ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — It sure didn't take long for Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen to begin remaking the Washington Redskins.
The changes have been swift and widespread in the 2½ months since Shanahan was hired as the team's coach and executive vice president. He's been working alongside Allen, the new general manager, in the aftermath of a 4-12 season under the now-departed Jim Zorn and Vinny Cerrato.
"There's a new sheriff in town," former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann said in a telephone interview Thursday. "Make no bones about it, Mike is going to run that ship in a very tight, disciplined way, and everyone will be held accountable."
There's the overhaul of the staff of assistants, a planned switch to a 3-4 defense, 100 percent attendance at voluntary offseason workouts this week — the sorts of things that might be expected.
Less anticipated? The suddenly measured approach to free agency under free-spending owner Dan Snyder, especially considering there is no salary cap.
"Everybody said, 'It's a non-capped year. Boy, those Washington Redskins, they're going to go out and spend, spend, spend, spend, spend,'" Theismann said. "But it's one thing to have the ability to go and do it. It's another to be able to have the patience to figure out what you need and do it the right way."
As someone who came to the Redskins as a free agent himself, starting linebacker London Fletcher is familiar with how the team tends to operate in the offseason.
Not this time around, though.
"They always knew how to create excitement or anticipation during free agency in years past," Fletcher said at Redskins Park. "But it's a new regime here now."
Instead of getting a LaDainian Tomlinson or Julius Peppers, say, the Redskins began the free-agent signing period with these pickups: offensive lineman Artis Hicks, who started only 13 games over the last three seasons with the Vikings; nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu, who spent last season on injured reserve with the Panthers; and tight end Sean Ryan, who has two touchdown catches in six NFL seasons.
"I guess it was a breath of fresh air, so to speak. Not thinking, 'Oh, here we go again, same old situation, going out, trying to buy a championship,'" Fletcher said. "So by them not doing that, being very deliberate in their approach to free agency, targeting the guys that they wanted to target, I was definitely excited about the way they approached it."
Washington recently added running back Larry Johnson and quarterback Rex Grossman, two players who could push incumbent starters Clinton Portis and Jason Campbell, respectively.
Still, Johnson only was given a base pay of $3.5 million over three seasons, while Grossman got a one-year deal. Hardly the big-bucks payouts given to guys such as Deion Sanders and Adam Archuleta in the past, not to mention the $100 million, seven-year contract with $41 million guaranteed that defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth received a year ago.
"They're being very judicious in where and how they spend their dollars," Theismann said. "Your running back situation, you brought somebody in. Your quarterback situation, you brought someone in. Your offensive line situation, you brought people in. And they're not costing you a lot of money. That's the other side of it: Every person that's been signed, it hasn't been a bank-breaker, like with Albert last year."
There are other differences all around these days — even in the weight room. About 20 pieces of equipment were removed, and a couple of power racks are on the way in, new strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright said, part of an effort to boost efficiency.
More on-field changes are on the way.
First of all, there will be other player additions, of course — don't forget, the Redskins cut 10 on the day before free agency began, a roster-slashing Fletcher called "very dramatic and drastic."
So, for example, linebacker Joey Porter reportedly was on his way to Virginia for a visit, something Fletcher endorsed. And there is the not-so-insignificant matter of rebuilding the offensive line.
"We don't know who's going to be the left tackle," Hicks said. "We don't know who's going to be the right tackle, and so forth."
He's one of those under-the-radar pickups in free agency, a guy who said Thursday "it's too early" to know whether he will wind up playing tackle or guard for the Redskins.
Another key litmus test for "the new Redskins" looms with next month's NFL draft.
Thanks to all of last season's losing, the Redskins own the No. 4 pick in the first round. Will they address what is generally considered their biggest need and take a left tackle? Or will they take a quarterback with a household name, such as Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford of Oklahoma or Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame?
Fletcher, for one, likes the way things are going so far.
"It's a different feel around here with Coach Shanahan," Fletcher said. "Just a different aura, different feeling. You can sense the excitement. Everybody's excited about being here working ... and preparing to win."