No one has been a part of the Washington Redskins‘ top-10 defense longer than defensive end Demetric Evans.
But after five years as a reserve, Evans believes it’s time for him to receive his proper due, financially and as a starter.
So if the Redskins don’t make that happen before Evans becomes a free agent Feb. 27, he might well be gone soon afterward.
“I’ve proven I can start in one of the toughest divisions in football,” Evans said this week. “I don’t want to be a backup anymore. I started in 2005 at tackle when Cornelius [Griffin] was hurt, and I started at end when Phillip [Daniels] was hurt in 2004 and again last year. I want to stay in Washington, but I want to be a starter.”
After re-signing with the Redskins in 2006, Evans dumped agent Jordan Woy for the much more high-profile Drew Rosenhaus. Evans said Rosenhaus expects to talk contract with Washington executive vice president Vinny Cerrato during this week’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
“That will let me know how the Redskins feel about me and how much they want me to come back,” said Evans, who earned $869,000 in 2008. “It’s not all about money, but I’m going to be 30 on Sept. 3, and this could be my chance to get a really good contract.”
Although Evans has started just 23 games in his seven seasons (he spent his first two years with Dallas) and has just 13 career sacks, he could well become a millionaire within the next month. The prospective crop of free agent defensive ends beyond Julius Peppers - who might be franchised by Carolina - is a thin one. Arizona’s Bertrand Berry projects as the next-best option among the free agents-to-be at the position, followed by the likes of Evans, San Diego’s Igor Olshansky, Arizona’s Antonio Smith and Indianapolis’ Josh Thomas. Dexter Manley and Charles Mann, they’re not.
Evans said he couldn’t help thinking of what his future could be like elsewhere when he watched safety Ryan Clark, a Washington teammate in 2004 and 2005, help Pittsburgh win the Super Bowl earlier this month. Last year former teammate Antonio Pierce captained the New York Giants to the title. Clark and Pierce both wanted to remain with the Redskins but declined contract offers they deemed too low.
And once Clark and Evans became free agents, they were quickly scooped up.
“I want to play for a team with a chance to win,” Evans said. “I see how close we were last year. We were fourth in defense and we beat both of the teams [Arizona and Philadelphia] that made the NFC championship game. So it could be us this season.”
Coach Jim Zorn told The Washington Times this week that the Redskins want to re-sign Evans and consider him a valuable cog. However, as usual, salary cap space is tight for Washington. Even after restructuring the deals of defensive end Andre Carter and receiver Antwaan Randle El last week, the Redskins remain about $4 million over the projected $123 million salary cap; they must clear more room by Feb. 27, which is when the free agency period starts.
The team also wants to re-sign cornerback DeAngelo Hall, guard Pete Kendall and special teams player Khary Campbell, and also has restricted free agents it wants to keep: defensive tackles Kedric Golston, Anthony Montgomery, kicker Shaun Suisham and safety Reed Doughty. And if the Redskins cut linebacker Marcus Washington because of his high cap number ($6.52 million), they’ll need to find a credible replacement in free agency.
The Redskins can’t guarantee Evans a starting position in 2009. Daniels, who will turn 36 next month and spent all of last season on injured reserve, and Jason Taylor, his expensive, high-profile replacement, remain under contract, as do Carter and fellow reserve Chris Wilson.
That means playing time - and the chance to become a full-time starter as opposed to a stopgap - could play a big factor as teams start to inquire about Evans, who started 11 games last year in place of the gimpy and ineffective Taylor.
“I’ve never complained about being a backup, but it’s hard when you don’t know how much or where you’re going to play,” Evans said. “I really had fun last year. It was like being in high school and college, just knowing that I was a starter.”
And now that he has recaptured that feeling, Evans doesn’t want to lose it again.