Joe Gibbs, famed for the offensive wizardry that won three Super Bowls and earned him a bust in the Hall of Fame, won't call the plays for the 2006 Redskins.
After a horrendous 2004 return to the NFL and a much-improved but still often frustrating 2005 season on offense, Gibbs hired former Kansas City coordinator Al Saunders to be the Redskins' associate head coach/offense.
"Al will oversee and direct the offense," Gibbs said. "It will free me up to do some other things. I plan on keeping abreast of what's going on, but it will allow me to have more flexibility here."
As former San Diego coordinators, Gibbs and Saunders are both products of the Don Coryell scheme. They also worked together way back in 1972 at Southern Cal. So the offense won't change radically.
"One of the things I hope I can help this team do is take some of the things we have done ... and maybe tweak some things and add some things that will make us a more productive point-potential offense," said Saunders, whose Chiefs offense led the NFL in scoring in 2005.
Saunders is believed to have received a three-year contract worth $6 million, making him better compensated than almost any assistant as well as a great number of head coaches.
Gibbs said he first began thinking about adding another offensive coach late in the season. He called then-Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil, a close friend who was likely to retire, and they discussed Saunders. With Saunders a candidate for the openings with the Chiefs, Houston, Minnesota and Oakland, Gibbs flew to Kansas City and convinced him to come to Washington as an assistant.
"I never wanted to take a head job just to be a head coach," Saunders said. "The title of head coach was not as important as the people in the organization you work for. ... I'm an offensive football coach, and that's what I want to do."
Saunders said he'll spend the next two weeks familiarizing himself with the Redskins' roster, but he said he liked such weapons as Pro Bowl receiver Santana Moss and running back Clinton Portis and H-back Chris Cooley.
Interestingly, Saunders also noted that quarterback Mark Brunell was as productive as he had been in years and mentioned rookie third-stringer Jason Campbell but not backup Patrick Ramsey, who's expected to be traded.
Saunders said the 10-member offensive staff won't be too unwieldy even though Joe Bugel and Don Breaux are also former coordinators.
"It's not about titles," Saunders said. "It's about production. We're going to work together as a staff and share the responsibilities. Everybody on that offensive staff will have tremendous value."
Gibbs insisted that Saunders' arrival should not be viewed as a sign he plans to lighten his legendary workload nor that he has begun thinking about retirement just two years after returning to the Redskins.
"I am committed here," Gibbs said. "I made a substantial commitment. The contract I signed wasn't for three years. It wasn't for four years. It was five years. ... I'll be here every bit as much. I'll just refocus on some things now. I'll be freed up to work on some other things."
Quotes and Notes
-- While new offensive coordinator Al Saunders was getting settled, last year's addition to the offensive staff was departing. Quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave left on Tuesday for a similar position with Atlanta.
Musgrave, who interviewed for three hours with Falcons coach Jim Mora and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, wasn't available for comment.
"We wish Bill Musgrave all the best in his new role with the Falcons organization," Gibbs said in a statement issued while he was at The White House along with his NASCAR racing team to be honored for its 2005 season championship. "Although it is unfortunate that (Musgrave) departed, we always want what is best for our coaches and their families, which is why we gave Atlanta permission to interview him."
The Redskins, already loaded with coaches, could opt not to hire a quarterbacks coach. Assistant Jack Burns has coached quarterbacks for most of his career, including 2004 with Washington. Assistant Don Breaux played the position. Gibbs could also work more with the quarterbacks now that Saunders has freed up his playcalling responsibilities. Saunders' son, Bob, an offensive assistant with the Chiefs the past two years, is another possibility.
Musgrave who was Jacksonville's offensive coordinator in 2003-04, installed the shotgun into a Gibbs offense for the first time and helped Mark Brunell experience a renaissance at age 35 with 23 touchdowns passes and an 85.9 passer rating.
However, Musgrave's West Coast background isn't compatible with the Don Coryell-based system run by Gibbs, Saunders and Co.
-- The defensive staff could also be on the verge of losing a coach. Cornerbacks coach DeWayne Walker has emerged as the top candidate to become defensive coordinator at UCLA.
Walker was scheduled to meet again with Bruins coach Karl Dorrell for a second time apparently to discuss the financial package and to address concerns over flexibility in hiring assistants.
Walker played a part in the success of cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot in 2004, his first year in Washington, and he successfully brought along top draft pick Carlos Rogers in 2005. The Redskins were seventh in pass defense in 2004, 10th in 2005.
Before coming to the Redskins, Walker spent two years with the New York Giants and three with New England. Ironically, his boss there was Pete Carroll, now the coach at UCLA's archrival, USC.
The Bruins fired coordinator Larry Kerr after ranking 113th out of 117 Division I-A teams in total defense, allowing 468.1 yards a game.
--Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne will be the hottest free agent receiver this March. It's unlikely that the Colts, who already have mega-millions committed to quarterback Peyton Manning and receiver Marvin Harrison, will be able to afford Wayne - especially since running back Edgerrin James is also due a new contract.
Wayne, who caught a career-high 83 passes this season, roomed with Redskins Pro Bowl receiver Santana Moss at the University of Miami.
"We've worked together before - we'll be friends forever," Moss said. "If that was a thing they went and did, it would be great for the team. I know he could do big things."
--Moss, who starred as a punt returner for the New York Jets before coming to Washington this season, said he will return punts next season if asked. He was limited to seven returns this season, none in the final eight games. The Redskins ranked 28th in the NFL on punt returns.
"Whenever they need me, they know they can count on me," Moss said. "I won't turn my back on anything that will help the team get better."
--Running back Clinton Portis carried 385 times in 18 games but still headed home to South Florida without any major injuries.
"The only medicine I need is rest," Portis said, adding as a joke, "I just hope nothing goes wrong when the skydiving tournament starts."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If we keep our core players, I like our chances. The way we played, the way we bounced back this year, I can see us doing something real big next year." - Redskins linebacker Lemar Marshall.
WLB LaVar Arrington's complicated, reworked contract has a cap value of $12,046,000 for 2006. If the collective bargaining agreement isn't extended during the next six weeks, all of Arrington's remaining signing and option bonuses, $12,166,000, would count against the 2006 cap. So it would cost the Redskins almost as much to cut their lightning rod as it would to keep him.
However, if the CBA is extended and keeps the longstanding June 1 rule in effect, cutting Arrington after that date and before July 15 - when he's due a $6.5 million roster bonus - would cost the Redskins $5,001,000 this year with the remaining $7,105,000 counting in 2006.
Even if Arrington is cut and counts just $5 million this year, the Redskins would be roughly $15 million over the expected $95 million cap.
Relief will have to come from reworking the contracts of such players as Ts Chris Samuels ($10,218,000 cap value) and Jon Jansen ($5,604,000), CB Shawn Springs ($5,558,000), RB Clinton Portis ($5,476,000), QB Mark Brunell ($5,433,000), LB Marcus Washington ($5,167,000) and G Randy Thomas ($4,912,000).
The difficulty is that Brunell, who has a base salary of $4 million, and Thomas ($3.5 million) are the only ones with bases higher than $1.5 million. The other five contracts don't have a lot of leeway to turn salaries into bonuses, which can be pro-rated for up to five years.
The Redskins could save some money by cutting or trading players in the last years of their contracts such as reserve S Matt Bowen ($2 million base), injured DT Brandon Noble ($1.7 million), QB Patrick Ramsey ($1,688,000), CB Walt Harris ($2 million) and reserve C Cory Raymer ($985,000). Adding Hall ($1.5 million), whose contract expires in 2007, would push those savings to nearly $9 million.
If those six players are subtracted from the roster and the Redskins are able to save $7 million on Arrington and say another $5 million by redoing the contracts of Brunell and Thomas, they would have a cap total of roughly $94 million.
So Washington would be almost at the cap before retaining its free agents: safeties Ryan Clark and Omar Stoutmire; TE Robert Royal; DE Demetric Evans; special teams tackles leader Khary Campbell; LS Ethan Albright; CB Ade Jimoh (restricted); LBs Chris Clemons (exclusive rights) and Warrick Holdman; DT Cedric Killings and RB Rock Cartwright. Only Clark, and perhaps Evans, figure to be at all expensive, but even nine minimum-level contracts are a burden on a cap-strapped team.
QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Mark Brunell. Backups - Patrick Ramsey, Jason Campbell.
Brunell, who appeared washed up after getting benched last November, experience an amazing renaissance in the first half of 2005. Brunell had 14 touchdown passes and just five interceptions in his first eight starts while averaging 230 yards per game. But Brunell's TD-interception ratio slipped to 10-6 as he averaged just 157 yards the rest of the way. And Brunell made some horrendous decisions, particularly in his interception-riddled first half at Arizona and in his 41-yard effort in the playoff victory at Tampa Bay. Brunell simply isn't effective if his legs aren't right, as they weren't after he sprained his right knee on Dec. 24 against the Giants. And with his 36th birthday approaching, the Redskins are foolish to be counting on Brunell as much as they are in 2006. That's because they're planning to trade Ramsey, who lost his job to: a foot injury in November 2003; Brunell's acquisition in 2004; and to Brunell again midway through the 2005 season opener. Ramsey has a bigger arm and more upside than Brunell, but coach Joe Gibbs never trusted his gunslinger mentality. Gibbs traded three draft picks last spring for the right to take Brunell's heir apparent, Jason Campbell, in the first round. Campbell didn't take a snap as a rookie, but the coach gushed about him in the season wrap-up press conference, signaling that Ramsey's roller coaster ride as a Redskin is over after four seasons. If so, the Redskins will need to add a veteran for insurance in case Brunell doesn't bounce back and Campbell isn't ready to play.
Portis ran for 1,315 yards in 15 starts during the disappointing 6-10 season that marked his Washington debut in 2004. It seemed that the former Denver star's cutback style wasn't a good fit for Gibbs' power running approach. But Portis put on 15 pounds in the off-season and not only ran hard inside and outside but got stronger as the year went on. When the Redskins were on the verge of playoff elimination at 5-6, Portis asked for the ball and got it. He averaged 112 yards on 27 carries the next five games, setting Washington records with 1,516 yards and nine 100-yard games. Portis didn't do well in the playoffs, but like Brunell, he suffered from the lack of a serviceable No. 2, which allowed the Bucs and Seahawks to focus on stopping him. Betts is a quality backup who runs well inside with his power offering a bit of a changeup to Portis' quickness. Both are decent receivers, and Portis has thrown TD passes each of the last two seasons. Mighty-mite Cartwright exploded for 118 yards at St. Louis when Betts was hurt after losing a critical fumble at Kansas City. The popular Cartwright is a special teams regular, but he's a free agent and the Redskins already have his replacement in seventh-rounder Broughton, who carried just once as a rookie.
Cooley fulfilled the potential he showed in the second half of his rookie year, setting a Redskins tight end record with 71 catches, a total that also led all NFC tight ends. Cooley consistently got open on slants and overpowered tacklers on screens while scoring seven touchdowns. The less fluid Royal had a career year, too, with 18 catches, while Sellers shed his just-a-blocker reputation by scoring eight touchdowns on just 13 touches (12 catches, one carry). Retread Kozlowski and the still-raw Johnson saw little action. The Redskins will try to re-sign Royal, but Sellers could slide into that spot. Kozlowski, 35, likely won't be back. Johnson needs to harness the tools that come with his 6-foot-6, 278-pound body.
Moss, acquired only because fellow wideout Laveranues Coles demanded a trade after catching 90 balls in 2004, was a revelation. Supposedly a soft, injury-prone player with the Jets, Moss ignited Washington's season with two touchdowns in 71 seconds on bombs from Brunell to stun Dallas in the final minutes of Week 2. Moss went on to earn a Pro Bowl start with 84 catches, nine touchdowns and 1,483 yards, giving the Redskins their most feared weapon in a generation. Moss beat defenses long with his speed. He beat them over the middle with great hands and toughness, and he destroyed them with his quickness on slip screens. Fellow newcomer Patten was a disappointment with just 22 catches, no touchdowns and a 9.9-yard average (about half of his 2004 average in New England) before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 10. Possession receiver Thrash took over but pulled a hamstring the next week and missed four games. Jacobs, Washington's top pick (second round) in 2003, stepped in and was a total bust. Farris, a final preseason cut, was re-signed after Patten was hurt. Brown, a tiny return specialist, was brought back after Thrash was hurt. Patten, who'll be 32 in August, should probably be a backup at this stage, but the Redskins might not be able to afford a better No. 2. Thrash, 31 in April, is best suited to covering kicks and being the No. 4 wideout.
Samuels battled a sprained right knee and ankle for most of the second half of the season but still played well enough to return to the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2002. After missing 2004 with a torn Achilles' tendon, Jansen battled through two broken thumbs and held his own in 2005. Thomas had a Pro Bowl-type year, leading the way for many of Portis' outside runs until suffering a season-ending knee injury in December. Rabach and Dockery commit too many penalties but helped clear the way for Portis inside. Brown, who is retiring, was a credible backup at 43. Veteran Raymer and second-year man Molinaro played little. Ndukwe, promoted after Thomas went down, didn't play.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Renaldo Wynn, DT Cornelius Griffin, NT Joe Salave'a, RE Phillip Daniels. Backups - DE/DT Demetric Evans, DT/DE Ryan Boschetti, NT Cedric Killings, DE Nic Clemons, DT Aki Jones, DT Brandon Noble (INJ).
Daniels became a sack machine in December en route to a career year at 32. He tied a Redskins record with four sacks in the rout of Dallas and finished with a team-leading eight. Salave'a fought through a painful foot injury to be his usual run-stopping self. Griffin, who should've gone to the Pro Bowl in 2004, was a force inside when he wasn't on the sideline with a bad hip. Washington was 10-3 when he started and finished, 1-4 when he didn't. Wynn was steady as usual. Daniels, Griffin and Salave'a all have the knack for batting passes. Evans showed he could be a starter while subbing for Griffin and Wynn, recording three sacks. Killings and Boschetti were credible, and Clemons had a couple of moments in his first season. Jones barely played. Noble suffered a likely career-ending knee injury on the eve of the season.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB LaVar Arrington, MLB Lemar Marshall, SLB Marcus Washington. Backups - WLB Warrick Holdman, WLB Chris Clemons, MLB Khary Campbell, MLB Robert McCune, SLB Nick McNeil.
Arrington's wacky year began two weeks into training camp as he recovered from a second knee surgery, hit a low point when the three-time Pro Bowl pick was active but didn't play at Denver in Week 5 and ended with big plays in the playoffs: an interception that set up a touchdown at Tampa Bay and the tackle that sent NFL MVP Shaun Alexander to the sideline with a concussion at Seattle. Washington finished another Pro Bowl-level year with a rush, winding up second in tackles (125) and sacks (7 1/2) and leading the way in forced fumbles (four) and fumble recoveries (two). Marshall did well in his first year in the middle - replacing departed free agent Antonio Pierce - after filling in for Arrington in 2004. Marshall led the team in tackles (132) and interceptions (four), returning one for a touchdown. Holdman did little while subbing for Arrington. Clemons wasn't as effective a pass rusher as he had been as a rookie in 2004 before his season ended with a knee injury in Week 16. Campbell played sparingly on defense, which was still more than rookies McCune or McNeil did.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Carlos Rogers, RCB Shawn Springs, SS Ryan Clark, FS Sean Taylor. Backups - CB Walt Harris, S Pierson Prioleau, S Omar Stoutmire, S Matt Bowen, CB Ade Jimoh, CB Christian Morton, CB Dimitri Patterson.
Springs, Harris and Rogers were all healthy in only 10 of the 18 games. Springs didn't make nearly as many big plays as he had in 2004 but was still a top-notch performer. Teams didn't throw his way much in the absence of departed free agent Fred Smoot. Top pick Rogers was usually around the ball, good and bad, and eventually put the aging Harris on the bench. Rogers was beat over the top a few times but displayed fine recovery skills. Harris surrendered too much of a cushion. Jimoh had a huge tackle at Arizona in his best season. Taylor scared opponents with his hits and his spit and took back fumbles for touchdowns in the playoff clincher at Philadelphia and the playoff victory at Tampa Bay. Clark was better against the run than the pass, and like Marshall, ran the defense well. Prioleau was a valuable fill-in against the run and as a blitzer. July pickup Stoutmire showed he could still play. Former starter Bowen faded away. Pressed into service at Philadelphia with Rogers, Springs and Jimoh all out, Morton held his own. Patterson picked off a Dallas Hail Mary.
SPECIAL TEAMS - K John Hall, P Derrick Frost, P Tom Tupa (INJ), LS Ethan Albright, KR Ladell Betts, PR-KR Antonio Brown, KR-PR James Thrash, PR Santana Moss, KR Rock Cartwright, KR Nehemiah Broughton.The formerly reliable Hall was plagued by muscle pulls for a second straight year and didn't show his usual leg when he was on the field. His 47-yarder at Tampa Bay barely cleared the crossbar, while his kickoffs were short and his 36-yarder at Seattle was wide. At a minimum, Hall will receive a stiff training camp challenge. Rookie Novak was briefly a hero in October when Hall was out. Frost, who took over for fellow youngster Andy Groom in Week 3 after veteran Tupa was hurt in preseason, got plenty of roll but not much distance or hang time. Brown beat Arizona with a touchdown but nearly cost the Chicago game with a fumble that cost him his job until he was re-signed after Thrash was hurt. Betts took a kickoff all the way at Tampa Bay and had a solid year. Thrash did little on returns. Led by Khary Campbell, Sellers, Jimoh, Prioleau and Cartwright, the kick coverage was the NFL's best. Albright is as good as they come, too.