Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL [Print without images]

Monday, February 23, 2004
Updated: February 24, 11:13 AM ET
Redskins in discussions to acquire tailback

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Washington Redskins, desperate to add a running back who can make a major impact on new coach Joe Gibbs' run-oriented offense, are discussing a blockbuster trade with the Denver Broncos that would give them one of the NFL's premier young backs.

Champ Bailey
Bailey

Clinton Portis
Portis

The proposed deal, which percolated at the league's annual draft combine sessions this weekend, would send Denver's Clinton Portis to the Redskins in exchange for four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey and possibly one of their 2004 draft picks.

Vinny Cerrato, Washington's player personnel director, would only tell reporters at the combine: "We are talking to a number of teams and Denver is one of the teams."

Officials from both the Broncos and the Redskins, and agents for the two high-profile veterans, worked arduously during the weekend to bring the talks much closer to reality. One point of contention: In addition to Bailey, the Broncos are asking for Washington's second-round draft choice in April. At this point, at least, the Redskins are reluctant to part with the pick, but their hesitancy could change at any time.

"You definitely need to stay close on this one," said a source, who is intimately involved in the negotiations, late Sunday night. "There's a whole lot going on. There are a few sticking points but, if you asked me will it get done, I'd tell you, 'yeah, I think so.' "

Two player agents who represent NFL running backs that will become unrestricted free agents next month told ESPN.com that they approached the Redskins to make a pitch for their clients. Both agents assumed that, with the Redskins in need of a back to bolster the power running game Gibbs prefers, they might be able to fuel some interest in their clients.

Both were apprised by Redskins officials that the franchise was on the verge of a blockbuster deal for a premier running back. "One of their top officials basically told me that, while my guy is a good player, they had something else going at tailback and that it was huge," one of the agents said.

In his first meeting with quarterback Mark Brunell, who officially will be acquired by the Redskins via trade on March 3, when the league's trade moratorium is lifted, Gibbs told the veteran that Washington would definitely add a big-time running back before the start of summer training camp. The Gibbs-designed offense dictates a hard inside runner and has succeeded in the past with players of lesser talent than Portis possesses. The slashing Portis, though, would be a terrific fit for the Redskins, league coaches agreed here.

Should the deal be consummated -- and, despite some hurdles, several league and team sources acknowledged they expect it to happen -- it could not be officially announced until March 3 as well. Such a trade would dramatically reshape the Washington offense from what it was during the two-year tenure of former coach Steve Spurrier.

The trade would certainly permit each of the teams to fill a need.

The Broncos have been seeking a true "shut-down" cornerback for years and Bailey, just 25 years of age and regarded as one of the NFL's premier cover players, clearly fits that description. From the Washington standpoint, there are no veteran tailbacks currently on the roster who can handle the workhorse role Gibbs needs to fill. Portis, 22, rushed for more than 1,500 yards in each of his first two seasons with the Broncos.

A second-round choice in the 2002 draft, Portis took over the starting job as a rookie, ran for 1,508 yards and 15 touchdowns, and the former University of Miami star was named the league's rookie of the year. He followed up that freshman performance in 2003 by rushing for 1,591 yards and 14 touchdowns. Denver officials were initially reluctant to part with Portis but feel they can compensate for his departure.

The Broncos staff was impressed with a pair of 2003 rookies, Quentin Griffin and Ahmaad Galloway, and Denver has historically been able to plug in young runners and have immediate success with them. Plus the Broncos understand that to add a player of Bailey's stature, they must reciprocate with a big-time performer.

The proposed trade goes beyond just football needs, however, and extends out to some contractual considerations.

As a rookie, Portis signed a four-year contract that included a $1.29 million signing bonus but only minimum annual base salaries. His scheduled base salaries for the last two years of the deal are $380,000 in 2004 and $455,000 for 2005. At the Pro Bowl two weeks ago, Portis suggested he might boycott training camp unless his contract was upgraded and his comments did not sit well with Broncos management.

The Redskins two weeks ago determined they could not meet Bailey's contract demands and granted the five-year veteran and former first-round draft choice permission to speak with other teams about a possible trade. Since then, the Redskins have designated Bailey a "franchise" player, the equivalent of making him a one-year qualifying offer worth $6.801 million.

Obviously, for a trade to be consummated, Bailey, ostensibly a limited free agent, would have to sign a new contract. And the Redskins certainly will not acquire Portis without first addressing his contractual grievances. Agents for both players have been working with the Redskins and Broncos on new contracts for their clients.

In other Broncos news, running back Mike Anderson has reportedly requested his release after the team sugggested cutting his salary.

According to the Rocky Mountain News, Denver wants to cut Anderson's 2004 salary from $1.76 million to the veteran minimum, $535,000, plus incentives.

David Canter, Anderson's agent, told the paper that his client would prefer to become a free agent than accept a significant pay cut.

Anderson, the 2000 NFL Rookie of the Year, had five touchdowns last year, with 257 rushing yards and 53 receiving yards.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.