What makes Ted Washington so dominant is that it's difficult for one or even two offensive linemen to move the 6-foot-5-inch, 365-pound nose tackle. But the 35-year-old Washington is about to move on for the fifth time in his NFL career.
Washington was among 20 Patriots, including Kevin Faulk, Bobby Hamilton, and Damien Woody, who became unrestricted free agents as of midnight. At least two, Brian Kinchen and Anthony Pleasant, are expected to retire.
The Patriots and Washington's agent, Angelo Wright, negotiated for several weeks, with talks intensifying after last month's Scouting Combine, but were unable to agree on an extension. Washington opted to test the market, though Wright said last night the "door isn't closed." Several league and industry sources, however, said they did not expect Washington to re-sign with New England.
Washington, who is entering his 14th season, views this as his last opportunity at a big payday. Acquired via trade with Chicago Aug. 19 for a fourth-round pick in this year's draft, Washington was a key component of the league's seventh-ranked defense in 2003. He is expected to be among the most coveted interior defensive linemen in free agency, along with the Giants' Cornelius Griffin, Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp, and Tennessee's Robaire Smith.
The Patriots and Washington were discussing a deal in the three-year, $8 million range. That could pale in comparison to what awaits him in free agency. According to a league source, the Oakland Raiders, who are switching to a 3-4 front under new defensive coordinator and ex-Patriots outside linebackers coach Rob Ryan, will make a strong push to land Washington and may be in position to offer him a $5.5 million signing bonus. One industry source said the Raiders may also go after Hamilton, 32.
Washington may also draw interest from the Redskins and Chargers, both of whom need defensive linemen. Washington has ties to both organizations; his former coordinator in Chicago, Greg Blache, is on staff in Washington, and his coordinator with the Bills, Wade Phillips, now directs San Diego's defense.
Washington's departure would leave the Patriots without a true nose tackle. Jarvis Green, Richard Seymour, and Ty Warren all can play over the center but are more suited to end. At 5-11, 283 pounds, Dan Klecko has yet to prove he is more than a situational nose tackle.
Meanwhile, there have been no conversations between the Patriots and Ty Law's agent, Carl Poston, since the team's initial proposal on an extension, for four years at $26 million. New England would like to lower Law's salary cap figure for next year, which stands at about $10 million.
Even without a new deal for Law, the Patriots were able to fit their top 51 salaries under the $80.5 million cap by yesterday's deadline. At the close of business Monday, the Patriots were $2.23 million under the cap, thanks in part to a minor restructuring of Willie McGinest's contract. He had $2 million in incentives counting against the cap this year; they merely treated them as "not-likely-to-be-earned" incentives that, if earned, would be charged against the 2005 cap. New England reduced McGinest's cap number from $5.671 million to $3.671 million.
The Patriots' biggest need this offseason is at running back. The top unrestricted free agent running backs available are Oakland's Charlie Garner, Tampa Bay's Thomas Jones, and Philadelphia's Duce Staley. Among the restricted free agent running backs, the most notable names are Philadelphia's Correll Buckhalter, Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson, and Indianapolis's Dominic Rhodes.
New England does not have to address all of its needs in free agency. The Patriots have 10 picks in April's draft, seven in the first four rounds.