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And so it begins WT on Champ


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The Washington Redskins will not address cornerback Champ Bailey's contract situation until after the season, at which point the club might move straight to using the franchise tag, possibly with the intention of trading Bailey and signing another unrestricted free agent cornerback.

The Redskins and Bailey broke off talks in the preseason and said at the time that they hoped to resume discussions "toward the end of the season." But negotiations haven't re-started and yesterday vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato said the club would wait until after the season to move forward with Bailey.

Meanwhile, fellow cornerback Fred Smoot was named the club's player of the year last night by the Quarterback Club. After slumping in his second NFL season and being the subject of trade talks during the offseason, Smoot has rebounded strongly, playing solid coverage despite the Redskins' poor pass rush.

The award was presented at the Quarterback Club's annual dinner at the Marriott Wardman Park, and was based on a vote by local media. Bailey, quarterback Patrick Ramsey, wide receiver Laveranues Coles and kicker John Hall were the other finalists.

One reason for the Redskins' reluctance to re-open Bailey's talks could be the salary cap. The team started the season with a huge cap surplus, which allowed it to make a nine-year, $55 million offer to Bailey. But a bevy of in-season signings, including defensive tackle Darrell Russell and tight end Byron Chamberlain, and a restructuring of defensive end Bruce Smith's contract has dropped Washington's cap space to just $630,000.

Another reason could be the Redskins are starting to explore other possibilities at cornerback. The unrestricted market is scheduled to be loaded, the options including Baltimore's Chris McAlister, Oakland's Charles Woodson, Buffalo's Antoine Winfield, Seattle's Shawn Springs, San Francisco's Ahmed Plummer and Philadelphia's Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor.

The Redskins could put the franchise tag on Bailey, restricting his movement with a one-year tender offer in the range of $6 million, then trade his rights for draft picks and sign one of the other free-agent options.

Sources familiar with Redskins management have indicated in recent weeks the club is at least considering other ways to use the money pegged for Bailey. If Washington moves forward with an alternate plan, it would have to sign another starting cornerback to play alongside Smoot.

Bailey, for his part, appears to have grown somewhat frustrated with life as a Redskin. On Monday he gave his strongest indication that he is thinking about moving on. After saying how the Redskins' struggles in recent years might affect the club's ability to sign free agents, Bailey was asked whether such thinking makes him less likely to re-sign. He replied, "No comment."

Agent Jack Reale attempted to clarify Bailey's quote yesterday, saying the cornerback isn't looking to go anywhere.

"He's got a deep affection for the history of the team, for the fans, for his teammates and for the media in that area," Reale said by phone. "He would consider and evaluate any opportunity he would have to remain with the organization, and he looks forward to considering any proposal the Redskins would put forward."

Told Washington was not planning to re-open negotiations before the end of the season, Reale said Bailey was remaining patient and waiting for the Redskins to make the next move.

"Given the circumstances of the Redskins' salary cap, it appears they find themselves in a predicament where they're not able to make any sort of proposal at this time," Reale said. "What happens in the future depends on how they manage their resources, and only they know what their plan is."

Putting the franchise tag on Bailey is a key reason the Redskins have sought out linebacker LaVar Arrington for a new contract. Arrington's cap numbers have become bloated due to his Pro Bowl-level play and renegotiations in recent years, and Washington would like to lower those figures while extending Arrington's deal.

Doing so will be extremely difficult, though. Arrington's current contract is so lucrative that Washington would have to offer a massive package of guaranteed pay — in line with the $19 million benchmark Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis received in 2002 — to convince Arrington to accept a new deal.

If a new deal isn't reached with Arrington or tackle Chris Samuels, the Redskins will be constricted in their pursuit of free agents. But if they use the franchise tag on Bailey, trade him and sign another cornerback, a considerable amount of cap space would be freed up.

Note — Details emerged on the foot surgery Ramsey underwent Monday in Charlotte, N.C. Dr. Robert Anderson removed an ossicle, or an extra piece of bone, from Ramsey's foot and repaired a "small amount of tendon," according to a Redskins spokeswoman.

The ossicle was related to the "old fracture" diagnosed in Ramsey's foot in recent months. However, doctors now believe that Ramsey never had a fracture, and the ossicle actually was a birth defect that became inflamed.

Ramsey is expected to be on crutches for 2-4 weeks, in a cast for four weeks, in a walking boot the following four weeks and able to begin running in about three months. He is not expected to miss any of the Redskins' offseason practices.


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