The Washington Redskins are in an unusual position heading into the 2014-15 NFL season, for two reasons. Reason #1 – They are not handcuffed in Free Agency any longer, with the expiration of the NFL’s incurred 18 million dollar per year penalty for breaking, or rather not breaking the “spirit” of the uncapped year in 2010. Reason #2 – Usually after a losing season, the Redskins are looking everywhere for answers to the Quarterback situation. This year, that is not the case, with Robert Griffin III poised to improve on a rather average sophomore campaign that often saw him at odds (publicly in some instances) with the old coaching staff in DC. New coach, new cap room, new stablility at the most important position in all of sports, and a new hands off owner that lets his GM make the personnel decisions bode very well for the Redskins. Its no shocker that this squad is a lot more talented than their recent 3-13 2013-14 season would suggest.
First things first, the Redskins hired a new coach in Jay Gruden, most recently the offensive coordinator for the high powered Cincinnati Bengals offense. Coming to DC, Jay Gruden felt it wise to replace a majority of the staff, while retaining the services of seasoned and tenured Defensive Coordinator, Jim Haslett. Only time will tell if that was a good move, but usually continuity in the NFL is considered a good thing. and it only speaks to the assumption that Gruden will give Haslett complete control over the defense, while he focuses on the offensive side of the ball. This move was not completely unexpected to staff, players and fans of Washington. The only thing somewhat surprising is the fact of WHO he retained to lead the Redskins struggling defense. The offense was a top 10 offense last season, and even with a pedestrian performance from RG3, they proved that they are indeed capable of putting up points, being a valid threat. So, starting on the Defensive side of the ball, lets jump right into it.
The Redskins have several needs on the defensive side of the ball. As of this article, Washington’s more important re-signings include DeAngelo Hall, CB, Brian Orakpo, OLB/DE, and Perry Riley, ILB. All of these players were definite positives in an otherwise treacherous 2013 defensive slump for the Skins. Locking them up is a good move, and puts key parts in place for the Skins to get the ship turned around. Defensive line is an area of tidiness with Washington, with Barry Cofield developing into a true run stuffing nose tackle, and one who even creates pressure on opposing quarterbacks at times, even while double teamed. Even though this is apparent, look for Jim Haslett to draft a lineman or sign a free agent capable to getting to the quarterback, immensely important in Haslett’s blitz happy scheme. As they say, increased pressure up front, decreased pressure on the secondary. Hands down though, the Redskins most dominant position has to be their outside linebackers/pass rushers. With Brian Orakpo franchise tagged, and Ryan Kerrigan coming into his own, they should be creating fits for offensive coordinators for many years to come. The most glaring need on this roster is the need for a true free safety, and this need has never been more evident. Last year, the cornerbacks in Washington had zero help over the top, having to plug later round draft picks into a starting role early on. Dealing with suspensions to key veterans did not help at all, as did the injuries. But the bright side is that there are a couple options available here, especially with over 24 million dollars available in cap room (possibly more with some key restructures and cuts). The Redskins should look to improve their secondary, possibly by snagging the best free safety available in free agency this year. Jarius Byrd, previously of the Buffalo Bills, is the obvious choice, as he is widely regarded as a top 3 free safety in the NFL right now, and his ceiling is as high as anyone players in this pool as of right now. His camp is expecting him to pull anywhere between 8 and 9 million dollars per year in a long term contract, even with his history of nagging injuries. Another intriguing option for the Skins could be someone like a Mike Mitchell, the 27 year old safety from the Carolina Panthers, who had to release him in order to make room for the sizable Greg Hardy resigning. Mitchell is a high motor safety who has good feet, great field awareness, and at only 27 years old, should prove to have plenty of years left to be a solid contributor. His only weakness is his missed tackles, but with the right coaching, that could be fixed right up (see DeAngelo Hall’s last two seasons). He would also command a salary at around 4.5 – 6.5 million per year, far lower than the 9 million a year Byrd is seeking. Either of them would be a serious upgrade for this very weak secondary, which is in dire need of solidity and playmakers. The Redskins are also hoping their 2013 draft pick Philip Thomas recovers from his injury to be another starting safety option this upcoming season, with Bacarri Rambo assuming the back up role. At cornerback, there are fewer questions than at safety, but there is still plenty of room to upgrade. Hall has been signed after very solid 2012 and 2013 campaigns.He received a much deserved contract that rewarded his grittiness, hard play and leadership, and he looks to return as a leader on a defense that definitely needs leaders. David Amerson looks to improve on an average rookie campaign, possibly as a nickel-back, depending on the moves Washington makes this offseason regarding the CB position. While some think that Amerson is ready to become a starter right now, the most beneficial place for him to learn and refine his skills at the pro level would be as a nickel cornerback, at least for the first half of this season. Some outlets also have Washington linked to Aqib Talib, and while he would command a 10 million dollar per year salary, he would ensure one side of the secondary has a lock down corner that flourishes in man coverage. He would instantly make the secondary better, but at his asking price, one has to wonder if a more frugal move with a young up and comer like a Capitan Munnerlyn would make more sense, given the number of positions needing a DEFINITE, key word definite, upgrade. This would cost the skins much less against the cap, and possibly save key dollars to lock up another inside linebacker or a new interior offensive lineman to help protect Washington’s franchise quarterback. Look for the Skins to add at least one cornerback and one safety in free agency, and don’t rule out the chance of them drafting on a defensive back with one of their earlier draft picks to assist in shoring up a struggling unit. Possible targets that the Redskins could look at with their second and third round picks include CB Jason Verrett from TCU, a homegrown talent like Kyle Fuller from Virginia Tech that the Redskins have been linked to, and possibly a safety like Jimmie Ward or LaMarcous Joyner. Whatever the Redskins decide to do with their second round pick, they will almost certainly look for that player to step into a starting role right away and perform. Hopefully Jay Gruden and his scouting department have been on the ball this offseason, because getting a solid contributor without a first round pick is definitely a task in todays NFL.
On the offensive side of the ball, the skill positions, other than another receiver to help complement Pierre Garcon, are all but locked up. One possible scenario for wide receiver would be to draft one, as this draft is regarded as being very deep at wide receiver, possibly the deepest ever at the position. Look for Washington to add a quality receiver, either from the draft, or from free agency, even though the free agent pool of wide receivers are very thin. Moving along, it is a good thing for the Redskins that backup quarterback is now an area of strength. Rumors are swirling about a trade involving Kirk Cousins and a second round draft pick, and even Kirk Cousins himself has been publicly lobbying for a trade to a team where he could start, but with RG3’s recent injury, the Skins might be more inclined to keep him as an insurance policy for this year. Knowing all of that, the real need along the line in DC is a right tackle and interior lineman. Rumor has it the Kory Lichensteiger will be sliding over to take over the ball snapping duties, so its a possibility that the Redskins will be needing not one, but two starting guards this season. Will they come from within? Has Tyler Polumbus proven that he is a sturdy enough starting right tackle to protect the future of the franchise? Both of these questions need to be answered, and quick, because another injury to Griffin could prove absolutely disastrous for the franchise. Some options include Chris Chester at guard, who is already on the roster, or drafting a guard like Xavier Su’a-Filo out of UCLA, or Brandon Thomas out of Clemson, both of whom are almost certainly capable of starting right away for Jay Grudens offense. Given that, this could very well be the area the front office wants to get a definite, proven and legitimate starter from to protect their franchise quarterback. This free agent class is very deep in offensive line talent, and Jay Gruden and GM Bruce Allen have links to a couple of the better ones available. Two possible targets for the Redskins are Zane Beadles from Denver, if the Broncos fail to lock him up, Jon Asamoah from Kansas City, and Jeff Schwartz, also from the Chiefs. Regardless of what the Skins do in regards to the line in free agency, look for Washington to try and accumulate a couple additional draft picks, either leading up to the draft, or on draft day by trading down. With so many holes on defense, along the offensive line and at wide receiver, draft picks are at a premium, especially with a new coach in town.
Jay Gruden and the Washington Redskins have a difficult, but attainable task in front of them for the 2014 season and beyond. That task is to turn a 3-13 team into a division contender and a playoff team, not just this season, but for seasons to come. Look for the Redskins to add pieces to their squad this free agency keeping youth and ceiling in mind. With the right pieces and a couple of smart moves, it is definitely possible for this franchise to pull a complete 180, being that they are very talented, have a franchise quarterback, and after all, are just one year removed from winning the division with a rookie quarterback. The NFC East has never been more ripe for the taking, and Jay Gruden still has some work to do, even with the condition of the division. Regardless, the spirits are high in DC, boiling over with rabid anticipation and lofty expectations. But has it ever been any other way in our nations capital?