Friday, March 4, 2005

The Washington Redskins aren’t going to pursue any high-end inside linebackers to replace departed free agent Antonio Pierce. Instead, Washington’s new man in the middle is Lemar Marshall, who performed admirably in place of injured LaVar Arrington on the weak side last year.

And while still hoping to trade the disgruntled Laveranues Coles to the New York Jets for fellow receiver Santana Moss, Washington added a potential starting wideout when David Patten left New England for a five-year, $13 million deal including a $3.5 million signing bonus.

Patten, 30, averaged a career-best 18.2 yards a catch for the Super Bowl champions last year and has scored 16 touchdowns in his last three full seasons (he was hurt in 2003).

Early in his career, the speedy Patten also returned kickoffs, a Redskins weakness. However, the 5-foot-10 former Arena Football League player isn’t the big receiver the Redskins would like opposite the 5-11 Coles or the 5-10 Moss. Coles’ agents are still talking to the Jets about a reworked contract which the 2003 Pro Bowl receiver apparently wants if he’ll consent to a trade and drop his demand to be released.

The Redskins have given last year’s other starting receiver, 6-2 Rod Gardner, permission to seek a trade. Backups Taylor Jacobs and James Thrash are just 6 feet, lending credence to the belief Washington has targeted Southern Cal’s 6-5 Mike Williams with the ninth pick in next month’s draft.

If the Marshall plan works out, the reasonably priced three-year contract to which Washington re-signed the restricted free agent last month will be a pretty smart investment. At 227 pounds, Marshall is 13 pounds lighter than Pierce, but skeptics doubted former outside linebacker Pierce could man the middle before he replaced aging and ailing Michael Barrow and led the Redskins with 160 tackles while being named a second-team Pro Bowl alternate.

Marshall, 28, wasn’t drafted out of Michigan State in 1999 and was cut by Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and Denver before catching on with Washington as a special-teamer in 2002.

Although coach Joe Gibbs said the Redskins couldn’t meet Pierce’s contract demands, a club source said Washington matched almost all of the Giants’ six-year, $26 million deal, including a $6.5 million signing bonus, but offered less during the first two years.

“Antonio played great for us last year,” Gibbs said. “We would have loved to get that done, but we went as far we could go. It became a situation where we would have thrown our salary structure out [of whack]. It would have affected us in terms of adding other players.”

Pierce said he is delighted to be a Giant.

“I couldn’t be in a better place to make a bigger name for myself,” said Pierce, who made the Redskins as an undrafted rookie in 2001

Not only do the Redskins apparently have no plans to pursue such available inside linebackers as Pittsburgh’s Kendrell Bell and Baltimore’s Ed Hartwell, they don’t plan to increase their standing $10 million bonus offer to Fred Smoot, leaving it up to the cornerback to find a better deal from Kansas City or another suitor and then decide if he’ll return to Washington.

“Smoot’s deal is one that we’re working on,” Gibbs said.

The Redskins also officially introduced former Baltimore Raven Casey Rabach, 27, as their center. With Mike Flynn healthy again and set at center, the athletic, 6-foot-4, 301-pound Rabach knew his future wasn’t in Baltimore even though he also can play guard.

“We feel like our line is very strong and very deep,” Gibbs said. “We didn’t expect to do very much [in free agency]. As we started researching free agency, though, it became obvious to us that Casey might be available. This adds a person with real versatility inside. He’s one of the few players ever to [be named] All-Big Ten at two positions. Casey can start at center and is able to play guard. And he’s super-smart. He fits perfectly with us.”

The feeling was mutual. Rabach, who missed being a Wisconsin teammate of holdover center Cory Raymer by a couple of years, is excited about playing for Gibbs and offensive line coach Joe Bugel.

“If it’s the right fit for you, why wait around?,” Rabach said of not soliciting a higher offer than the five-year, $13.75 million deal he signed with Washington on the first day of free agency.

Notes — Angry at several area businesses, including The Washington Post, for selling their season tickets above face value, the Redskins have revoked hundreds of those tickets.

“It’s not the Redskins’ policy to embarrass anybody even if they’re doing something that’s against Redskins policy and NFL policy,” said Michael Sitrick, whose public relations firm was hired by the Redskins to handle the matter. “But these businesses have to understand that there are 117,000 loyal fans on the waiting list.”

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