'Skins speed up rebuilding process

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In the span of 10 days in free agency, the Washington Redskins either set themselves up to win big - or lose badly - during the next several seasons.

Their rapid-fire acquisition of 10 players through early free-agent signings, offer sheets and trades gives coach Steve Spurrier a team he will have to live with for better or worse in the coming seasons. Serious roster retooling in the short term will be difficult, if not impossible, because of the salary cap implications.

Just as telling, however, is that the attack on the free-agent market changed the way the Redskins will play under Spurrier. His offense was designed for big plays last year, but was largely devoid of playmakers.

Now he has St. Louis Rams castoff Trung Canidate to catch passes out of the backfield and likely will have wide receiver Laveranues Coles to catch them downfield.

Canidate is incredibly fast - he can run the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds - but he also tends to fumble, which is why he fell into disfavor in St. Louis.

Coles had a breakout season with the New York Jets, making 89 catches for 1,264 yards and five touchdowns. He was Chad Pennington's go-to guy. But because he is a restricted free agent as a three-year veteran, the Redskins had to submit an offer sheet the Jets wouldn't want to match. Washington probably accomplished that with an exorbitant $13 million signing bonus and $7 million-a-year average. The Jets have until Wednesday to decide.

The Redskins also submitted an offer sheet to Jets kick returner Chad Morton. New York matched that one, but Morton's status remains uncertain because the NFL Players Association says the Jets did not match all provisions of the contract.

Nevertheless, it's clear what direction the Redskins are heading under Spurrier. "We're trying to get as many playmakers on the field as we can," said Vinny Cerrato, the team's director of pro personnel.

It's all about speed and finesse in Washington, and there's no looking back.

Cardinals regrouping

It already has been a long offseason for Rod Graves, the Arizona Cardinals' vice president of operations. He lost quarterback Jake Plummer and wide receiver David Boston in free agency when he declined to designate either as a franchise player. Then he whiffed as free agents Rosevelt Colvin, Kordell Stewart, John Thornton and Vonnie Holliday all passed through Phoenix without signing.

At one point, after Colvin walked on the Cardinals, Graves told Jay Nienkark, director of player administration, "Don't let anybody see me like this."

Then last week, within hours of each other, the Cardinals negotiated deals with four free agents: safety Dexter Jackson, the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player; ex-Ravens quarterback Jeff Blake; fullback James Hodgins, and linebacker James Darling.

The Cardinals outbid the Pittsburgh Steelers for Jackson by adding $2 million to their offer, giving the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player a five-year, $14 million deal. It doesn't make up for losing Plummer and Boston, but it's a start.

Around the league

Before University of Miami running back Willis McGahee tore up his knee in the Fiesta Bowl, the Houston Texans targeted him as their playmaker with the third pick in next month's NFL draft. Now they're actively shopping the pick in hopes they can add more players. Trade talk has been light so far. "I think eventually the pick will become quite valuable," Texans general manager Charley Casserly said. "If you assume a quarterback goes before us and a skill player goes before us, a wide receiver, I think the picks become narrowed where the top players are at that point." Southern California quarterback Carson Palmer and Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers are expected to be the first two picks, which could prompt a trade for the best defensive player, Penn State tackle Jimmy Kennedy. ... The Jets are doing their best to play down the potential loss of Coles, who had a special chemistry with Pennington. Said coach Herman Edwards: "When he first started playing, he was just Chad Pennington. He didn't have chemistry with anybody." ... Don't be surprised if the Philadelphia Eagles trade quarterback A.J. Feeley before the draft. They recently signed Koy Detmer as Donovan McNabb's backup, and Feeley showed enough during his 5-1 run as a fill-in late in the year to raise his profile. ... Concerned about rising weight and a $2.35 million salary, the San Francisco 49ers cut defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield on Feb. 27. Last week, he resurfaced with the Oakland Raiders as Sam Adams' replacement and took a shot at his old team. "On this team, you don't have to light a fire to get these guys [the Raiders] ready to play," Stubblefield said. "Over on the Niners' side, with some of the younger guys, you've got to light a fire to get them ready for games." ... The Buffalo Bills have made significant strides upgrading a defense that ranked 27th in points allowed by signing linebackers Takeo Spikes (Cincinnati Bengals) and Jeff Posey (Houston) to team with middle linebacker London Fletcher. They're also talking with Adams. ... The Denver Broncos got the top quarterback on their list - Plummer - but still haven't filled their void at offensive tackle. They missed on Flozell Adams (Dallas Cowboys) and Wayne Gandy (New Orleans Saints) and will have to take a tackle high in the draft.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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