Inside Slant

The sharks are circling outside Redskin Park, where the loss of Antonio Pierce, Fred Smoot and Laveranues Coles in the first week of free agency had fans and media commentators going wild. The tension was palpable at the team's headquarters. At one point, coach Joe Gibbs even called a news conference to sooth the masses.

"Fred and Antonio were important players to us," Gibbs said. "We wanted to keep them. ... We made a commitment and part of our commitment as I stood up in front of the players and everybody else is that we (would) do our absolute best to keep our players together."

The prices on those two simply didn't make sense in the club's new cost structure, Gibbs explained. "If it comes to a point where we feel like as an organization that you are going to pay somebody substantially more than somebody else is paying a similar type position on the team, obviously that would affect the team," he said.

In Pierce's case, Washington didn't want to bid higher than Marcus Washington's six-year, $22.5 million deal (Pierce got six years, $26 million from the Giants). As for Smoot, his pact could go no higher than the six-year, $31.3 million one that Shawn Springs got (Minnesota lured Smoot north with a six-year, $34 million offer).

Beneath such reasoning also is the internal thinking that assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams can find or develop a pair of players to take over for Pierce and Smoot, and that the real money in Washington needs to be spent on offense.

The fact that the Redskins finally might be getting some fiscal discipline, though, doesn't settle the natives. People outside the organization are wondering whether Gibbs needs a true general manager, and even inside the club there are surprising pockets of doubt where Gibbs once went unquestioned.

Each of the three moves could be defended on a case-by-case basis (money, money and a two-year toe injury that sapped Coles' big-play ability). But put together, they've created the first real crack in Gibbs' previously impervious CEO armor.

NOTES, QUOTES
  • One big question in the wake of WR Laveranues Coles' departure is whether Gibbs set himself up for problems the next time a player gets cranky about his role. After all, if Washington was so quick to trade Coles, hasn't it established a precedent of rewarding bad behavior? "I have a confidence that that's not going to happen very often," Gibbs said. "Our locker room, our guys--I have a very good feel for that. It's a great group of guys. ... That may be something you can't work your way through it. But that's part of life. ... But to be quite truthful, I have a confidence that's not going to happen here."

  • Gibbs took the high road when asked about Coles' comments in the wake of the deal. Coles had said Redskins owner Dan Snyder, when the trade was held up by Coles' contract demand, threatened to buy Coles a TV to watch all the games because he wouldn't be playing in Washington. "I am aware (of Coles' accusations)," Gibbs said. "The most important thing for me is not to address anything from that situation other than, we wish him the best."

QUOTE TO NOTE:  "I had to laugh the whole time we were trying to coordinate this. Clinton would call me--sometimes from Las Vegas, from Miami, from the Bahamas. I said, 'How come I'm doing all the hard work and you're running all over the world?' But in any case Santana's got some buddies here." -- Coach Joe Gibbs on RB Clinton Portis' efforts to prod along the trade for WR Santana Moss

NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES

Cornerback: The Redskins might use the ninth overall pick on a cover corner now that Fred Smoot is gone and Walt Harris is slated to start opposite Shawn Springs. The depth chart is very uncertain after Harris.

Defensive End: The club survived without a true pass-rusher in 2004 and is content to go without one again. But RDE Phillip Daniels spent much of last year injred and it would be a good idea to plan for the future.

Wide Receiver: Smallish Santana Moss and David Patten are slated to start, with James Thrash and Taylor Jacobs coming off the bench. Darnerien McCants is also in the mix. Nowhere is a bona fide potential No. 1 target.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: OL Ray Brown; S Pat Dennis; S Jason Doering; S Todd Franz (not tendered as RFA); TE Brian Kozlowski.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: RB Rock Cartwright; DE Demetric Evans; QB Tim Hasselbeck; S Andre Lott; DE Ron Warner.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: PK Jeff Chandler; LB Chris Clemons; LB Devin Lemons.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: LS Ethan Albright; DL Cedric Killings; LB Lemar Marshall; DT Joe Salave'a; TE Mike Sellers; RB John Simon.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: WR Santana Moss; WR David Patten; C Casey Rabach.
PLAYERS LOST: WR Laveranues Coles; DT Jermaine Haley; OT Vaughn Parker; LB Antonio Pierce; CB Fred Smoot.


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