The Redskins are always the busiest team in the NFL during the offseason, but how effective are the moves? The resurrection of Coach Gibbs meant vast personnel changes once again in 2004 as the Redskins scrambled to rid themselves of the Steve Spurrier persona. This is the first in a series of three articles that will look at the players that were acquired in the 2004 offseason through free agency. Here are the offensive acquisitions:
Running Back Clinton Portis
The Redskins were in need of an upgrade at running back after speedy Trung Canidate rushed for only 600 yards in 11 games in 2003. Clinton Portis, drafted in the 2nd round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, quickly made a name for himself as a rookie, rushing for 1,508 yards and 15 touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl in 2003 after becoming the third player in NFL history to rush for over 1,500 yards in his first two seasons.
Unhappy that he was still working under his rookie contract, Portis was acquired by the Redskins through a trade that sent fellow Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey and a 2004 2nd round pick to the Denver Broncos in exchange for the superstar back out of the University of Miami. The Redskins supported Portis by signing him to an 8-year, $50.5 million contract.
Portis would have to adjust his style of speedy, flashy running which created long runs to a system in which he would be asked to run between the tackles and grind out the tough yards on most occasions. Portis started his Redskins career in the team's season opening victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a 64-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the game. He rushed for 148 yards that game but failed to reach 100 yards in a game until Week 6 against Chicago, where he rushed for 171 yards.
In 2004, Portis adjusted well to a new system, rushing a career high 343 times for 1,315 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also caught 40 passes for 245 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Redskins won every game (5) that Portis ran for at least 100 yards. Portis missed the final game of the season with a torn chest muscle but still finished just 117 yards short of the Redskins all-time single-season rushing record.
He was selected as a first-alternate to the 2005 Pro Bowl. Portis' first season as a Redskin was filled with ups and downs but overall, it was productive and proved how much of an impact one player can have on a team.
Offensive Lineman Ray Brown
After right tackle Jon Jansen suffered a ruptured Achilles which forced him to miss the 2004 season, the Redskins were looking for veteran help on the offensive line.
In the midst of training camp, the team decided to sign 18-year veteran Ray Brown, who played for the Redskins from 1989-1995, as added depth on the offensive line. He became the first player signed during Joe Gibbs second tenure who also played for him under his first tenure. Ray was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 8th round of the 1986 NFL Draft out of Arkansas State. He was a member of the Cardinals through 1988. After his time with the Redskins, Brown had stints with the San Francisco 49ers (1996-2001) and the Detroit Lions (2002-2003). He made his first Pro Bowl in 2001.
Brown, returning to the team as the oldest offensive lineman in NFL history (he was 41 at the time), stayed in great shape throughout the 2004 season.
Used as a guard for most of his career, Ray started Week 2 at right tackle after Kenyatta Jones failed to produce as Jansen's replacement in Week 1. Brown started 14 games in 2004 and began the season on a strong note but gradually became overcome by mental mistakes resulting in false starts and holding penalties.
Ray is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and has stated that he wants to return to the team for his 20th season in 2005. Joe Gibbs has also stated that he wants Brown to return. Brown accepts that if he returns, it will be as a backup because the return of Jon Jansen.
Center Cory Raymer
Raymer returned to the Redskins in early March after spending the previous two seasons with the San Diego Chargers. He was the Redskins 2nd round draft pick in 1995 and spent 7 seasons wearing the burgundy and gold until his departure. Cory was known as a gritty, tough center during first stint as a Redskin. He suffered a ruptured left Achilles tendon during the 2002 season but returned to the Chargers in 2003 healthy enough to appear in 15 games at center and both guard spots.
Even coming off of a very solid 2003 season, the Redskins felt the need to bring in competition for center Lennie Friedman who started the last 8 games for the team. Raymer lost the starting job to Friedman during their competition in training camp. But after a few mistakes made by Friedman, Raymer took over the starting spot in Week 3. Despite starting the last 14 games of the season, Raymer struggled with protecting Brunell and Ramsey and committed numerous penalties.
Whether it is through free agency or the 2005 Draft, the Redskins will be looking for a replacement at center during the 2005 offseason.
H-Back Brian Kozlowski
Kozlowski was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the New York Giants in 1993. He joined the Atlanta Falcons in 1997 and spent the next 6 seasons there until signing with the Redskins as an unrestricted free agent in mid-April. During his time with the Giants and Falcons, he caught 78 passes for 917 yards and 8 touchdowns.
As a Redskin, Kozlowski had to adjust to a different style of the H-Back role he was used to in Atlanta. He was active for the first five games but did not play. He was released in October 16th to make room for the returned of kicker Ola Kimrin. He re-signed three days later after Walter Rasby was released. He played in the last 10 games of the season and caught 3 passes for 29 yards, all for first downs. He even returned a kickoff for 4 yards but he may be best remembered for tipping a Patrick Ramsey pass that was intercepted during the Redskins' first drive against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16.
Kozlowski is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Tight End Walter Rasby
Walter Rasby returned to the Redskins on March 10th after spending 2003 with the New Orleans Saints. The Wake Forest product was a member of the Redskins from 2001 to 2002. He was cut after the 2002 season.
He came into the NFL in 1994, signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent. He spent 1995-1997 with the Carolina Panthers and 1998-2000 with the Detroit Lions.
Throughout his career, Rasby has been used as a blocking tight end. He started the first 6 games of the 2004 regular season for the Redskins before being cut after missing several blocking assignments against Chicago Bears defensive end Alex Brown in Week 6. As a Redskin in 2004, Rasby caught 5 passes for 52 yards.
In early December, Rasby returned to the Pittsburgh Steelers to replace Jay Riemersma, who was placed on injured reserve. He started 2 of the last 4 regular season games for the Steelers and caught 1 pass for 4 yards against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
Tight End Fred Baxter
He was drafted in the 4th round of the 1993 NFL Draft by the New York Jets and spent the next 7 years with the team until signing with the Chicago Bears in 2001. He most of the 2002 season with the Bears but signed with the New England Patriots before the last game of the regular season.
After earning his first Super Bowl after spending the 2003 season as a New England Patriot, Fred signed with the Redskins in early June as an unrestricted free agent. He brought plenty of special teams experience and depth to the Redskins. During his 12-year career, he caught 100 passes for 1,008 yards and 12 touchdowns.
During the team's second preseason game in 2004, Fred suffered a partially torn tendon in his right knee. He was cut in early September during the team's final round of cuts before the regular season but was re-signed by the team in late October after the release of Walter Rasby. But unfortunately his knee wasn't fully recovered and he suffered a hamstring injury that week and was cut 10 days after re-signing with the team. He was not signed by another team for the rest of the season and did not play in any regular season games.
Quarterback Mark Brunell
Mark Brunell began his career with the Green Bay Packers in 1993, backing up a young, inexperienced Brett Favre. He appeared in only 2 games before being traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars before their inaugural season in 1995. He never started less than 10 games in a season until 2003, when he suffered an elbow injury in Week 3 that allowed Byron Leftwich to start the final 13 games of the season and win over the hearts of Jacksonville brass.
Eager to acquire the 11-year veteran, Coach Joe Gibbs negotiated with the Jaguars one month before free agency began and was able to trade the Redskins 2004 3rd round draft pick to the Jacksonville. Brunell also signed a brand-new 7-year, $43 million contract with the Redskins.
Brunell's arrival to Washington came with much skepticism because he was on the downside of his career, signed a lucrative, long-term deal and given Gibbs' well-known history of favoring veteran quarterbacks over youth, posed a threat to the status of starter Patrick Ramsey.
Over the course of the preseason, it was clear that Brunell had outperformed Ramsey, so after Week 4 of the preseason, Coach Gibbs named him the starter for the final preseason game and the team's opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In 2004, Brunell's season can only be described in one word, horrendous. He started the first 9 games of the regular season but compiled only 4 games in which he threw for at least 100 yards. The Redskins were 3-6 in games in which Brunell appeared. The lone bright spot of the season for Brunell came in Week 3 in which he passed for 325 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Dallas Cowboys. To a chorus of cheers by Redskins fans at FedEx Field, Brunell was replaced by Ramsey after a completing 1 pass in 8 attempts against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10. In his first season as a Redskin, Brunell threw for 1,194 yards, 7 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, and completed only 49.8% of his passes.
Brunell was benched for the final 7 games and after the season, he made it clear that he would be dissatisfied with the role of backup in 2005. But for now, Mark will have to live life as a second-stringer because in late December, Patrick Ramsey was named the starting quarterback heading into next season.
In 2004, Brunell lacked the scrambling ability, passing ability and overall skill that led him to three Pro Bowls, two Division titles, and two AFC Championship appearances in Jacksonville.