ASHBURN, Va. - In recent years, the end of each Washington Redskins season has meant an offseason of change.
But after a 7-9 campaign filled with doubts, Washington embarked on its first day of the offseason with an eye toward preserving most of the components that produced a year-ending two-game winning streak.
"We've got a long way to go," said coach Steve Spurrier, who endured his first losing record since he coached at Duke in 1987. "[But] I think we've got a pretty good core of players. Obviously, we'll have a few [new] players here and there, but most of these guys will be back."
Much of the league's fifth-ranked defense will return, including Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington, Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, defensive end Renaldo Wynn, cornerback Fred Smoot, and linebackers Jessie Armstead and Jeremiah Trotter.
Quarterback Patrick Ramsey, wide receiver Rod Gardner, center Larry Moore, and tackles Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels head a list of the offensive players who likely will spend a second consecutive season under Spurrier's Fun 'N' Gun system.
"You always have teams that do well because they're building off what they had done in the past season," Arrington said. "But it's always been rebuilding for the Redskins. So, hopefully, this will be an opportunity for us to build off what we started to do this season."
That Spurrier will retain his position is another unfamiliar sight. Team owner Daniel Snyder had consumed three head coaches during the 2000 and 2001 campaigns before signing Spurrier to a five-year deal last January.
"It's great to have a coach we know we'll have back next year," said Gardner, who - with 71 receptions for 1,006 yards - became the team's first 1,000-yard receiver since Michael Westbrook and Albert Connell in 1999. "I think [with] Spurrier coming in next year and us working in the offseason and understanding the system, we'll know what we can do."
Some needs include finding a speedy wide receiver to complement Gardner's possession-type skills, a quarterback to back up Ramsey and one or two offensive linemen to stabilize a guard position that has fielded seven different starters in 16 games.
Spurrier said he is comfortable relying on the running back tandem of Kenny Watson and Ladell Betts. Stephen Davis is expected to be released to clear more than $5 million under the salary cap.
Washington also has glaring holes on the other side of the ball. If defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis leaves to accept a head coaching position, the team would have to hire its fifth coordinator in as many years.
If Lewis departs, linebackers coach George Edwards and defensive line coach Ricky Hunley would be the leading candidates for the job.
Defensive tackles Daryl Gardener and Santana Dotson, linebackers Kevin Mitchell and Eddie Mason, defensive end Carl Powell and safety Sam Shade are unrestricted free agents. Safety David Terrell is a restricted free agent.
Defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson likely will be waived to create more room under the salary cap.
Defensive end Bruce Smith is 3.5 sacks away from eclipsing the league career record of 198 set by Reggie White. But Smith, who - to his dismay - rotated with Ladairis Jackson this season, hinted yesterday he had made a decision to retire until he came to Redskins Park and talked with Snyder, Snyder's father, Gerry, and Lewis.
"My mind was made up," the 18-year veteran said. "I was asked to give some thought about it, and that's what I'm going to do."
Spurrier said the team would also search for a punt-return specialist and invite several punters and kickers to training camp on July 25.