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Spurrier Attracts Attention

New Coach's Arrival Has Many Free Agents Wondering if a Move to Washington Might End Up Being Fun

January 20, 2002|MARK MASKE | THE WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON -- Wide receiver Michael Westbrook said the coaching change from Marty Schottenheimer to Steve Spurrier has dramatically increased his interest in re-signing with the Washington Redskins this off-season.

Agent Leigh Steinberg said one of his quarterback clients, Jeff George, would be interested in returning to the Redskins and hinted that another, Troy Aikman, might be intrigued by the possibility of coming out of retirement to play for Spurrier.

"To be in an offense that Steve Spurrier has is always a receiver's dream," said Westbrook, who's eligible for unrestricted free agency.

The Redskins must revamp their roster to give Spurrier the tools his high-powered offense needs. Westbrook and rookie Rod Gardner rely on bulk more than the speed Spurrier favors. And their only quarterback is Sage Rosenfels, who didn't play as a rookie this season.

The Redskins could attempt to trade for demoted New England starter Drew Bledsoe or former New Orleans starter Jeff Blake.

They could wait to see if the hefty contracts of Jacksonville's Mark Brunell, Buffalo's Rob Johnson and Baltimore's Elvis Grbac lead to their release. One NFL source said Wednesday that Brunell is likely to leave the salary cap-strapped Jaguars.

The Redskins could sort through the unrestricted free-agent market or attempt to obtain a former Florida quarterback, like Chicago Bears reserves Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel. They could re-sign incumbent starter Tony Banks or veteran backup Kent Graham, both prospective free agents. They could select a quarterback in April's college draft or they could consider a short-term fix like George or Aikman.

"Steve Spurrier's presence in Washington makes that a very exciting opportunity," Steinberg said Wednesday. "Given his emphasis on throwing the football and his innovative mind, all of a sudden that may be a mecca for quarterbacks. That team is not that far away from being a contender anyway, and he may bring some new wrinkles to offensive NFL football. Any free-agent quarterback is going to be interested, and it's not just the obvious guys."

The Redskins ranked 28th in the NFL in total offense and 30th in passing offense under Schottenheimer. Westbrook said late in the season that he expected to be elsewhere next season. But as he visited Redskins Park Wednesday, Westbrook said he would like to remain.

Asked whether the hiring of Spurrier increased the chances that he will be back, Westbrook said: "Of course it does ... but it's still a business, so we'll see what happens."

Westbrook, who led the Redskins with 57 receptions for 664 yards, said he hasn't spoken to Spurrier, but indicated he would have no problem fitting into the new offense.

"Any time you've seen the ball thrown to me, I make plays," Westbrook said. "If he comes here and throws me the ball, I'm going to make plays, period."

If the Redskins try to sign a speedy wide receiver on the unrestricted free agent market, their best bet might be the St. Louis Rams' Az-Zahir Hakim. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Jacquez Green, who played for Spurrier at Florida, also is eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Asked about Green Wednesday, Spurrier said he might be interested if he's available, but added that the team already has some good young receivers.

As for quarterbacks, Steinberg said George's problem was with Schottenheimer and his short-passing offense, not the Redskins. Schottenheimer released George two games into this season, and George wasn't signed by another team.

"Whatever differences Jeff George had with the Washington Redskins are gone," Steinberg said.

Aikman, 35, retired last offseason -- in part because of a string of concussions, the last coming on a hit by Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington -- and spent the season as a broadcaster for Fox.

"Troy had a wonderful time his rookie year commenting on Fox, and he fundamentally plans to return" to his TV career, Steinberg said. "Having said that, if an intriguing opportunity comes along, he'd have to think about it."

The Redskins almost certainly would have to trade up from the 18th pick in the draft to get one of the top college quarterbacks, David Carr of Fresno State or Joey Harrington of Oregon. The free-agent market promises to be thin unless it's bolstered by salary cap cuts. Jim Miller, Trent Dilfer and Gus Frerotte could be available, and Jay Fielder can opt out of his contract with the Dolphins to become a free agent. Charlie Batch, Cade McNown and Akili Smith also could be released for salary cap reasons.

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