Friday, March 2, 2007

The Washington Redskins showered six-year, $30 million contracts on four free agents last year, players who combined for a grand total of zero Pro Bowls.

The Redskins enter free agency today pursuing defensive players they hope will make more of an impact on a unit whose performance dropped sharply in a 5-11 season.

Atop the Redskins’ list is Buffalo Bills middle linebacker London Fletcher-Baker, who could receive a deal as lucrative as those given to safety Adam Archuleta, defensive end Andre Carter and receivers Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El in free agency a year ago.

The squatty Fletcher-Baker (5-foot-10, 245 pounds) made the St. Louis Rams’ roster as a rookie free agent out of Division III John Carroll University in 1998, was in the lineup the next year when the Rams won the Super Bowl and has started ever since.

The Redskins are believed to have more interest than any team in Fletcher-Baker, whose agent, Drew Rosenhaus also represents elite Redskins Santana Moss, Clinton Portis and Sean Taylor. Fletcher-Baker could sign with Washington as early as today.

Last March’s signees all visited Redskin Park almost as soon as the signing period began, so Fletcher-Baker likely will be in town today.

Fletcher-Baker would take the spot occupied last season by Lemar Marshall, a college safety who played well in the middle in 2005 but slipped last season. Marshall is best suited to the weak side, where he started in 2004. He would compete with Rocky McIntosh, a rookie last season, to start there if Fletcher-Baker joins the Redskins.

The Redskins also figure to make a serious run at cornerback Nate Clements, the top corner on the market and Fletcher-Baker’s teammate. Clements reportedly wants a signing bonus that exceeds the record bonus for the position the Denver Broncos gave to Champ Bailey in 2004. Clements, a Pro Bowl pick in 2004, isn’t in the same class as Bailey, a perennial All-Pro, but he’s clearly the top available corner and is just 27 years old.

The Redskins possess a proven corner in Shawn Springs as well as Carlos Rogers, the ninth pick in the 2005 draft. However, Springs turns 32 next Sunday, missed half of last year with three different injuries and has a $7.35 million salary cap figure, second on the team.

Rogers slumped badly in his second season, and the Redskins’ reserve corners were dreadful as the defense crashed from ninth in the league in 2005 to 31st in 2006. That fall prompted the team’s interest in Clements, who played for Redskins defensive coaches Gregg Williams and Jerry Gray in Buffalo.

The Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings figure to be among the Redskins’ rivals for Clements, a terrific athlete who’s also willing to play the run as Williams demands of his defensive backs.

Clements’ agent, Todd France, also represents Redskins guard Derrick Dockery. France’s negotiations with the Redskins on a new contract for Dockery, who will be a free agent today, didn’t go well, which could hamper the team’s chances of signing Clements.

The Redskins would try to replace Dockery via free agency should he sign with another team. They re-signed Mike Pucillo on Thursday and could plug the former Bills and Browns starter in the gap between Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels and center Casey Rabach if necessary.

Washington won’t fight to keep weak-side starting linebacker Warrick Holdman but would like to retain safety Vernon Fox, who finished 2006 as a starter; backup tight end Todd Yoder and Ade Jimoh, a special teams contributor. Yoder is on the verge of re-signing.

As expected, the Redskins tendered punter Derrick Frost at $850,000 yesterday, giving them the right to match any offers the restricted free agent receives. However, defensive tackle Ryan Boschetti and offensive lineman Jim Molinaro weren’t tendered.

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