Mike Shanahan's options in free agency are limited by the cap penalty.
The $18 million they lose in cap space hampers their free-agency moves, so making improvements in that area isn’t going to be easy.
The most important thing for the franchise to do is to get its own house in order. When there’s no room to sign star free agents from other teams, it’s imperative that existing players are not lost the same way.
Kory Lichtensteiger, Lorenzo Alexander, Tyler Polumbus, Sav Rocca and Madieu Williams are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at the close of this season, with Aldrick Robinson and Logan Paulsen becoming restricted free agents at the same time.
Fred Davis’ franchise year ended with his Achilles tear, so a decision on his future must also be made, even if it means franchising him again.
Continuity is important to a successful team, so these should be the players discussed before making any moves in free agency.
Chris Cooley and Brandon Banks are also UFAs after this year, but unless the second half of the season brings spectacular things for both of them, it’s unlikely they’ll be on the roster when next season rolls around.
Although this is a "wish list," there isn’t any point in discussing high-profile free agents, such as New England OT Sebastian Vollmer or Cincinnati lineman Andre Smith.
The Redskins just don’t have the cap space. Besides, the offensive line has looked better than anyone could’ve realistically expected, so there is still hope to be found there.
The fact remains, however, that they do need some help. Mike Shanahan effectively dismissed talk of new additions ahead of the trade deadline by illustrating that it isn’t common for teams to make in-season trades (via The Washington Post).
What is the biggest area of need for Washington?
This leaves free agency and the draft. Although this article isn’t necessarily about the draft, there’s no denying that it informs free agency a great deal and is worthy of consideration at the same time.
The Redskins are obviously deficient in draft picks, having made the trade for Robert Griffin III. No one is saying that it wasn’t worth it—it definitely was— but the options are reduced nonetheless.
Watching the Redskins play this season immediately brings up two things. The offense has impressed, while the defense has regressed.
A lot of this can be put down to injuries—losing Adam Carriker, Brian Orakpo, Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson has been huge—but there is no denying that the performances haven’t been good enough on the defensive side of the ball.
Washington is conceding 406.4 yards per game, compared to 339.8 last year. They also concede the second-most points in the fourth quarter—only Buffalo gives up more—and the most passing yards in the NFL at 314.2 per game (via TeamRankings.com).
The safety position has been particularly lacking. With Meriweather and Jackson out, it has been left to Madieu Williams and Reed Doughty to carry the load. These two players are not starters—and were not intended to be.
The safeties struggle for pace, as evidenced by Victor Cruz’s game-winning touchdown that caught Williams on the back foot and left him unable to catch up.
Redskins writer John Keim reported on the safety situation for the Washington Examiner, via NFL sources. Keim stated that the Redskins are hoping to compensate for their lack of pass rush by changing looks and forcing the quarterback to think for that extra half-second before throwing the ball.
He points out that Washington had some success with the look shown to Manning on the Cruz touchdown, and had Williams dropped back at the snap, Stephen Bowen would’ve sacked Manning. Bowen hit Manning as he threw to Cruz, so any further hesitation would’ve ended the play.
Meriweather isn’t expected to return until after the bye week, and Jackson isn’t expected to return at all. DeJon Gomes was a fifth-round pick in 2011, but he isn’t ready to assume the starting role either.
A glance at free agency sees names like Ronde Barber, Jairus Byrd, Kenny Phillips and Ed Reed—all players who would make the team better, but all players who are out of reach due to the cap penalty.
During the game against the New York Giants, I had a short conversation via Twitter with Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller. I asked him if there were any safeties who had caught his eye this year that could also fall to the Redskins in the second round.
His response was that Florida’s Matt Elam would need to drop a bit, but Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro and T.J. McDonald of USC could also be available.
Elam is likely to be out of reach at his current rate, but the Texas secondary isn’t living up to expectations this year, so Vaccaro could definitely be an option, along with highly rated cornerback and teammate Carrington Byndom.
McDonald is a versatile safety with an innate ability to read the play and make adjustments. This would fit in with Washington's desire to show the offense different looks and cause confusion. McDonald has been compared to Troy Polamalu in this regard, but his continued rise could also see him drift out of reach.
The Redskins have swung and missed at safeties since the tragic loss of Sean Taylor, with no one able to replicate his success. Even at Miami, the Hurricanes have struggled to replace him and have recently dismissed Ray Ray Armstrong—the wearer of Taylor’s No. 26 jersey—despite his tremendous ability.
It's possible that a team takes a chance on Armstrong, as his infractions were related to boosters rather than DUIs or drugs charges, but it would be a real gamble.
Rookie Jordan Bernstine was a project, but he had ability. His season was also ended by injury, further limiting the Redskins’ options in the secondary and extending his timeline for success.
Undrafted cornerback Chase Minnifield was making waves in OTAs, but he was also denied an opportunity through injury. Both these players will return and bolster the depth for next year.
The days of the Redskins as perennial offseason champions are over; Mike Shanahan brought with him a policy of youth and long-term development, which is the best way to build a successful team.
Pierre Garcon was given big money—and looked to be worthy of it—but his season has been hampered by a persistent foot injury. It’s too early to call him a bust, but the next year is crucial to his Redskins future.
The free-agency market is unlikely to be dominated by Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen in 2013. Instead, they will continue to bring in players through the draft, trading down to maximize their resources and taking a risk when they think a player is deserving of it.
The free-agency moves Shanahan makes in 2013 will likely be moves of depth, bringing in veterans on short deals to provide cover for injuries.
In reality, the Washington Redskins' 2013 free-agency wish list can be cut down to one thing. Well, 18 million of the same thing, anyway.