ASHBURN, Va. - Excuse Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington if he's a little suspicious of all the talk about this football team staying intact for next season.
After all, Arrington has been coached by five different defensive coordinators, watched the franchise trade away four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, and, in just his fifth year as a pro, reigns with offensive tackles Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels as the longest-tenured players still picking up paychecks at Redskins Park.
So when Arrington was asked yesterday what he expected Washington to do this offseason, he sounded a little morose.
"I don't know. I'm part of the Redskins organization so that means anything can happen," Arrington said. "I'll just sit back and wait."
Arrington's hesitation is not unfounded. After the end of last year, coach Steve Spurrier, who had completed two years of a five-year deal with the franchise, abruptly resigned. The team eventually said goodbye to Bailey and 10 other starters from last season's 5-11 squad.
But coach Joe Gibbs, who finished 6-10 in his first season back with the team, pledged to do what he could to retain what he frequently referred to as a "core group" of players.
"I am convinced we can keep that group," Gibbs said. "We're committed to doing that. We're not going to lose people. That's our commitment."
Gibbs' task this offseason will be multi-faceted. First, Gibbs said he will sit down with team owner Daniel Snyder and vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato by the end of the week and lay out a depth chart of players for next season's team.
Then the brain trust will tackle trying to re-sign players who will become free agents on March 2. Cornerback Fred Smoot represents the team's toughest challenge, as the fourth-year pro spent part of last week backtracking from previous statements expressing optimism about staying in Washington.
Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, who led the team in tackles with 158 and made Redskins fans forget about free-agent acquisition Mike Barrow, has said his agent is already negotiating with team officials about a new contract. Linebacker Lemar Marshall, who started the last 14 games in place of Arrington, is a restricted free agent, which means that the organization can match any offer submitted by another team.
Questions surrounding Samuels and wide receiver Rod Gardner will have to be addressed. Samuels, who enters the final year of a seven-year, $49 million deal, will be a significant hit to the team's salary cap, but Samuels said yesterday that he is willing to rework his contract to stay in Washington.
The Redskins used the 15th overall pick of the 2001 draft to select Gardner, but he registered just one game in 16 starts with at least seven catches and just two with more than 100 receiving yards.
When the draft rolls around on April 23, the team could use its first-round choice (ninth overall) on a wide receiver or a pass rusher to supplement a defense that assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams molded into the league's third-stingiest unit (267.6 yards a game).
At least there won't be any controversy at quarterback. Patrick Ramsey, who guided the team to a 3-4 record in his seven starts, earned Gibbs' vote of approval after a Week 15 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Running back Clinton Portis will have another year to adapt to Gibbs' run-heavy system, and Gibbs will spend the offseason retooling the offensive schemes that led to the team's worst offensive punch since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule for the 1978 season.
"I'm excited because we didn't have the production we wanted on offense, but I think that's something that we can fix," Gibbs said. "The next six months will be hugely important for us. ... I think it's going to take a lot of hard work, but I'm excited about it."
(Line in parentheses)
NFC: St. Louis at Seattle (-4), 4:30 p.m., chs, 2, 7 AFC: N.Y. Jets at San Diego (-6), 8 p.m., chs. 2, 7
AFC: Denver at Indianapolis (-10), 1 p.m., chs. 13, 9 NFC: Minnesota at Green Bay (-6), 4:30 p.m., chs. 45, 5
AFC: San Diego, N.Y. Jets or Denver at Pittsburgh, 4:30 p.m., chs, 13, 9 NFC: Green Bay, Seattle or St. Louis at Atlanta, 8 p.m., chs. 45, 5
NFC: Seattle, St. Louis or Minnesota at Philadelphia, 1 p.m., chs. 45, 5 AFC: Indianapolis, San Diego or N.Y. Jets at New England, 4:30 p.m., chs, 13, 9
NFC: 3 p.m., chs. 45, 5 AFC: 6:30 p.m., chs. 13, 9
At Jacksonville, Fla., 6 p.m., chs. 45, 5