Offseason of change certain for Redskins

But players not looking beyond tonight's finale with playoff-bound Eagles

December 27, 2003|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Curious about what changes lie ahead for the Washington Redskins? Not the players.

No one would accuse Washington (5-10) of looking past tonight's season finale against the visiting Eagles at FedEx Field at 8:30 p.m. - a game of consequence only to Philadelphia (11-4), which needs a win combined with a St. Louis Rams loss tomorrow at Detroit to secure home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs.

But several Redskins players said they haven't thought about the future of the franchise's organization, coaching staff or players because - in their words - changes will occur with or without their input.

"It's a situation that you know that you can't control," said linebacker Jessie Armstead. "We already let it slip out of our hands. The only thing we can do is make sure we go into this Philly game and not lay down."

Added cornerback Champ Bailey: "At this point, we're worried about Philly. Why get worried or concerned about that? I don't think they're going to look to us to help them make decisions. So we'll let it pan out."

But make no mistake: Changes will occur. How far-reaching they go will be decided by coach Steve Spurrier, team owner Daniel Snyder and vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato.

"We've got to do something different around here," Spurrier said last week. "We've got to restructure, reorganize, regroup, whatever you want to call it. Obviously, we can't just keep doing what we've been doing."

Spurrier's status has been the subject of much discussion. Speculation has suggested that he would leave Washington for college destinations such as Nebraska or North Carolina or another NFL organization - the latest rumor has it being the Miami Dolphins.

But Spurrier has consistently said he would not return to the college ranks. He also has maintained that he will coach the Redskins for at least one more year before determining whether he should remain as the coach.

The trickle-down theory has the spotlight focusing on Spurrier's assistant coaches, who have come under fire for their lack of experience. Five of the 15 assistant coaches have two years or less of NFL experience, and team officials have reportedly suggested that wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr., tight ends coach Lawson Holland and outside linebackers coach Jim Collins should not be rehired after this season.

The highest-profile coaches who may not return are defensive coordinator George Edwards and offensive line coach Kim Helton. Under Edwards, the defense has dropped from fifth in yardage allowed last season to 23rd this year.

The offensive line, which has endured injuries, has allowed just six sacks in the past five games. But six games of three sacks or more - including four games in the first six weeks - have reportedly hurt Helton's chances of returning for his third season in Washington.

After the coaches, the players are the next group under scrutiny. Bailey, who will make his fourth consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl in February, is a free agent at season's end and has already turned down the team's initial offer of $55 million (with a tiered bonus of $14.75 million) over nine years.

If the two sides cannot agree on a new contract, the Redskins could use their franchise-player tag and keep Bailey for at least another year or receive compensation if another team signs him.

The club could be interested in signing defensive tackle Darrell Russell to a long-term contract, especially if Brandon Noble cannot return from a season-ending knee injury during the preseason.

Linebacker LaVar Arrington yesterday agreed to an eight-year, $80 million contract extension, according to his agent Carl Poston. The agent said the deal includes $26.5 million in bonuses, most of which become available immediately.

Washington also likely will try to work out a contract extension for offensive tackle Chris Samuels that will try to ease significant hits to the team's salary cap.

The Redskins will likely look to shore up their defensive line, safety and tight end corps. One major decision will involve whether the team's running attack will rely on an ineffective Trung Canidate (just 600 yards on 142 carries and one rushing touchdown) or an often-injured Ladell Betts (sidelined by a fractured forearm for six games).

Fullback Rock Cartwright said he hopes the offseason changes are minimal.

"I think change is always good for any team, but maybe we need to stick together," he said. "Maybe we need to stick together and try to get this thing worked out. If not, changes will be made, and we'll try to make the best of it."

Redskins tonight

Matchup:Washington Redskins (5-10) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (11-4)

Site:FedEx Field, Landover

Time:8:30

TV/Radio:Ch. 7, ESPN/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line:Eagles by 7

THREE KEYS FOR REDSKINS

1. Take it on the run

The Eagles have allowed an opponent to gain at least 100 rushing yards in seven of their past nine games. Ranked 23rd in the NFL, Philadelphia's run defense is surrendering 133 yards a game. Washington will need to churn out yards on the ground if it wants to avoid third down-and-long situations and the Eagles' formidable blitz packages.

2. Watch Westbrook

Since second-year player Brian Westbrook became the starting running back, Philadelphia's offense has risen through the rushing ranks, averaging 128.8 yards a game and ranking eighth in the league. With 607 yards on 113 carries and seven touchdowns, Westbrook has already outgained all the Redskins' rushers.

3. Extra special teams

Westbrook also has been a threat returning punts, as he leads the NFC with a 15.3-yard average and two returns for touchdowns. James Thrash is second in the NFC in kick returns with a 24.2-yard average. Washington is trying to complete its first season without a score on special teams since 1999.

- Edward Lee

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