Whisper Room

Redskins linebacker Shawn Barber and tight end Stephen Alexander both will be free agents after the season. Both have contributed in many ways the past two seasons. The question is, will it matter? And how much are they really worth?

Alexander said he nixed discussions about a contract extension in the preseason. He wanted only to concentrate on football.

But sources said he's discussed his future with Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer as recently as two weeks ago. And that Schottenheimer told him he wants him back.

That remains to be seen. After all, Schottenheimer told Jeff George lots of things, too. The difference: they like Alexander's makeup--his work ethic and toughness. He's also pretty good.

Plus, Washington would like two pass-receiving tight ends. Alexander and Zeron Flemister together would open up the offense, enabling them to use numerous four- and five-receiver sets, creating mismatches.

Still, it will come down to an economic decision. Alexander intends to return--he said Wednesday that he'd ''love to be back.'' There's no doubt in his mind Washington wants him back.

But if the Redskins are cash strapped again, they might opt to stick with the cheaper Flemister and find another young tight end to pair him with. This is, after all, a business.

Then there's Barber, out for the season with a knee injury. Barber probably wants to return--he said so after getting hurt.

But at what cost? From what we hear, Barber has told his agent he wants to be paid like Dwayne Rudd, the free agent linebacker who signed with Cleveland.

Rudd signed a five-year deal worth approximately $21 million, with a $5.65 million signing bonus. Incentives boost this deal much higher.

Is Barber worth it? After all, he'd be coming off major knee surgery. And, though the coaches like his enthusiasm in games and in practice, he hasn't made many plays the past two years. We've also seen how much better Robert Jones is against the run than Barber.

The guess is, they'll bid Barber a fond farewell, if he keeps demanding such a deal. Barber isn't bad. But he's not nearly as good as he apparently thinks he is. Plus, with Antonio Pierce, they might have found their alternative.

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