With the start of free agency a month away, the Redskins continue to work away at re-signing the team's unrestricted free agents, including a pair of defensive starters in cornerback Fred Smoot and middle linebacker Antonio Pierce.
Team officials, including head coach Joe Gibbs, met with the agent for Smoot at the Senior Bowl last week. Gibbs said Monday that he remains hopeful that a deal can be reached.
"Fred Smoot is a guy we want to sign," Gibbs said. "He's a guy who we feel like has been an excellent Redskin. Now the question becomes, where does Fred evaluate himself and where does he think he belongs, while we are trying to work out where our evaluation would put him."
Gibbs reiterated that team officials are carefully scrutinizing how the signing of one free agent could impact the signing of others, particularly those whom Gibbs has identified as among his "core group."
"What happens is--and it's an understandable thing--is that the team tries to evaluate where a player fits in under the salary cap," Gibbs said. "For me personally, I would hope the player could get all the money he could get. But if we do that, it could cost us because it cuts us off from being able to sign other players, like the core group guys. That's where I have to get into it as a coach.
"We're going to fight like mad to get our core group guys here. Are we going to lose any core group guys? I don't think we'll lose many. Will it come up where we just can't get matched up on something? Yes, it could happen."
Smoot finished his fourth season in Washington recording 57 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. He was named a second alternate for this season's Pro Bowl. In his career, Smoot has 16 interceptions.
Asked if the team had considered employing a franchise tag on Smoot, thereby limiting his ability to sign with another team, Gibbs responded: "We haven't really talked about those issues yet. We're hoping to get something done and signed. That's our approach to it."
Meantime, Gibbs said the team was actively having discussions with other unrestricted free agents, including Pierce, defensive tackle Joe Salave'a and offensive lineman Ray Brown.
Gibbs said he has had several one-on-one discussions with Pierce over the last few weeks.
"We continue to work on his contract," Gibbs said.
Pierce had a breakthrough season in 2004, starting all 16 games at middle linebacker after serving as a reserve for the previous three seasons. He led the Redskins with 160 tackles (109 solo) and had two interceptions, one sack and one forced fumble. Pierce's 78-yard interception return for a touchdown in Week 15 at San Francisco was his first career score.
Regarding long snapper Ethan Albright, also an unrestricted free agent, Gibbs said: "He is also someone we are going to have to try to re-sign."
With all of the coaches back at Redskins Park, team officials are expected to focus on free agents and the salary cap in meetings this week.
Said Gibbs: "I know these next few days are going to be some of the most important days we spend. We'll look at the salary cap and what we are able to do in free agency is going to be crafted over these next few days. Last year, free agency was huge for us. I love free agency. That to me is the best thing that has happened since I left football [in 1993]. There's a lot of enthusiasm there."