- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2012

The Washington Redskins designated tight end Fred Davis their franchise player on Friday. The move, which was expected, significantly increases the likelihood the Redskins’ most explosive receiver will return to the team next season. Davis was scheduled to become a free agent on March 13.

Washington also tendered a one-year restricted free-agent contract to left guard Kory Lichtensteiger and a one-year exclusive rights free-agent contract to kicker Graham Gano.

The franchise tag includes a one-year contract tender. It’s unknown if the Redskins used the “non-exclusive” or “exclusive” tag. If the Redskins used the non-exclusive tag, Davis still could sign an offer sheet with another team, and that team would owe Washington two first-round draft picks if Washington opted not to match the offer to retain Davis.

If Washington used the exclusive tag, Davis is not permitted to negotiate with other teams.

The exact franchise-player salary for a tight end has not been publicized by the league. It will be approximately $5 million, significantly more than the $459,000 base salary Davis finished last season with.

Retaining Davis’ rights with the franchise tag makes sense for the Redskins, who were determined to protect themselves in light of Davis’ violation of the NFL drug policy last season. If Davis were to test positive for banned substances again, he would be suspended for a year.

The franchise tag minimizes the Redskins’ long-term risk and forces Davis to prove he can stay clean in order to earn a long-term contract.

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan met with Davis after last season concluded and was optimistic about his future.

“I do feel very good about Fred as a person,” Shanahan said on Jan. 2. “I like the way he worked. I like his attitude. I like his development over the last year and a half since I’ve been here. I think he’s had a complete change in the way he’s handled himself off the field to prepare himself be a consummate pro with working out. Hopefully the mistake won’t happen again that he made this year.”

Davis, 26, was on pace to lead the Redskins in receptions and receiving yards until he was suspended for the final four games of the 2011 season. The four-year veteran finished with 59 catches, 796 yards and three touchdowns. Washington also missed his run blocking during the final quarter of the season.

Safety LaRon Landry was a candidate for the franchise tag, but he is still recovering from the Achilles injury that forced him to end last season on injured reserve. Landry did not adhere to a specialist’s recommendation to have surgery, and his fitness remains uncertain with off-season programs scheduled to begin next month.

The Redskins protected their rights to Lichtensteiger and Gano by tendering them qualifying offers.

Lichtensteiger was tendered an original round qualifying offer, meaning that the Redskins would receive a fourth-round draft pick (the round in which Lichtensteiger was drafted) if he were to sign with another team and they didn’t match the offer to retain him. Lichtensteiger’s base salary will double to $1.2 million in 2012.

Lichtensteiger’s speed and athleticism make him one of the team’s best blockers in the run game and for screen passes. He played in five games in 2011 before suffering a season-ending knee injury. The Redskins’ line play significantly suffered with him sidelined. He is expected to be ready for training camp.

By tendering Gano, the Redskins established exclusive negotiating rights with him. He’s scheduled to make the league minimum. Gano made 31 of 41 field goals last season; five of those misses were blocked.

• Rich Campbell can be reached at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com.

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