RGIII should help Redskins attract free agents

WASHINGTON (AP) -Robert Griffin III has made the Washington Redskins a more attractive destination for NFL free agents.

So, Vincent Jackson, wanna play same catch with RGIII?

Even with their last-minute bombshell of a salary cap problem, the Redskins can make it happen.

When the league's open market begins Tuesday afternoon, the team that's finished last four years running in the NFC East can pitch a future built around the dynamic Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor.

"It totally ups the value of the franchise from a destination standpoint," said longtime player agent Tony Agnone. "That's definitely something that you're going to sell. You're going to sell, `Hey, we have a quarterback now. We have somebody with stability.' Before, if you were skeptical about the other guys they had, this only gives you more credibility. This is a guy you can tie your wagon to."

Assuming the price is right.

Just when the front office was in a position to spend, spend, spend because they were some $40 million under the salary cap space, along came the news Monday that the NFL was docking the Redskins for the way they structured contracts for the 2010 uncapped season.

Two people familiar with the decision told The Associated Press that the Redskins and Dallas Cowboys were cited for front-loading contracts to dump money during the uncapped season. ESPN reported that Washington will lose $36 million of cap money.

The teams can spread the penalty over two seasons, so the Redskins should still be in relatively good shape to be a free agency player, but it's another scandal to hover over a team that can't seem to get its act together.

Late Monday, general manager Bruce Allen issued a statement protesting the team's innocence.

"Every contract entered into by the club during the applicable periods complied with the 2010 and 2011 collective bargaining agreements and, in fact, were approved by the NFL commissioner's office," the statement said.

The Redskins can only hope that Griffin will serve as a beacon of better days ahead.

It was no accident that the Redskins closed the deal to move up in the draft before the start of free agency. They gave up three first-round picks and one second-rounder to the St. Louis Rams for the second overall selection. With the Indianapolis Colts expected to take Andrew Luck at No. 1, the Redskins figure their decades-long search for a franchise quarterback will come to an end by selecting Griffin at No. 2.

"We thought it was important to do it before free agency," Allen said after the trade was announced Saturday, "to allow us the proper planning for what we wanted to accomplish in free agency. And when you know what you're going to get with the first pick in the draft, it gives you great comfort and allows us to execute the game plan."

Jackson highlights a bountiful crop of free agent receivers that also includes Marques Colston, Pierre Garcon, Mario Manningham and Robert Meachem. While money usually trumps all else when a player is deciding where to go, a receiver might pause and look for other options if the Redskins were still featuring Rex Grossman and John Beck after a 5-11 season.

"It demonstrates they're committed," agent Bob Lattinville said. "And, also, boy, you've got to get excited about the prospects about playing with RGIII. If they get a couple of other weapons, they could be set."

Washington's top receiver last season was Jabar Gaffney, who had 68 catches for 947 yards and just five touchdowns in a league that relies more than ever on a prolific passing attack. Santana Moss has been productive for most of his seven years in Washington, but he caught only 46 passes last year while missing four games with a broken hand and will turn 33 before next season.

The Redskins need help in many other areas, but the salary cap penalty could limit their options for upgrades at tackle, guard and defensive back. They also need to decide on a veteran quarterback to help tutor Griffin and possibly be the fill-in starter while the rookie learns the NFL ropes.

There's also the issue of their own pending free agents. Linebacker London Fletcher has been the glue of the defense for five years and has said he wants to return, but he was set to hit the market barring a last-minute deal. If he finds another team, the Redskins have another hole to fill.

"I'm not going to hide behind the fact that we love London," Allen said Saturday. "We hope he's a Redskin."

The Redskins made sure that tight end Fred Davis would stick around for at least another year by designating him the franchise player, although he could still sign a long-term deal. Safety LaRon Landry, the sixth overall pick in the 2007 draft, looks expendable after two injury-riddled seasons.

The Redskins have frequently been crowned the champions of the offseason since big-spender Dan Snyder bought the team in 1999, with Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Adam Archuleta, Brandon Lloyd, Donovan McNabb and, most notoriously, Albert Haynesworth among the free agents and trade acquisitions whose Washington careers essentially peaked when they held their introductory press conferences. Each year, the start of free agency brought a new buzz as fans wondered which players Snyder would overpay when the phone calls begin at 12:01 a.m. on a Friday.

It's a bit of a different scene now. Snyder has put coach Mike Shanahan firmly in charge, although, as the Rams trade shows, that hasn't meant an end to audacious, shoot-for-the-moon moves.

But the mystique of the midnight start is gone altogether. The NFL is starting free agency at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday, a more sensible hour for clear-headed, big-money negotiations.

"It was kind of crazy coming back to the office at 12 o'clock," Agnone said. "We can work late into the night instead of through the night."

But Agnone is sure the NFL was thinking more about the publicity value - rather than the agents' working hours - when the league made the change.

"You could sign a guy at 4 o'clock," Agnone said, "and it would make the 6 o'clock news."


AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this report.


Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

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