The Washington Redskins and Chicago Bears have rekindled talks under which the Bears would trade Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs to the Redskins, NFL sources said yesterday.
While a deal was not a certainty, one source with knowledge of the situation said there was a "50-50" chance a trade would be completed before Washington makes its first selection in the NFL draft tomorrow. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was possible the teams also would swap their first-round draft picks, with the Bears receiving Washington's sixth overall selection in return for Chicago's 31st pick.
Last month the Redskins offered their sixth overall pick to Chicago for Briggs, 26, and the Bears' first-round pick. The Bears countered by asking Washington to add linebacker Rocky McIntosh to the offer, and when the Redskins refused the sides broke off talks. However, the teams have discussed other scenarios in recent days, according to sources, with the Redskins holding firm to their original offer and refusing to include McIntosh or other draft picks in a trade.
The Bears have remained open to trading Briggs and have bristled at the contract demands of his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. According to one league source, the Bears could settle for Washington's original offer prior to Saturday should no better deal come along. The Redskins could in turn request additional compensation for their first-round draft choice.
Briggs, a two-time Pro Bowl weak-side linebacker, has been in a contract dispute with Chicago since the Bears lost to Indianapolis in the Super Bowl. The dispute centers on Chicago's decision to name Briggs the team's franchise player, which allows it to pay him a one-year contract at $7.2 million. Briggs wants a long-term contract and has threatened to sit out most of next season if the Bears don't trade him or work out an extension.
As a rule the Redskins do not discuss specific trades, and team officials reached last night refused to comment on the possibility of a trade for Briggs.
During a news conference Tuesday, Coach Joe Gibbs was asked about Briggs and, while he did not rule out a deal, he said that for every 100 trades discussed between teams one actually gets finalized. "It's extremely hard to do," he said.
Gibbs and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder have professed a preference for established veteran players over draft picks and said they planned to continue aggressively exploring possible player acquisitions.
Snyder spent parts of two nights with Briggs and Rosenhaus during the NFL meetings in Arizona last month, and Rosenhaus has a reputation at Redskins Park as a dealmaker and someone Snyder likes working with.
Redskins Brandon Lloyd and Shawn Springs were present on at least one of those nights, with Snyder asking their opinion of Briggs, sources said. Some league sources believe the Redskins already have contract parameters in place with Briggs should they acquire him. The team used a similar tactic when attempting to trade for cornerback Dre' Bly earlier this offseason, proposing a hefty contract to the player during trade talks.
The Redskins are looking for more playmakers on defense following a season in which they registered just six interceptions and a franchise-low 19 sacks. They have been exploring options to trade their sixth pick since they have lingering questions about many highly rated college prospects.
Briggs was drafted by Chicago in the third round in 2003, and posted one sack and two interceptions last season. He is the only NFL player to return an interception for a touchdown in each of the last three seasons and made 134 tackles in 2006. Some scouts believe his production was a result of Chicago's defensive system, which is designed for the weak-side linebacker to make plays in certain situations. The scouts also noted that the overall talent on the Bears defense -- middle linebacker Brian Urlacher may be the best defensive player in the game -- helped Briggs immensely. They cautioned against expecting he would automatically have the same impact in Washington.
The Redskins are adopting many aspects of the Bears' defense this season, however, according to sources, and on their internal scouting reports they highly value Briggs's ability to thrive in downfield pass-defense coverage. The Redskins have concerns about depth at linebacker, with strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington coming back from major hip surgery and McIntosh having knee problems. Briggs's presence in pass coverage would allow the team to blitz other linebackers as a means of addressing its pass rush problems.
The Redskins' lack of a top-flight defensive end remains a major issue, but there are no ends worthy of the sixth overall pick in this year's draft in the estimation of many NFL clubs, including the Redskins, sources said. Snyder and Gibbs would likely continue exploring trade or free agent options to land one should they get Briggs.
The Redskins also have diligently scouted all players likely to get picked in the first round in case they did swap their pick for a lower selection. Bolstering the defense, which was ranked 31st in the league last season, remains a priority in the draft.
Fourteen of the top defensive players came to Redskins Park for visits last week, and with the Bears' 31st pick the Redskins would likely consider a handful of players who have earned high marks internally should they still be available. Pittsburgh cornerback Darrelle Revis, and Mississippi linebacker Patrick Willis are of particular interest, sources said, but both will likely be gone by the 31st pick. Texas cornerback Aaron Ross and safety Michael Griffin, and Oklahoma linebacker Rufus Alexander, have strong ratings and could be available.
The Redskins are also intrigued by receivers Ted Ginn Jr. (Ohio State) and Dwayne Bowe (Louisiana State University). Although wide receiver is not a pressing need, they could be tempted to take one of them at the end of the first round if they trade down.