Washington Redskins Free Agency: 5 Inside Linebackers to Partner London Fletcher
Adding another dynamic inside linebacker who can excel in their 3-4 defense, like D'Qwell Jackson of the Cleveland Browns, should be one of the free agency priorities for the Washington Redskins. Imagine how much more fearsome the Redskins defense would be if London Fletcher were partnered with a rising star like Curtis Lofton of the Atlanta Falcons.
With Fletcher 36 and youngster Perry Riley lacking experience and a complete skill set, the Redskins defense could use another option inside. Fletcher is still an elite linebacker, but he simply doesn't have many playing years left.
Riley was solid when he stepped in for Rocky McIntosh this season, but he has a weakness in pass coverage that exposes the Redskins against more explosive tight ends and slot receivers.
Pairing Fletcher with a more marquee player will boost the scheme flexibility of the Redskins 3-4 front and help to shore up the run defense and create more turnovers.
Here is a list of five free agent inside linebackers the Redskins should seriously consider making a move for.
5. Stephen Cooper, San Diego Chargers
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There is much to commend on a move for savvy veteran Stephen Cooper. The nine-year pro has the intelligence to quickly diagnose the intentions of an offense and also has a natural nose for the ball.
Cooper's anticipation and solid play would increase the turnover potential of the defense. He is excellent in underneath pass coverage thanks to a good understanding of zone schemes.
The 6'1", 235-pounder lacks elite size for the position, but makes up for it with his superb reading of the game. The defense would become more disciplined with Cooper joining Fletcher in the middle.
Injury robbed Cooper of the chance to shine in the 2011 campaign and the Chargers defense suffered without him. His health status and age are the only drawbacks of a move for the cerebral 33-year-old.
4. Gary Guyton, New England Patriots
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Gary Guyton is an intriguing option for the Redskins. The 26-year-old is the right age for the younger roster that the Redskins are hoping to move towards.
He has the ideal size to plug the middle of a 3-4 front at 6'3", 245 pounds and plenty of scheme experience having played his first four seasons in Bill Belichick's defense.
Guyton is a capable pass defender who can effectively patrol the underneath zones and can also be a weapon in blitzing situations. Guyton is currently behind both Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes in the pecking order and could welcome chance to become a starter again.
3. D'Qwell Jackson, Cleveland Browns
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Cleveland Browns tackling machine D'Qwell Jackson would give the Redskins another active presence at the heart of their 3-4 defense. Jackson has the size and speed to become the focal point of the run defense and ease the burden on Fletcher.
The 6'0", 240-pounder amassed 158 combined stops in 2011. He is a quick player who relies on sound technique and sure tackling to be a force against every facet of an offense.
The 28-year-old has had injury issues throughout his career and the Browns are likely to make a strong push to keep him. However, when healthy Jackson is simply too productive for the Redskins to dismiss as a viable target.
2. Curtis Lofton, Atlanta Falcons
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It is probably a dream scenario, but sideline to sideline playmaker Curtis Lofton would elevate the Redskins defense to elite status. The fourth-year pro is a big hitter who is always around the ball.
Lofton recorded 147 tackles, posted one sack, forced a fumble and snared two interceptions on the Falcons defense this season. Lofton has the kind of complete skill set that would boost the versatility of the Redkins linebacking corps.
He is a player who could play alongside Fletcher initially and eventually replace him. The 25-year-old is a rising star and landing him would be a major coup for Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen.
1. Larry Grant, San Francisco 49ers
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There may be more high-profile names available in free agency, but San Francisco 49ers reserve Larry Grant could be the most sensible all-round option for the Redskins. Grant filled in admirably at times this season for 49ers star duo Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.
The 6'1", 251-pounder is the perfect size to handle the gruelling responsibilities of manning the middle of a 3-4 defense. Grant is a stout tackler and effective blitzer.
The 26-year-old career backup really came into his own in the 49ers schemes under the tutelage of 3-4 guru Vic Fangio. Grant would likely jump at the chance to make a starting position his own.