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Redskins' Patience In Free Agency Signals New Era


If agents and players want to use the Redskins as their stalking horse in free agency, let them.

If they think that telling one suitor that the Redskins are in the chase will raise the price of poker, let them.

It may have worked a few times over the weekend, where players flirted with the Redskins and then got big (or bigger) bucks elsewhere. It won't work for much longer.

Over the years, I've often compared the Redskins to the cast of "The Ten Commandments." Every star available must appear, but the movie is mostly notable for its over-the-top mugging. It is a collection of luminaries more than a film.

The new producers at Redskins Park, Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen, may be more into low-budget ventures that sneak onto the radar and win awards.

Profligacy is out. Patience and common sense rule.

Consider the case of Chad Clifton, an offensive tackle of advancing years and declining knees. The Green Bay Packers hoped to keep him with a reasonable pay increase but Clifton raised the specter of a move to the Redskins. The Packers paid much more heavily.

Tony Pashos, another offensive tackle, seemed to be on the Redskins radar. But perhaps not at $3.5 million a year, which the desperate Cleveland Browns coughed up. Going into his eighth season, Pashos has already played for three teams. He has started all 16 games in a season twice and spent most of last year on injured reserve with the San Francisco 49ers.

Allen says the Redskins know what they need to do and how they need to do it to move forward in 2010 and beyond.

That has meant shedding 10 players, many of them older veterans with high salaries, and bringing back a few of the club's own free agents – center Casey Rabach, guard Mike Williams, defensive end/linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, defensive lineman Phillip Daniels.

The pace and patience of the approach raises an interesting question.

While a team's record defines it – "you are what your record says you are" – it isn't always an indicator of the team's capability. Daniels said as much when the season ended and the team as we knew it disbanded.

Daniels talked about lack of focus, failure to attend to details, a general absence of commitment that pervaded the locker room.

People who needed to be studying film at night were out gallivanting. People who needed to be at practice instead nursed minor nicks that former coach Jim Zorn liked to call "owies." Little failures soon morphed into catastrophes.

A better sense of the mission, Daniels said, was the difference between winning and losing four games. As the Redskins lost 12 of them, pick from that dirty dozen.

The Redskins fell on their faces at home against the Kansas City Chiefs, blew a 15-point lead against the Carolina Panthers, couldn't stop the Dallas Cowboys at the end of what became a 7-6 loss, let a huge upset of the New Orleans Saints slip away, crumbled in the season finale against the San Diego Chargers' reserves. Any and all of them were winnable.

This team could have been 8-8. Not exactly anyone's goal at the outset but it is neither humiliating nor laughable. And it says that perhaps at the core the Redskins have enough of the right guys to build with provided they can augment them with, as Allen puts it, "players who will fit what we're trying to accomplish this season."

Let's look back at 2000 and 2001, which marked the rise of the New England Patriots as the power of the new century. In 2000, they signed nine free agents and the most notable among them were guard Joe Andruzzi and defensive tackle Bobby Hamilton. No trips to Canton in store for them.

In 2001, they added 13 more. Only two made the Pro Bowl – linebacker Mike Vrabel (in 2007) and Larry Izzo, as a special teams player. But running back Antowain Smith contributed heavily and the '01 Patriots upset the heavily-favored St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl. The Pats sought out players who fit their profile, not the ones demanding big-time salaries and ego-feeding roles.

The 2000 Redskins chased every star in the galaxy – Jeff George, Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Mark Carrier. They went from division winners at 10-6 to 8-8 and third place in the NFC East.

Free agency is a tool. Tools can be used with finesse, to shave, recast and refine. Or they can be used as bludgeons. The Redskins know the second approach way too well. The object is chemistry, not chemical warfare in the locker room.

Now they have a tool and it is in the hands of people who understand how to use it.

Players expecting big deals last weekend will begin to lower their sights. Reality sets in quickly. Instead of overpaying, the Redskins may get players they like at popular prices.

More bang for the buck? What a concept. Think of it as better living through chemistry.

Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at and follow him on

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