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1 Washington Redskins An off-season spending spree produced a wealth of talent as well as a hefty price tag: Super Bowl-sized expectations

Aug. 28, 2000
Aug. 28, 2000

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Aug. 28, 2000

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1 Washington Redskins An off-season spending spree produced a wealth of talent as well as a hefty price tag: Super Bowl-sized expectations

Since the start of unfettered free agency in 1993, no team has
been constructed with more of a win-now philosophy than this
year's Redskins. To wit: In 2001, Washington's 15 top-salaried
players will have a combined cap value of $53.2 million--and that
top 15 doesn't include the two most valuable offensive players,
quarterback Brad Johnson and running back Stephen Davis.

This is an article from the Aug. 28, 2000 issue

"The owner [Daniel Snyder] has been outspoken in saying he wants
to win a Super Bowl this year," says 32-year-old free safety Mark
Carrier, a free-agent pickup who spent the past three seasons
with the Lions. "Hey, everybody in this camp is thinking the same
way. Why hide it? This is what the NFL wanted. I think the window
of opportunity is going to be short for every good team now.
Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Washington...I'm not sure any of us will
have a long run at it."

The Redskins helped themselves greatly in the off-season. The
selection of outside linebacker LaVar Arrington and left tackle
Chris Samuels with the second and third draft picks,
respectively, should give Washington two young cornerstones.
Defensive end Bruce Smith, a free-agent signee from the Bills,
should be on the field for 70% of the defensive downs and, at age
37 and playing on grass, he has at least one productive season
left.

Cornerback Deion Sanders somehow finagled an $8 million signing
bonus from Snyder. Before the Cowboys released Sanders, Dallas's
team doctors advised owner Jerry Jones that Sanders's efforts to
compensate for the left big toe he had surgically repaired in
April 1999 had caused him to hurt other body parts, notably his
right hamstring and right knee last season. (He had arthroscopic
surgery on that knee in January.) But Sanders at 80% still gives
the Skins the game's best collection of corners, which includes
Champ Bailey and the ageless Darrell Green.

Quarterback Jeff George was signed, over the mild objections of
coach Norv Turner, as a $4.5 million-a-year backup to the
efficient Johnson. That could get sticky. Turner loves Johnson.
But $4.5 million-a-year backups usually don't stay in that
position for long, and George is coming off a season in which he
threw for 2,816 yards and 23 touchdowns after taking over in the
Vikings' sixth game. Turner may feel pressure from upstairs--i.e.,
Snyder--to play George if Johnson struggles even a little.

The Redskins have some savvy new defensive coaches--coordinator
Ray Rhodes and linebackers coach Foge Fazio--to help stop the
bleeding on a unit that finished 27th in the league against the
run last season. Still, with newcomers Arrington and Smith seen
primarily as pass rushers, no player of significance was brought
in to address that shortcoming. "That's a misleading stat,"
Turner says of the 123.3 yards a game (and 4.5 yards per carry)
that Washington gave up on the ground. "Over the last eight weeks
we played really solid against the run. I think you'll see us use
more eight-man fronts to shut down the run. We can do that
because Deion allows us to."

Yes, but only if he's healthy. "You've got to be realistic about
Deion," Turner admits, "and you've got to say he probably won't
play a 16-game schedule. But one week, if his hamstring's sore,
we could rest him and plug Darrell in there." Amazing. You pay a
guy $8 million to sign, and you don't expect him to play every
week.

The Redskins had the NFL's second-rated offense last year, with
Johnson throwing for 4,005 yards and Davis rushing for an
NFC-best 1,405. They're back with a better supporting cast.
Samuels had an up-and-down camp, but he should be an improvement
on veteran Andy Heck at left tackle. Turner raves about backup
wideout James Thrash, who after an excellent summer could catch
50 balls playing behind Michael Westbrook and Albert Connell. "I
think Thrash is their best receiver," says Rams general manager
Charlie Armey.

Washington arguably has the most talented team in the league. It
has assembled quality depth in most areas. Success, however,
could come down to how well Turner teaches chemistry class,
because collections of stellar individuals don't necessarily make
stellar teams (see Kansas City in 1998, and Carolina in '97 and
'98).

Nevertheless, lots of coaches would love to have Turner's
problem. "This team has something special in the making," says
Smith, one of the mainstays of the Buffalo team that played in
four consecutive Super Bowls. "I can feel it."

What the Redskins largely have is a 1996 Pro Bowl team. It
remains to be seen if this latter-day Over the Hill Gang can be a
top-flight team.

--Peter King

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS CAPITAL GAINS Davis, the NFC's leading rusher last season, could be even more productive behind a beefed-up line.COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY

SCHEDULE

SEPT. 3 CAROLINA
10 at Detroit
18 DALLAS (Mon.)
24 at N.Y. Giants

OCT. 1 TAMPA BAY
8 at Philadelphia
15 BALTIMORE
22 at Jacksonville
30 TENNESSEE (Mon.)

NOV. 5 at Arizona
12 Open date
20 at St. Louis (Mon.)
26 PHILADELPHIA

DEC. 3 N.Y. GIANTS
10 at Dallas
16 at Pittsburgh (Sat.)
24 ARIZONA

FAST FACTS

1999 Record 10-6 (1st in NFC East)

NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 9/6/2; defense 27/26/30

2000 Schedule strength
NFL rank: 11(tie)
Opponents' 1999 winning percentage: .520
Games against playoff teams: 7

PLAYER TO WATCH

A three-year starter at Rice and a 1997 fifth-round draft pick of
the Eagles, N.D. Kalu spent one season in Philly, playing in just
three games, before the Eagles waived him and he signed with
Washington. The Skins, for whom Kalu has had 6 1/2 sacks in spot
duty over his first two years, see him as a speed rusher who'll
likely play in passing situations. But if Kalu, who's of Nigerian
descent, continues to perform the way he did in camp, he'll play
on more than third-and-long. "I think I can get more than 10
sacks," says Kalu. "I see the chance I have in front of me,
playing on such a good line." By season's end he could be as big
a threat to passers as Bruce Smith. "We think N.D. can be a
special player," says Redskins coach Norv Turner, "maybe this
year."

PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1999 STATISTICS

Coach: Norv Turner
Seventh season with Redskins (42-53-1 in NFL)

Offensive Backs PVR*

QB Brad Johnson 6 316 att. 519 comp. 60.9% 4,005 yds.
24 TDs 13 int. 90.0 rtg.

RB Stephen Davis 5 290 att. 1,405 yds. 4.8 avg. 23 rec.
111 yds. 4.8 avg. 17 TDs

RB Adrian Murrell[1]190 193 att. 553 yds. 2.9 avg. 49 rec.
335 yds. 6.8 avg. 0 TDs

FB Larry Centers 206 13 att. 51 yds. 3.9 avg. 69 rec.
544 yds. 7.9 avg. 3 TDs

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

[PVR*]

WR Michael Westbrook 19 65 rec. 1,191 yds. 9 TDs
WR Albert Connell 46 62 rec. 1,132 yds. 7 TDs
WR Irving Fryar 246 26 rec. 254 yds. 2 TDs
TE Stephen Alexander 127 29 rec. 324 yds. 3 TDs
K Brett Conway 182 49/50 XPs 22/32 FGs 115 pts.
PR Deion Sanders[1] 278 30 ret. 11.5 avg. 1 TD
KR James Thrash 217 14 ret. 25.4 avg. 1 TD

LT Chris Samuels (R)[1]6'5" 325 lbs. 12 games 12 starts
LG Keith Sims 6'3" 318 lbs. 12 games 12 starts
C Cory Raymer 6'2" 288 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Tre' Johnson 6'2" 326 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Jon Jansen 6'6" 309 lbs. 16 games 16 starts

Defense

LE Marco Coleman 65 tackles 6 sacks
LT Dan Wilkinson 32 tackles 8 sacks
RT Dana Stubblefield 44 tackles 3 sacks
RE Bruce Smith[1] 45 tackles 7 sacks
OLB LaVar Arrington (R)[1]72 tackles 9 sacks
MLB Derek Smith 97 tackles 1 sack
OLB Shawn Barber 101 tackles 2 int.
CB Champ Bailey 78 tackles 5 int.
SS Sam Shade 115 tackles 2 int.
FS Mark Carrier[1] 73 tackles 3 int.
CB Deion Sanders[1] 41 tackles 3 int.
P Tommy Barnhardt[1] 82 punts 39.8 avg.

[1] New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)

THE BOOK an opposing team's scout sizes up the Redskins

The Redskins collected a bunch of great names, but I question
whether they're still great players. And veterans such as Deion
Sanders, Bruce Smith and Dana Stubblefield have never been good
practice players. How will Norv Turner handle that? Will the
young kids follow the example of the guys who don't practice
hard?...I don't understand how they won't have a quarterback
controversy at some point this year. The owner signed Jeff
George. Norv has never liked him. The minute Brad Johnson
falters--and he can be streaky--the fans and the owner will be
screaming for George. I like Johnson. He's perfect for that
offense, a smart guy with an accurate arm. But the jury's out on
whether he can have good back-to-back years.... I really like
their two tackles [Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels].... Their
receivers are good enough. On defense they could have used a
Gilbert Brown, a first-down run-stopper. Stubblefield and Dan
Wilkinson aren't sound against the run. I think people will run
at those two and Derek Smith, who can be pushed around.