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Stability, But With Change

Jan 4, 2005, 11:07 PM EST

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You can reach me by email at rtandler@comcast.net

Rich Tandler is the author of Gut Check, The Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs’ Washington Redskins.

In an extended session with the press on Monday, Joe Gibbs talked in broad terms about the team’s plans for the offseason. The following quotes are from articles by Nunyo Demasio in the Washington Post and by Jody Foldesy in the Washington Times.

After addressing his players yesterday, Gibbs today will begin a week-long analysis of the team. He intends to have a depth chart by Friday that will rank the players at each position, providing a blueprint for the offseason to owner Daniel Snyder and Vice President Vinny Cerrato.

Right off the bat this is not good news. Not the fact that Gibbs and company are breaking down the team’s personnel strengths and weaknesses; that’s standard operating procedure in the NFL. No, it’s the fact that the blueprint will be presented to the tag team of Snyder and Cerrato. It doesn’t appear that a real NFL General Manager will be shepherding the team through the ’05 offseason.

Among the issues Gibbs addressed in wide-ranging comments was the status of left tackle Chris Samuels, whose hefty contract has created speculation about his future. Building on complimentary quotes that followed Sunday’s 21-18 win over the Minnesota Vikings, Gibbs made clear that Samuels will be around next season.

“Chris Samuels played his rear off,” Gibbs said. “We’re going to respect that. We think a lot of Chris Samuels. Chris Samuels is going to be a part of this thing. We just need to get [a contract extension] worked out.”

It’s good that Gibbs added that final qualifier. If there is no extension worked out, there would be cap charges for Samuels of some $9.6 million next year and of over $11 million in 2006. Those are hard numbers to swallow for any player, much less a solid but not stellar offensive tackle.

Wideout Rod Gardner had his worst season, and the trade rumors that have followed him in his Redskins career may finally become fact.

It’s official—Rod Gardner is a bust. His nickname on the team is “50/50”, based on his chances of catching a given pass. The odds of him remaining a Redskin seem to be considerably longer than that.

A replacement for Garnder could come via the NFL draft. Washington will draft ninth in the first round and receivers such as Michigan’s Braylon Edwards and former USC receiver Mike Williams are likely to be available and attractive at that spot.

(Linebacker Antonio) Pierce remains an important part of Washington’s plans, and he said he has a meeting scheduled with coaches this week to discuss his future. The Redskins have been working to retain Pierce for several months, but he recently switched agents and probably won’t sign for at least a few more weeks.

It’s possible that Pierce canned his old agent because he wasn’t getting a deal with the Redskins done quickly enough. On the proverbial other hand, it could be that Pierce thought that his former agent wasn’t being forceful enough with the team and wanted the player to sign a deal for far less than his market value. Stay tuned.

Holding a more uncertain future is cornerback Fred Smoot, whose contract talks are at an impasse. Although Gibbs said the club wants to keep Smoot, the coach also made clear there’s a maximum price.

“We’ve got a certain number of bucks to spend,” Gibbs said. “My motivation is the core group. … There may come a situation, hopefully not, where we’ve got to look out for the core group. If one person … becomes unreasonable, we’ve got to protect the core group.

The emphasis was added to that last part of the quote since gives a lot of credence to reports that Smoot is looking for guaranteed money in the neighborhood of $15 million. That’s a lot for a corner who has never been to a Pro Bowl and who never intercepted more than five passes in a season despite playing opposite Champ Bailey for his whole career. For that matter, so is $10 or $11 million that the Redskins reportedly are offering. According to Cerrato, the offer on the table would make Smoot one of the 10 highest-paid corners in the league. Clearly, Smoot is a member of the “core group” that Gibbs would like to protect, but not at any cost. Again, stay tuned.

While in his last meeting with the players Gibbs promised a minimum of change in the coaching staff and in the roster. Still, Gibbs thinks that the team has room to maneuver if it wants to:

Complimenting owner Dan Snyder on his handling of the books and calling the club’s cap cushion “substantial,” Gibbs added: “We kind of know where we are. Obviously you project where the cap’s going to be. And then [there are things] we can do to free up money in there. We’ve got a great plan.”

The offseason retooling will involve more than personnel. Gibbs plans to look at his offensive schemes and fix whatever was broken enough to cause the team to rank 31st in the NFL in scoring with 240 points.

“More than anything, we need to take a long, hard look at everything on offense,” Gibbs said. “We’re going to take it all apart and see if there’s a way to upgrade what we’re doing.”

Gibbs certainly wouldn’t be afraid to play the copycat game that is so popular in the NFL.

“We’re constantly looking to steal, borrow, whatever, what somebody else is doing,” he said.

A lot said by Gibbs in the 55-minute session, but not much concrete. The players seem to be as much in the dark about what may happen as the rest of us are. Said Lavar Arrington:

I don’t know. I’m part of the Redskins organization. That means anything can happen during the offseason.

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