Friday, February 29, 2008

The Washington Redskins, executive vice president Vinny Cerrato said, have learned from the mistakes they have made in free agency with a wide-open wallet.

“The biggest thing we’ve learned is … the guy needs to be able to play out his whole contract,” Cerrato said. “If you … pay him a ton of money and he can only play one year, knowing we’re going to get all the [signing bonus] acceleration, that doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

The Redskins enter free agency today with no plans to make a splash in the market.

They do expect some changes to the roster: Todd Collins, the backup quarterback who led the Redskins to the playoffs last season, likely will depart. The club probably will pursue a tall receiver and perhaps Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs.

But the classic Redskins philosophy of free agency — Cerrato neatly summed it up: “To get a deal done … you might as well overpay a little to make sure you get the guy you want or the guy you really need” — this year will be inoperative.

The Redskins overpaid in the case of two of their four big-money additions in 2006, receiver Brandon Lloyd and safety Adam Archuleta. Lloyd and Archuleta lasted a combined three years and 19 starts and cost the Redskins $20 million in guaranteed money.

The Redskins prospered in free agency in former coach Joe Gibbs’ 2004 return, adding long-term starters Marcus Washington, Shawn Springs, Cornelius Griffin and Phillip Daniels, but they backed off in 2005 and 2007 and wound up in the playoffs each season.

In 2005, they added two relatively cheap starters, center Casey Rabach and receiver David Patten. In 2007, they signed middle linebacker London Fletcher and cornerback Fred Smoot, each of whom had previously flourished in then assistant head coach Gregg Williams’ defense.

If past mistakes are a factor calling for stability, another is that the Redskins have all 22 starters under contract with Smoot and Springs compensating for the injured Carlos Rogers.

“You want to keep… the guys you know instead of the unknown,” Cerrato said. “We feel more comfortable doing that.”

If the Redskins do splurge on anyone this year, Briggs is the most likely target. They tried to acquire the outside linebacker from the Chicago Bears last year, and he played as a rookie under the Redskins’ new defensive coordinator, Greg Blache.

The club says weakside linebacker Rocky McIntosh will be recovered from his torn ACL in time for training camp. Strongside linebacker Marcus Washington, however, is beginning to break down, and the Redskins have no proven depth at the outside spots.

The Redskins also might pursue a big receiver to complement Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El. Patriots receiver Randy Moss’ price likely will be extremely high, but Bernard Berrian, Patrick Crayton, D.J. Hackett, Bryant Johnson, David Givens and Justin McCareins will be more reasonably priced.

Collins, meanwhile, is expected to test the market in the wake of his strong performance in place of injured starter Jason Campbell last season. The 36-year-old met yesterday with new coach Jim Zorn, but he is considered a candidate to sign as a backup to quarterback Marc Bulger in St. Louis, where he would rejoin longtime mentor Al Saunders. The Redskins fired Saunders on Jan. 26.

The Rams cut backup Gus Frerotte yesterday. That, combined with Collins’ departure, would open the door for the return of Frerotte to Washington, where he began his career in 1994.

Frerotte played when No. 1 draft choice Heath Shuler was hurt in 1994 and 1995 before winning the job in 1996, his Pro Bowl season. Frerotte was benched in favor of Trent Green in 1998 before beginning an odyssey that has taken him to Detroit, Denver, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Miami and St. Louis. The 36-year-old journeyman produced a 311-yard, three-touchdown day for the Rams in December.

Zorn was Frerotte’s position coach in Detroit. In his lone year with the Lions, Frerotte completed a career-high 60.8 percent of his passes for 2,117 yards, nine touchdowns and seven interceptions while starting six games. He started a seventh game, the wild-card playoff loss to the Redskins in Washington.

If punter Derrick Frost re-signs a one-year deal soon as expected, the Redskins’ kicking game will be set. If kickoff returner Rock Cartwright departs, Ladell Betts likely would resume the role he had in 2002 and 2004-05.

“They want me to prove myself again, which doesn’t bother me,” said Frost, who slipped 1.9 yards to a 41.0 gross average in 2007 after a career year in 2006. “There’s no place I would rather be than in Washington. I surprised even myself by punting so well in the beginning of last season, but I slumped later.”

Note — The Redskins shaved more money off their cap by reworking Santana Moss’ contract yesterday, saving $2.1 million.

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