When Fred Baxter evaluated which NFL teams needed tight ends this offseason, the Redskins were an intriguing prospect. Even though the team had plenty of tight ends on its roster, Baxter knew that head coach Joe Gibbs likes to employ big, bruising blockers.
At 6-3 and 268 pounds, Baxter fits that bill. He signed with the Redskins on June 2, two days before the team's last mini-camp.
"I know that Coach Gibbs loves tight ends, so it's great to be here," Baxter said. "Obviously he's a great coach, a Hall of Famer. It's a privilege to play for him. I'm just coming in here to help the team win."
The 12-year veteran, who has had stints with the New York Jets, Chicago Bears and New England Patriots, is regarded as a sturdy blocker, making him a solid fit for Gibb's offense. His skills have helped pave the way for six 1,000-yard rushers during his career, including Curtis Martin with the New York Jets and Anthony Thomas for the Chicago Bears (2001).
"Right now I'm just trying to grasp the offense," he said. "There'll be a time when I know I'll be depended on. Whatever I can do to help, that's what I'll do."
Another attribute that interested the Redskins in signing Baxter? His special teams experience.
Baxter has been a solid special teams performer throughout his career. In 1996 with the Jets, he earned special teams MVP honors for leading the team with 18 tackles on punt and kickoff returns.
Baxter, a former football and baseball star at Auburn, joins veterans Walter Rasby and Brian Kozlowski in the Redskins' revamped tight ends corps. Youngsters Robert Royal, Chris Cooley and Leonard Stephens are also on the roster as tight ends, although Cooley and Kozlowski could see time at H-back in Gibbs' offense.
As a pass-catcher, Baxter has recorded 100 catches for 1,008 yards and 12 touchdowns in his career. His most productive season as a pro came in 1997 with the Jets when he caught 27 passes for 276 yards and three TDs.
When a player like Baxter has been in the league for 12 years and signs with another team, it's inevitable that he plays again with former teammates. Kicker John Hall, wide receiver Laveranues Coles and guard Randy Thomas, all former Jets, count Baxter as a former teammate.
So does punter Tom Tupa. In fact, Baxter hooked up with Tupa on a seven-yard TD completion when the current Redskins were both playing for the Jets. Tupa had replaced injured starter Vinny Testaverde and would go on to complete 6-of-11 passes for 165 yards and two TDs.