Like hundreds of representatives from other NFL teams, Washington Redskins officials will arrive in Indianapolis on Wednesday for the annual league combine workouts hoping to discern several interesting prospects for the draft in two months.
Unlike most teams, however, the Redskins hope to actually invest one of their choices, likely a third-round pick, before they depart town early next week.
Sources indicated Tuesday night that Washington owner Dan Snyder is optimistic that he can complete a much-discussed trade for Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell while at the combine. Toward that end, a team source said late Tuesday that the Redskins have moved "significantly closer" to consummating the trade first reported by ESPN.com two weeks ago.
"It's close enough now," said the source, "that it won't take much more than a nudge to get it done. The things getting done the last few days are more than incremental progress. The contract [extension with Brunell] is all but finished. And the Jaguars are ready, it seems, to pull the trigger. As far as we're concerned, the sooner, the better."
Negotiations with Brunell's agent, Leigh Steinberg, and Jacksonville officials have been going on for more than two weeks. In fact, one NFL source told ESPN.com that club officials were squiring Brunell around during Super Bowl week and that they had to keep him outside of the commissioner's party the Friday night before the title game because incumbent Washington quarterback Patrick Ramsey was inside.
Sources from some of the other teams that had been pursuing a trade for Brunell, after the initial report by ESPN.com stalled the Redskins' efforts to complete the deal quickly and quietly, conceded Tuesday night that the veteran passer in headed to Washington. The price for Brunell, with the Jaguars pushing at first for a second-rounder, seems to have fallen off a bit this week.
And as one source pointed out, no one was going to outspend Snyder on the contract for Brunell, not with the owner hell-bent on completing a deal driven by coach Joe Gibbs' desire for a veteran quarterback.
For salary cap reasons, the contract probably will be for seven years, instead of the three or four seasons previously recorded. The deal still essentially will be structured as a three- or four-year contract with a signing bonus of about $8 million, however. The two sides dickered in recent days over how the signing bonus will be distributed, with Snyder now wanting to pay the upfront money in four installments, a maneuver he recently adopted.
Brunell, 33, originally entered the NFL as a fifth-round choice of the Green Bay Packers in the 1993 draft. After two seasons in Green Bay, where he appeared in just two games and logged only 27 pass attempts, Brunell was traded to Jacksonville in 1995 for third- and fifth-round draft choices. He assumed the Jaguars' starting job shortly into his tenure in Jacksonville and held that spot for eight seasons.
In the third game of the 2003 campaign, Brunell suffered an elbow injury, opening the door for rookie Byron Leftwich, the club's first-round draft pick, to supplant him. Brunell never played another snap in a Jags uniform.
For his NFL career, he has completed 2,196 of 3,643 passes for 25,793 yards, with 144 touchdown passes, 86 interceptions and an 85.2 efficiency rating. In his three starts last season, he threw for 484 yards and had two touchdown passes and no interceptions.
He has started in 117 of his 122 appearances and was named to the AFC Pro Bowl team on three occasions. The former University of Washington standout, of course, holds all of the Jacksonville franchise passing records. Under his stewardship, the Jaguars advanced to the conference title game in 1996 and 1999 but lost both times.
It will be interesting to see what the Redskins do with Ramsey, their first-round choice in the 2002 draft. The former Tulane standout started 11 games in 2003, completing 179 of 337 passes for 2,166 yards. He had 14 touchdown throws, nine interceptions and a passer rating of 75.8. Among the league's most sacked quarterbacks last season, Ramsey earned respect around the NFL for his toughness and grit, and his potential is highly regarded.
Ramsey, 24, is under contract through the 2006 season and his salaries and cap charges are not exorbitant, meaning Washington could retain him and allow Brunell, in part, to serve as his mentor. But Ramsey almost certainly will seek a trade, sources close to him have reiterated to ESPN.com, and he would have no lack of suitors.
Gibbs has attempted to appease Ramsey and has said the Redskins will not trade him. But the spin control has failed to soothe the young quarterback, who has been careful in choosing his words of late, and Ramsey and his representatives will try to force the hand of Snyder.
Ramsey's agent, Jimmy Sexton, has been in regular contact with Snyder ever since the news broke of the Redskins' interest in acquiring Brunell. The two men are scheduled to dine together Friday evening in Indianapolis, and, assuming the Brunell deal is done by then, Sexton will make sure that Ramsey trade talks represent one course on the menu.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.