Laveranues Coles was the biggest catch (no pun intended) of the 2003 offseason for the Redskins. In 2002, he set career highs in receptions and reception yardage as a member of the New York Jets. The team signed him to an offer sheet and the Jets refused to match the contract, which forced the Skins to give the Jets their first round pick in the NFL draft. Coles, the last "Jet-Skin" to sign in the 2003 offseason, dethroned Rod Gardner as the team's number one wide receiver and accepted the challenge that comes with that position with open arms.
Despite playing most of the season with a stress fracture in his foot, he still managed to replace an injured Randy Moss in the Pro Bowl. Laveranues has brought the type of speed and strength the Skins have not had in a receiving corps for years. After signing a 7 year, $35 million deal with a franchise high (at the time) $13 million signing bonus, Redskins fan can definitely look forward to 6 more great seasons of athleticism, skill, talent, and great leadership from this budding superstar.
OG: Randy Thomas:
Thomas was rumored to be briefly courted by former head coach Bill Parcells to play for Dallas before free agency started but he chose to sign with the Redskins on day 2 of free agency to a very lucrative 7 year, $28 million contract. During his time as a Jet, Thomas paved the way for Curtis Martin to run for four straight 1,000-yard seasons.
Randy may be the most underrated acquisition brought in by the Skins. Thomas has brought his hardnosed attitude to a Redskins team that has not had a dominating offensive line since the days of The Hogs. As tough as Thomas is on the field, he is that much more humble off of the field. He is a calm and collected guy who has solidified his place on a young Redskins offensive line with a great future ahead of them. Under the tutelage of "Head Hog" Joe Bugel (and arguably the best offensive line coach in NFL History), he will learn what it means to be a Hog and what it takes to be on his offensive line.
OL Lennie Friedman:
Lennie Friedman was probably the least heralded of all the 2003 free agents signed by the Skins. Friedman spent the previous 4 seasons as a member of the fierce Denver Bronco offensive line. Larry Moore went down in week 8 with a sprained foot, which was re-aggravated in week 14 and caused him to miss the rest of the season. Friedman, who never played center before the 2003 season, started in place of Moore at center for the last eight games and proved to be a great addition to a line that struggled early and often but improved greatly as the season went on.
In 2004, Lennie is set to be an unrestricted free agent for a second straight offseason. Friedman came to the team very cheap and had possibly the best season of his career. After earning the respect and receiving a great amount of praise from teammates and coaches in 2003, it is very likely he will return for a second stint with the Redskins.
WR Patrick Johnson:
Patrick came to the Redskins as a role-playing receiver with no more than 29 catches and 529 yards in a season. He has never been used as a big-time wide receiver in his career but is consistent when called upon. Patrick was drafted in the 2nd round by the Baltimore Ravens and wasn't brought back by them. He then signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and spent one season there. The Skins quickly snatched him up in March of 2003.
Coming to the Skins, Johnson knew he wouldn't be a hot target for QB's this season, so he displayed his talent on special teams in the preseason as both a punt and kick returner. While subbing in for Chad Morton, he averaged 23.8 yards on 13 kick returns and averaged 5.7 yards on 3 punt returns. Though Johnson signed a one-year deal which makes him available for unrestricted free agency on March 3rd, the Redskins may bring him back based on his solid kick returning and to retain depth at wide receiver.
QB Tim Hasselbeck:
Tim came to the Skins as a very inexperienced, journeyman backup quarterback who had never thrown a pass in a regular season game. He joined the Redskins in October as Rob Johnson's replacement as Patrick Ramsey's backup. When asked why the team would sign a quarterback who has never taken a thrown a pass to replace a quarterback who has been in the league since 1995, Head Coach Steve Spurrier stated the he (and the team) feels that Tim has the ability to become better than Rob Johnson.
Well, at least Spurrier was right about something. After multiple stints with the Bills, Ravens, Eagles, Panthers, and even NFL Europe's Berlin Thunder, Tim solidified his position on the team in 2003 with solid play after coming out of virtually nowhere. He threw for 5 touchdowns and 7 interceptions but other than the interceptions, showed to be a good decision maker. He became popular very quickly in D.C. during the 7 games he played. Well, having Elisabeth from Survivor and The View as his wife doesn't hurt his popularity either. But with the probable acquisition of Mark Brunell, Tim's status in D.C. will lie on how well he outperforms 2nd year QB Gibran Hamdan.
RB Trung Canidate:
The Redskins acquired Canidate from the St. Louis Rams in exchange for guard David Loverne and a 2003 4th round draft pick on day one of free agency. The move was applauded for making this move mainly because of Canidate's speed, acceleration out of the backfield, and he fit the mold of a speed back that was preferred to perform in Spurrier's offensive system.
Canidate, a first round draft choice by the Rams in 2000, was rumored to be in Mike Martz's doghouse for quite some time. Martz, a former quarterback's coach with the Redskins and current head coach of the Rams, was mainly displeased with Trung's lack of production during his three years with the Rams after the team had such high hopes that Trung would fit in well while teaming with Marshall Faulk.
His first season in Washington was a shaky one despite totaling more rushing yards and receiving touchdowns than during his three seasons as a Ram. Injuries plagued him for several games but he still managed to lead the team in rushing. Trung's speed and acceleration came into use in 2003 but his mediocre awareness and field vision and the lack of ability to break through the line of scrimmage was very apparent. That may cost him, as he is expected to be cut very soon.
OG Dave Fiore:
Dave Fiore can be considered and honorary member of the "Jet-Skins" given that he was on the Jets roster for the final nine games of the 1996 season. Fiore made a name for himself as pillar of the strong and physical San Francisco 49ers offensive line. Fiore was signed by the Redskins (on the same day as Randy Thomas) to a four-year, $6.5 million deal. The key reasons to his signing were his strength, ability to power opposing defensive lineman off of the line of scrimmage, and the versatility that allows him to play multiple positions on the line.
But San Francisco let him go for a reason. Fiore has a history of injuries that made many teams shy away from this talented athlete. Upon signing with the Redskins in March, he came off of his fifth knee operation. Unfortunately, that history moved itself to the forefront during week three of 2003. Fiore's suffered a sore right knee against the Giants and hoped to return 7 weeks later against the Seahawks but was declared out for the season on November 4th. Since he missed 13 games, his season can be viewed as a failure but in 2004, more than anything, Dave Fiore is looking to have a season of full health and production.
QB Rob Johnson:
The infamous Johnson was a former 4th round pick of the Jaguars inaugural NFL Draft in 1995. He only started 1 game and left town after failing to supplant current starter (and future Redskin Mark Brunell). He was traded 1,000 miles north to the Buffalo in exchange for a 1st and 3rd round draft pick. He only appeared in 30 games with the Bills in his four seasons there. In 2002, he ventured back to Florida and signed with the Buccaneers. It was a good decision because as former Redskin Brad Johnson's backup, he won his first Super Bowl ring in Tampa.
His decision to come to D.C. was basically doomed from the start. In the 2003 preseason, Johnson showed a decent upside with his scrambling ability and good passing skills. But when push came to shove (literally) Rob proved again and again why he is the most sacked quarterback in NFL history. Due to Spurrier's bad protection schemes, starter Patrick Ramsey was knocked around all season like a rag-doll.
Johnson made his regular season as a Redskin against his old team, the Bucs and subbed in for Ramsey. Let's just say he wasn't a game changer. Rob also faced another one of his former teams, the Buffalo Bills. Bills fans, remembering the quarterback controversy in which Buffalo fan favorite Doug Flutie was run out of town in favor in Johnson, greeted him with a chorus of boos. Johnson was released in November because of two reasons: he didn't produce when given the chance and he didn't take Spurrier's system seriously. He then signed with the Oakland Raiders on November 4th and saw limited action. Overall, Rob Johnson was a failure from day 1 and it proved so as the season went on.
TE Byron Chamberlain:
The Redskins signed Byron after he was released from his shaky tenure with the Minnesota Vikings. Byron spent his first six seasons in the league as a Denver Bronco and has two Super Bowl rings to show for his time in the Mile-High City. The Vikings signed him in the 2001 offseason as a big addition and the acquisition paid off immediately with Chamberlain appearing in the Pro Bowl that season. Byron tested positive for ephedra and was suspended in July of 2003 for the first four games of the Vikings upcoming regular season. He spent that time working out at a training facility in Arizona because he was not allowed to practice or train with the team. After those four weeks, he reported back to the Vikings 20 pounds overweight and was released one day after the Vikings played their fourth game of the season.
The Redskins gave him a workout 4 days after his release and signed him 3 days after the workout. Chamberlain was brought in to add depth and skill to a position that had only six total catches in the first five games. Byron suited up for only four out of the 11 total games since signing with the Skins. He totaled 4 catches for 29 yards during the four games he was active for this season, so his addition was not an upgrade of any kind. The contract he signed with the Redskins was for two years, so he is still under contract for the 2004 season. The team will apparently keep Chamberlain around for mini camp to see how his offseason conditioning has gone.
L: Kenyatta Jones:
Kenyatta Jones coming to D.C. in November was a little surprising. He had been in legal trouble for an incident that occurred the month before. Kenyatta reportedly poured boiling water on his houseguest and was arrested for his actions. The Patriots quickly released him after reports of the incident surfaced. A 4th round draft choice out of South Florida by the Patriots in 2001, Jones was projected to start on the Patriots offensive line for the 2003 season but was placed on the PUP list during training camp after having surgery on both knees.
In November the Redskins chose to sign Jones to a two-year deal because they felt he could contribute as much to the Redskins as he did with New England. Jones dressed for the Saints game but tore his right pectoral muscle that week while in the weight room and was placed on injured reserved and missed the rest of the season. Like Fiore, Kenyatta looks forward to a healthy 2004 season with the Skins.