consider, in chronological, order, the contracts recently given to three offensive linemen, none of whom has ever played in the Pro Bowl:

• Derrick Dockery, OG, Bills — seven years, $49 million.

• Eric Steinbach, OG, Browns — seven years, $49.5 million.

• Leonard Davis, OG, Cowboys — seven years, $49.6 million.

Almost comical, isn’t it? Dockery signs first, setting the market; then Cleveland gives Steinbach a little bit more; then Dallas gives Davis a little bit more than Steinbach.

It makes you wonder: If Ray Brown decided to come out of retirement and play one more season, would he be worth $49 million? (Answer: No, he’d probably be worth more because he has played in the Pro Bowl.)

NFL free agency is the real March Madness. Fortunately for the Redskins, though, Dan Snyder has finally begun to temper his enthusiasm. Last year, for instance, he gave a $30 million handshake to just about everybody who walked through the door — Adam Archuleta, Andre Carter, Antwaan Randle El, even Brandon Lloyd, who still had a season left on the deal he signed with the 49ers. But this year, the Redskins’ owner is being much more careful with his cap dollars: He’s only giving $25 million handshakes to everybody — first London Fletcher, the soon-to-be-32-year-old middle linebacker, then old friend Freddie Smoot, who left Washington two seasons ago for infamy and fortune in Minnesota.

Be honest. When you heard the Redskins had dropped a ton of dough on a middle linebacker, who popped into your mind first, Marvcus Patton or Jeremiah Trotter? They can only hope this run stopper works out better than the other two — but there’s no reason to think he will, inasmuch as Fletcher has much more mileage on him than Patton (28) and Trotter (25) did. On the plus side, he did play for Gregg Williams in Buffalo, so he knows all of Gregg’s secret handshakes and might even be able to get Sean Taylor lined up correctly. (If Sean isn’t too preoccupied planning his next necktie tackle.)

As for Smooter, he’s a classic example of a guy who gets the big money and then, suddenly, his life turns into a pleasure cruise — complete with strippers. Some players are just better when they’re young and hungry, and that seems to be the case with Fred. During his first stint in Washington, he played with kind of a chip on his shoulder because he got drafted in the second round and thought he should have gone in the first. But now … who knows what the Snydermen are getting? (Other, that is, than another athlete who refers to himself in the third person.)

Then again, Joe Gibbs gave Dexter Manley a slew of second chances, so bringing Smoot back — after he (a.) left them for another team, and (b.) behaved badly in Minnesota — makes a certain amount of sense. (Fred and Dexter even have similar motormouthed personalities, though their issues are radically different.)

To finish up on the Redskins, they now need a replacement for Dockery at left guard — and, as usual, there’s no viable candidate on the roster. If they’re looking for a short-term solution, they might want to talk to Ruben Brown, late of the Bears, who at 35 should have a few good years left. Just a thought.

A couple of other observations about the offseason thus far:

• It’s funny how clubs — for all the scouting they do — are still partial to signing players who had big games against them. Take the Patriots, who just picked up running back Sammy Morris (free agent) and wide receiver Wes Welker (trade) from the Dolphins. What’s so special about those two, you ask? Well, Morris had the biggest day of his NFL career in Miami’s second meeting with the Pats last season (123 yards rushing, 39 receiving in a 21-0 win) and Welker caught a career-high nine passes in the first meeting. Not that they don’t have other fine attributes …

• True or false: No running back in league history has ever had a 1,200-yard rushing season for three different teams.

Answer: True — but not for long. Barring catastrophe, Travis Henry, who moved to the Broncos yesterday, will be the first to do it. Henry topped 1,200 twice with the Bills and again last year with the Titans. And he’s still only 28. Which just shows how disposable running backs have become in the NFL.

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