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Monday, April 29
Matthews to challenge for Redskins' starting job

By Len Pasquarelli

Just hours before he was to embark on a visit with the Cincinnati Bengals, and only days after coach Steve Spurrier publicly announced he would not pursue him, ESPN.com has learned that free agent quarterback Shane Matthews has reached a contract agreement with the Washington Redskins.

The one-year deal comes with a signing bonus of $25,000 and a base salary of $750,000. It came only one day after the Redskins concluded a mini-camp during which the quarterback play was spotty.

Matthews, 31, was released by the Chicago Bears last week. He will be reunited with Spurrier, for whom he played at the University of Florida, and certainly will challenge for the starting job.

The other quarterbacks on the roster include another former Florida star, Danny Wuerffel, second-round veteran Sage Rosenfels, 2002 first-round draft choice Patrick Ramsey, and journeyman Dameyune Craig. The team likely will release one of the quarterbacks after Matthews officially signs his contract.

The one-year deal could be a benefit to Matthews, particularly if he wins the starting job, because it permits him to become a free agent again next spring. The Redskins had tried to trade for him earlier this spring and, had such a deal been consummated, would have wanted him to add an additional year to the one remaining on his past contract.

An eight-year veteran, Matthews has appeared in 22 games and started 15 in his career. He has completed 366 of 599 passes for 3,461 yards, with 19 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions. His career passer rating is 75.1.

Matthews began the 2001 season as the Chicago starter, then lost his job to Jim Miller when he sustained a rib injury. He engineered stirring comeback victories in consecutive weeks, though, over San Francisco and Cleveland. He completed 84 of 129 passes in '01, for 694 yards, with five touchdown passes and six interceptions.

ESPN.com reported earlier in the day that Matthews was scheduled to fly to Cincinnati on Monday evening. He was to spend Tuesday visiting with the Bengals management team and, based on where negotiations with Gus Frerotte stood at the time, he could have been offered a contract.

The deal with the Redskins came as he was packing for the trip to Cincinnati. Over the weekend, the Houston Texans also expressed an interest in Matthews.

Being jilted by Matthews leaves the Bengals in pursuit of Frerotte, an unrestricted free agent, and player Cincinnati also pursued last spring.

The Bengals want to have a veteran backup in place before they commence a mini-camp on Friday evening and Frerotte remains their first choice. The eight-year veteran and his wife visited with team officials last Wednesday and Frerotte spent the weekend mulling a contract proposal forwarded to agent Marvin Demoff last Friday evening.

Frerotte told the Bengals web site Sunday he is excited by the opportunity to compete with incumbent Jon Kitna for the starting job, and emphasized he instructed Demoff to move ahead with negotiations. There are two issues, however, that could stall the talks.

Because of a family matter, Demoff may not be available until mid-week to continue the discussions in a substantive manner. Second, the contract proposed to Frerotte appears to fall far short of appropriately rewarding him if he outs Kitna from the starting job.

Cincinnati has proposed a three-year contract which, including a $500,000 signing bonus, totals only about $2.5 million-$2.7 million. Frerotte could earn between $250,000 and $1 million annually in incentives, provided he logged 80 percent of the snaps and the team won at least eight games. To earn the full $1 million, Frerotte would have to participate in 80 percent of the plays and the club would have to win 12 games.

The Bengals have not won even eight games since 1996 and have not enjoyed a winning season since 1990.

Frerotte, 30, has not been a full-time performer since he started 13 games for Washington in '97. In the succeeding four seasons, he has just 15 starts, including only one in 2001. The Bengals feel he could regain the form that made him a Pro Bowl player in 1996, when he started in 16 games for the Redskins, and threw for a career-best 3,453 yards.

The team won't wait forever, though, to find out if Frerotte really wants the opportunity to post such numbers again.

Former first-round draft choice Akili Smith, who underwent surgery late last season to repair a torn hamstring, certainly won't be ready for this week's mini-camp and might not be recovered in time for the start of July training camp. There is no plan to re-sign unrestricted free agent Scott Mitchell, a backup in 2001. That leaves inexperienced Scott Covington as the lone quarterback under contract after Kitna.

Frerotte is expected to also discuss this week the possibility of returning to the Denver Broncos as the backup to starter Brian Griese, a role he filled the past two seasons.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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