Unchallenged leaders in the race for the Summer Bowl title, the booby prize that goes to the NFL franchise which makes the biggest splash in the calendar months when no one is keeping won-lost records, the Washington Redskins are poised once again to run away with the league's offseason championship.
This is, after all, owner Dan Snyder's favorite time of year.
The green flag, woven from freshly printed currency sporting mugs of dead presidents, will fall Wednesday on the free agency spending derby. And with his usual winning trifecta solidly in place -- the private jet is filled with petrol, the coffers are filled with money and he himself is filled with, uh, bluster -- Snyder is prepared to rule the NFL again in high-priced collectables.
Without spending another dime, Snyder has already lapped the field, and will probably secure his third Summer Bowl trophy in four springs within the opening week of the free agency binge-athon. Before the racers were even out of the pits, Washington dragged Joe Gibbs back from a decade of retirement, dealt for quarterback Mark Brunell and is in the process of acquiring tailback Clinton Portis.
That would be an offseason's worth of maneuvering for many owners. For Snyder, it's more like the ceremonial parade lap around the course.
So, be forewarned, NFL general managers. While the rest of the league is predicting free agency will be but a ripple, The Daniel is plotting his latest man-made tsunami.
There are free agent prizes to be had, of course, and Snyder is hell-bent on landing more than his share of other people's problems. Plus, during his honeymoon period, when the stars in his eyes still sprinkle brightly, Snyder has a new coach to keep happy. Yeah, sure, we've seen the act before (read: Marty Schottenhemier and Steve Spurrier), but Gibbs owns three Super Bowl rings and a bronzed bust in the Hall of Fame, and so Snyder now has a much larger personage to impress.
When you've got a thimble-full of football smarts, but a vault full of greenbacks, putting on the ritz isn't quite as difficult as it seems. Not even in the era of the salary cap.
It has been noted that Gibbs never worked a single day in his previous incarnation with the restraints of a salary cap or the nettlesome nature of free agency, a system where even stable teams annually turn over one-fourth of the roster. Gibbs was accustomed to getting, even if it meant a battle with general manager Bobby Beathard, most of the players that he requested during the stewardship of the late Jack Kent Cooke.
That won't change much, at least if the past two months are any indication, with Snyder as Gibbs' owner and patron and, egad, general manager as well.
Part of Snyder's handling of Gibbs, in theory, should have been to educate him on the salary cap. Lesson one, apparently: Unlike NASCAR, there are no restrictor plates in the NFL. Oh, sure, there is a spending limit. But the cap is just a bookkeeping number and, if you've got enough well-leveraged money (even if the banks are scrutinizing every move), and players looking for a sugar daddy to bail them out in a blunted market and willing to extend signing bonus distribution out to four years, you certainly can craft the numbers and cook the books enough to make things work.
What all of this means is that Snyder, with free agency on the horizon, is like the little kid who can't sleep at night because he knows Christmas is coming.
In all likelihood sometime late Tuesday night, before free agency commences Wednesday at 12:01 a.m., Snyder's private jet will embark, on its way to ferry unfettered veterans to the Redskins complex for a quick strike. Snyder, you see, likes to pamper prospects with the private jet, Redskins One, to make them feel extra special. He likes to do something with agents, too -- uh, it rhymes with pamper, and is supposed to be forbidden by the NFL -- to alert them in advance of his interest in their clients.
Make no mistake, when it comes to pushing the envelope on tampering, Snyder is like a safecracker with big, um, fortitude. All the meal tabs he picked up at Indianapolis during the recent combine, when he dined with a cadre of agents at some of that city's excellent downtown eateries, represented more than just altruism and a taste for big steaks.
There are visits all but booked for some high-profile free agents. It would be na´ve to believe that in some cases, contract parameters haven't already been discussed. The first order of business will be to officially consummate the trades for Brunell and Portis. And after that, the smart money says, Snyder will begin reconstructing the defense.
A supplication here: If you happen to be sitting in the Nashville airport, and Redskins One, the team's private jet rolls up on the tarmac and, say, Jevon Kearse wanders by, give us a call. The last time an anonymous tipster alerted us to the whereabouts of Redskins One, he was sitting at a tiny airstrip in Concord, N.C. on New Year's Eve. Somehow, even armed with that vital information, we couldn't connect the dots between Snyder and Gibbs. We'll do better this time, honest, if you call with a tip-off.
The bigger question, though, is whether Snyder, who enjoys playing fantasy football with real, live players, will do any better in free agency this time around. In a sense, you've got to admire Snyder because, in a league where half the owners are content to just sit around and count profits, the guy is proactive and really does try. This year, he shouldn't have to try too hard, because agents and players figure to be calling him. Players know there are not going to be many big deals in this latest installment of free agent. But they and their agents know that, if there is one owner who will overpay and will strike quickly without regard for allowing the market to settle in, it is Snyder.
Unfortunately, for the Washington owner, his free agency trials characteristically lead to nothing but tribulation.
Last summer, after completing another makeover, Snyder vowed to anyone who listened they had better get familiar with his team's 2003 roster. "We put this (roster) together to be our team for the next three years," Snyder vowed. "This is how we're going to look."
That three-year plan lasted, on the generous side, eight months.
One would think, after razing and rebuilding his team so many times in five years, a guy as smart as Snyder would realize by now the folly of his ways. But for the all the bricks that must fall on his head, every time he brings down the Redskins house and then begins again to renovate the place from basement up, none apparently have knocked any degree of common sense into him.
The unwitting and unintentioned poster boy for how not to build a team through free agency, Snyder nonetheless is every coach's dream, an owner unafraid to lay out big bucks to improve the product and unapologetic when his plan blows up. But this factoid: Of the 24 starters who lined up for Washington in its 2003 regular-season finale, just one-third were home-grown players, guys who began their careers with the Redskins.
That team, which was supposed to take Washington through the 2005 season, won five games and, predictably, is being dismantled. The race to retool the engine, which began with the hiring of Gibbs, moves to full-speed Wednesday. Once again, it seems, Snyder will drive the free agent market and whether that is good for the Redskins certainly is open to debate.
In his most recent endeavor, Gibbs was involved in a sport where folks go 'round and 'round, and keep coming back to the same place over and over. A year from now, if Snyder fails again at the free agency game, Gibbs might realize he's not so far removed from NASCAR after all.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.