Skins suddenly -- and surprisingly -- frugal
ASHBURN, Va. -- As surprising as it might seem, the Washington Redskins are done with their free agent shopping, at least for now. They got the center and the No. 2 receiver they wanted and plan to stand pat for a while, even though they've lost middle linebacker Antonio Pierce and could also lose cornerback Fred Smoot.
The approach is a major departure from the norm in the big-spending era of owner Dan Snyder. Not since 2001, when coach Marty Schottenheimer had to make wholesale cuts to get within the salary cap, have the Redskins made it through the first 72 hours without signing a big-name free agent.
"Right now, I'd say we've kind of done the things we think we need to do so far," coach Joe Gibbs said Friday.
The Redskins introduced receiver David Patten, who signed a five-year, $13 million contract with a $3.5 million signing bonus as a free agent from New England. Patten has the speed to stretch the field and add a big-play threat that was missing last year, but it was out of character for the Redskins to target him immediately while bypassing Derrick Mason and Plaxico Burress, considered the top two free agent receivers.
They are considering replacing Pierce with Lemar Marshall, who started 14 games at weakside linebacker last year after LaVar Arrington was injured. Marshall played well on the outside, but he's listed at 229 pounds -- hardly the size usually desired for the more physical spot at the center of the defense.
The Redskins also could draft a linebacker or sign an inexpensive free agent, but there's no plan to spend lavishly at the position. Mike Barrow is still on the roster and remains a possibility, but he is about to turn 35 and his availability is in question after missing last season with a knee injury.
If the Redskins had wanted to spend money at the position, they could have kept Pierce, who left to sign a six-year, $26 million contract with the New York Giants. Pierce's departure sent shockwaves through the organization -- Gibbs said it was the subject of three phone calls from veterans Thursday night -- because Pierce was considered to be the quintessential Gibbs-type player.
The Redskins, however, were adamant that they wouldn't give Pierce more than they gave Marcus Washington, who got a six-year, $24 million deal last year. The sudden bout of frugality cost the team its leading tackler and one of its smartest players -- someone who wanted to return and had been talking about a new contract for months.
Gibbs spent several minutes Friday repeatedly trying to explain how Pierce got away, but several explanations led to the same conclusion: The coach tried and tried, but failed.
"In this case, I thought the money was close enough to where he would say, 'Hey, I'm going to stay,'" Gibbs said.
Later, Gibbs lamented how the salary cap was restricting his goal of keeping together his core players.
"I wish we didn't have a cap," Gibbs said. "With our owner, we would be golden."
If Smoot signs elsewhere, the team might opt to promote Walt Harris to a starting spot rather than pursue a free agent. Unhappy receiver Laveranues Coles continues to seek a trade, but every day that passes without a deal makes it more likely that he will return.
Receivers coach Stan Hixon said the arrival of Patten might convince Coles to stay because it shows a commitment to try to get the ball deep. Patten caught 44 passes for 800 yards and seven touchdowns last season for the Super Bowl champion Patriots.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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