Redskins to mostly watch as draft unfolds tomorrow

Picks-for-free-agents plan leaves team few choices

Pro Football

April 25, 2003|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - Tomorrow's NFL draft, annually one of the most eagerly anticipated events in professional football, should be a rather low-key affair for the Washington Redskins.

The Redskins do not own a single pick among the top 32 selections that comprise the first round. In fact, Washington has just four picks in the draft's seven rounds, and one of them could be lost today (more on that later).

That places pressure on the team's brain trust of owner Daniel M. Snyder, director of player personnel Vinny Cerrato, vice president of football operations Joe Mendes and coach Steve Spurrier to find immediate contributors with the club's picks in the second (44th overall and 12th of the round) and third (81st, 17th) rounds.

"We have to come out with a good football player," Cerrato said. "We have to come out with somebody who can help us."

Of course, the Redskins have no one to blame but themselves for squandering their draft picks in what amounted to a free-for-all for free agents this past offseason.

The club added 21 free agents, three of whom - former New York Jets wide receiver Laveranues Coles, ex-Jets kick returner Chad Morton and former Green Bay Packers safety Matt Bowen - were restricted free agents and cost Washington first-round (13th overall), fifth-round (140th overall and fifth of the round) and sixth-round (185th, 13th) selections, respectively.

The Redskins also gave their fourth-round choice (107th, 10th) to the St. Louis Rams as part of a trade for running back Trung Canidate.

And if the Miami Dolphins decline to match Washington's four-year, $4 million offer sheet to defensive tackle Jermaine Haley by today, the club will relinquish one of its two seventh-round picks (226th, 12th).

But Cerrato said signing free agents will prove more beneficial than drafting rookies because the established players have been participating in offseason drills since March 24 and won't involve the team in lengthy or tumultuous holdouts.

"I was talking with one of the execs from another club today and he was asking me about using your draft picks to do it and all," he said. "I said, `Let me ask you this: With your four through seven, do you know that they're going to come in and play and be able to start some of them?' He said no. I said, `Ours can.' We know that [because] they've done it."

Added Spurrier: "We've got better players than we had last year. ... Of course, we had to give away some draft picks, but we think we've got proven players."

The scarcity of choices leaves the Redskins with few options. Cerrato said the team is open to the idea of trading its second- or third-round selections with the hope of collecting more picks in the later rounds.

But it's more likely that Washington will use its first two picks to take a safety and a defensive lineman.

Draft experts have predicted that either of the top two safeties in this year's class - Troy Polamalu, a 5-foot-10, 206-pound run stopper from Southern California, and Mike Doss, a 5-10, 207-pound hitter from Ohio State - could be available with the 44th choice.

If Haley joins Washington, defensive line help could wait. If not, the Redskins could choose to use their second-round pick on either Clemson defensive tackle Nick Eason - a 6-3, 301-pound Atlantic Coast Conference first-team selection who has an explosive first step - or Texas defensive end Cory Redding - a 6-3, 279-pounder who could anchor the run defense.

Bryan Barker is the team's only punter, but the 14-year pro doesn't have the distance on his kicks he once had.

Some team officials have suggested drafting a punter such as Maryland's Brooks Barnard or Hawaii's Mat McBriar to solidify the position.

Finally, the Redskins also will be looking for a No. 3 quarterback, a backup center and possibly another wide receiver for Spurrier's "Fun `N' Gun" system.

Mendes said the team has not singled out a player to draft with the 44th pick. He said the club will adopt a wait-and-see approach.

"You can't target a player," he said. "When you're picking 44th, you have got to make sure you maximize the value of that pick."

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