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Skins’ shunning of free agents goes against their nature

Mar 20, 2008, 6:18 AM EDT

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The Washington Redskins have slammed the “Closed” sign down in front of the bank teller window. They’ve shut down the ATM. The capologists and other bean counters in Ashburn can take the rest of the week off.

The Redskins are done looking for free agents.


“If something comes up [in free agency], we’ll run it down,” head coach Jim Zorn said on Tuesday. “There isn’t anyone that I’m hot after. There’s nothing on the hot list.”

No hot list? After zero signings of any other team’s free agents? After having only one visit, that from wide receiver D. J. Hackett, and offering him a lowball deal?

That seems to go against nature. It’s like a dog is standing by the side of the road as car after car drives by. The dog only chases one of them and even then it makes only a few, halfhearted steps in the direction of a slightly damaged sedan. The gleaming sports cars and loaded Hummers that used to set off furious chases pass by without so much as a bark.

The Redskins’ active stance in free agency didn’t start when Joe Gibbs came to town. In fact, it didn’t start when Daniel Snyder bought the team. In the beginning of modern free agency in 1993, the class included wide receiver Tim McGee, linebacker Rick Graf, and defensive tackle Al Noga.

In fact, it goes back even further than that. The Redskins were one of the few teams that signed free agents before ’93.

In Plan B free agency, a system that allowed teams to protect most of their rosters but let a few free when their contracts expired, Washington acquired Super Bowl XXVI starting safeties Danny Copeland and Brad Edwards, among others.

Before that system started they gave up two first-round picks to sign linebacker Wilbur Marshall away from the Bears in 1988.

Going back further, they gave up multiple high draft picks as compensation for signing Dave Butz away from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1975.

And, in 1976, there was a loophole in the rules that made it legal from free agents to sign with other teams with no compensation. There was a gentleman’s agreement among the owners and general manager—something that would be called collusion today—to stay away from each other’s free agents.

George Allen would have none of this gentleman’s agreement stuff. He went out and signed Dallas tight end Jean Fugett, Cowboys running back Calvin Hill, and a running back from the Jets named John Riggins.

Although it took six years for the Redskins to figure out that Riggins was best utilized as a battering ram and not a blocking back or outside runner, he eventually was the difference in a Super Bowl winning team.

The Redskins have been trying to buy championships ever since, with results that never have been as successful. Archives

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