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'Skins are selective in this marketplace

March 2, 2008 12:16 am

DANIEL SNYDER must not have known what to do with himself Friday morning. It was Day One of the NFL's free-agent signing period, which has become something of a holiday for Snyder since he bought the Washington Redskins in 1999, and he wasn't celebrating it by courting players or opening his checkbook.

It's hard to imagine him kicking back in one of the most comfortable chairs on his palatial estate. I'd assume he spent much of the day pacing, checking his phone for missed calls every few minutes.

Despite the awkwardness, Snyder ended Washington's multi-year run as offseason NFL champion. Rather than overpay for top available talent, he and executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato decided to wait a few days before starting their shopping.

It's not that the Redskins aren't interested in upgrading through free agency. They are. They'll just be spending their money a little differently this season, in some discount shopping.

In years past, the Redskins were the first customers into the store, and they ran from aisle to aisle playing their own version of "Supermarket Sweep." They would throw everything they wanted into their cart and rush to the counter, trying to get everything they wanted paid for and bagged before anybody else could.

Their plan this year is to let other teams do the frantic spending early, and clubs including the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles have. The Redskins believe that by entering the store after the big spenders have done their shopping, they'll be able to be wiser with their money.

Snyder's days as an over-paying, star-luring owner aren't gone forever. But at least for now, there just isn't as much Monopoly money to throw around.

It's worth noting, though, that a lot of good has come from Snyder's annual spending frenzy.

London Fletcher, who led the Redskins with 132 tackles last season, was acquired a year ago at this time. Fellow linebacker Marcus Washington arrived via free agency, as did defensive end Andre Carter and wide receiver Antwan Randle El. All contributed to Washington's playoff appearance last season.

There will be no Carter-like talents signed this offseason, though, and barring a major trade, the only way Washington will add a player of Carter's caliber will be by drafting well.

"We'll probably be about $8.5 million under the [salary] cap when we're done reworking everything," Cerrato said on "Redskins Radio" this week. He added that he planned to use a chunk of that money on this year's draft picks, and that the rest of the dough would be saved for any in-season moves that injuries might cause.

I've never been a math whiz, but even I can figure out that $8.5 million can go quickly when you're signing a draft class and setting money aside for in-season expenses.

Whether Snyder and the Redskins are being wiser shoppers because they don't have as much to spend or because of some philosophical change is trivial. They're doing the right thing, and that's all that matters.

There aren't any problems on this team that a few productive draft picks and a couple of mid-level free agents can't help correct. Based on its actions (or lack thereof) so far, Washington's front office agrees.

Grant Paulsen can be reached at The Free Lance-Star, 616 Amelia St., Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, or by fax at 540/373-8455.

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