- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2013

PHOENIX — Washington Redskins management has chafed and fumed about the $36 million salary cap penalty the league imposed on the club last March. And now that the sanction has handcuffed the Redskins through the first week of free agency this year, there figure to be some cold stares, awkward exchanges and general tension this week at the NFL annual meetings at the posh Arizona Biltmore resort.

Remember, it was at these meetings last year when New York Giants owner John Mara, chairman of the league’s management council, which spearheaded the penalty, told reporters the Redskins violated “the spirit of the salary cap” during the uncapped 2010 season. “Quite frankly, I think they’re lucky they didn’t lose draft picks,” he said.

The Redskins would have much preferred to give up draft picks than $36 million. Instead, they watched another free agent target sign elsewhere Saturday.

Cornerback Aqib Talib re-signed with the New England Patriots on a one-year, $5 million contract, leaving Washington’s needs in the secondary unaddressed. The Redskins pursued Talib but “cap issues really hurt them,” a person familiar with negotiations said.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Talib 20th overall in 2008. Redskins general manager Bruce Allen and defensive backs coach Raheem Morris held those positions with Tampa Bay at the time. Talib’s off-field issues apparently did not stop them from coveting his on-field talent again in Washington.

The NFL suspended Talib four games last season for testing positive for Adderall. He also was suspended for the 2010 season opener for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, a punishment that resulted from an altercation with a taxi driver in 2009. On the field, though, Talib contributed to New England’s division championship last season with his physical style on the outside.

Washington still needs to fortify its cornerback group after releasing DeAngelo Hall on March 11 to save $8 million. The free agent market for cornerbacks settled late last week. Antoine Cason (Arizona), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Denver), Chris Houston (Detroit), Sean Smith (Kansas City), Derek Cox (San Diego) and Keenan Lewis (New Orleans) agreed with teams.

Some quality players remain available — including Hall, Brent Grimes, Nnamdi Asomugha, Chris Gamble and Antoine Winfield — but whether the Redskins can afford them is another matter.

Grimes and Asomugha are out of Washington’s price range, according to people with knowledge of the situation. The Redskins expressed interest in Winfield after Minnesota released him last week, but as one of the most talented unsigned corners, he probably is too expensive.

The team last week effectively abandoned its efforts to regain salary cap space lost to the penalty, $18 million of which tolls in 2013. Nothing of the sort is expected to come out of the league meetings.

Instead, the focus is on six proposed rule changes. Most notably, the NFL’s competition committee seeks to eliminate the so-called tuck rule. The rule gained notoriety during the 2001 AFC divisional playoff round when New England quarterback Tom Brady was ruled to have thrown an incomplete pass instead of having fumbled after he was hit by Oakland defensive back Charles Woodson.

The league wants to change the rule “so that it is a fumble if the player loses possession as he attempts to bring the ball back to his body,” St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “Obviously, if the passer loses control of the ball as the arm is moving forward, it will still be an incomplete pass. But we now say if in the passing motion he attempts to bring the ball back to his body, even if he completes the tuck, and loses the ball in an attempt to bring the ball back to his body, it will be a fumble.”

The NFL’s hope is to make those plays easier for officials to rule, especially given that turnovers are automatically subject to video review.

Another rule change seeks to change the consequences for a team that asks for video review of a play that is not subject to a coaches’ challenge. Under the proposed change, a team would be charged a timeout if it initiates a challenge when prohibited from doing so, but the play still would be subject to an automatic booth review as usual.

This addresses the unforeseen consequences of the previous rule, which last season famously allowed a Houston Texans touchdown against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day after Houston’s runner was down by contact.

A penalty of 15 yards would be assessed for a team that has no timeouts and attempts to initiate a video review of a play that is not subject to a coaches’ challenge.

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