Redskins' changes likely to be subtle

On the NFL

April 13, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

John Kent Cooke's first official act as the new owner of the Washington Redskins was a sentimental gesture that could have cost him $20 million to $40 million.

Deciding to name the team's new stadium after his late father, Jack Kent Cooke, instead of giving it a corporate name the way his father planned, was the first sign that he may be a kinder, gentler version of his father.

Unlike his flamboyant, sometimes bombastic father, John Kent Cooke is a low-key type who likes to stay in the background.

But don't expect the Redskins' policies to change much. Cooke always seemed to endorse his father's views and he doesn't have to worry about such things as estate taxes because his father set things up to keep the team in the family.

The overall team philosophy shouldn't change much, either. For example, it will be a surprise if he changes his father's policy of refusing to play the Ravens in the exhibition season.

The Redskins likely will continue going their own way. When the new-guard and old-guard factions of owners were debating whether to hire Paul Tagliabue as commissioner in 1989, the Redskins weren't part of either faction.

Their view was that Tagliabue was just another Washington lawyer who wasn't qualified to be commissioner, an opinion that certainly seems valid in hindsight.

But for all the things that are likely to remain the same, John Cooke could ultimately be forced to make major changes.

The Redskins have a good reputation, but the team has gone 22-42 since Joe Gibbs left after the 1992 season. The salary cap also changed the way the Redskins did business.

After Gibbs left, the Redskins went 4-12 in Richie Petitbon's one year and are 18-30 under Norv Turner.

Cooke's father was convinced Turner would eventually take the team to the playoffs. He gave him a three-year contract extension this year so he's under contract for the next five years.

But what if Turner doesn't make the playoffs the next two years? Would John Cooke change direction or stick with the coach because his father extended his contract?

John Cooke's problem is that he'll be judged by the legacy of his father when the team was winning Super Bowls under Gibbs. Nobody will remember that he really took over a team that had gone 22-42 the previous four years.

Trading down

The talk of the coming draft continues to be the way teams are trading down in the first round. New Orleans and Atlanta have done it, and the New York Jets and the Ravens are open to the possibility.

It's a trend that distresses Bill Polian, general manager of the Carolina Panthers.

"The draft ought to be about talent, not about cap slots and who's got room," Polian said. "It's had an effect on the integrity of the draft. There were so many holdouts last year that teams are saying, 'Hey, there's no value up there.' I think that's sad. I agree with the people who are trading down. Art Modell's talk about trading out is right on."

Polian had the eighth pick last year, and Tim Biakabutuka had a long holdout and then got hurt. Polian says the league should find a way to stop rookie holdouts' salary escalation.

One thing that will help this year is that signing bonuses can be spread only over six years instead of seven. Last year, Jonathan Ogden's $6.79 million signing bonus, the highest given, was spread over seven years.

Money, though, isn't the only consideration in the trading-down decisions.

Bill Kuharich, general manager of the New Orleans Saints, said he traded down to get more picks to help Mike Ditka's rebuilding program. Modell, the Ravens' owner, said cap room, not cash, is the problem.

Although the Ravens said they were $3.5 million under the cap last week, the league has them at $2.4 million under, even though they have only 38 players signed.

They also have to set aside $1.57 million -- the $131,000 minimum for each of their 12 draft picks -- for the draft because they have fewer than 51 players under contract.

Although they can save Dan Footman's $1.25 million base salary by cutting him, they will have to count $404,000 of his prorated signing bonus. The Ravens will be charged almost $7 million this year for players not on the team.

Decisions

If he can't make a trade down, New York Jets coach Bill Parcells hinted again last week that he'll pick defensive lineman Darrell Russell over offensive lineman Orlando Pace with the first pick even though Pace is the highest-rated player on most draft boards.

Parcells said last week that former New York Yankees general manager Gene Michael once told him, "It's real simple. If this year you need a third baseman, you get a third baseman. Next year if you need a left fielder, you go get a left fielder."

So much for the best-available-athlete theory. But it would seem to be a signal Parcells will pass on the best athlete, Pace, to help his defense with Russell if he can't get a deal he likes to trade down.

Meanwhile, Modell, who ruled out taking pass rusher Peter Boulware with the fourth pick after signing free agent Michael McCrary, now is having second thoughts.

He said he's going to meet with his staff this week to discuss whether Boulware could adapt to the 4-3 defense at linebacker. The Ravens were locked into the 4-3 once they signed McCrary.

That signing also meant Boulware couldn't play defensive end for the Ravens, and the conventional wisdom is he's not a 4-3 linebacker. But Modell wants to take a second look at him in that role.

If the Ravens trade the pick, Modell says he doesn't want to go lower than the 10th spot, which limits his options.

For example, Tampa Bay is in the eighth spot and coach Tony Dungy is high on Boulware, but he took two defensive linemen on the first round last year and feels he has to go for offense this year.

Pub Date: 4/13/97

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