Best Defensive Free Agents the Cash-Strapped Washington Redskins Should Consider

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2013

Best Defensive Free Agents the Cash-Strapped Washington Redskins Should Consider

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    The Washington Redskins still need help on defense before the start of next season. Coordinator Jim Haslett masked some of the deficiencies of his unit towards the end of the season. 

    Finding new recruits won't be easy though, given the salary cap restrictions still facing them. However, he still needs more natural fits for a 3-4 defense.

    Luckily, the 2013 free agent market offers plenty of bargain-buy 3-4 pieces for the salary cap-challenged Redskins. Here are the best defensive free agents the team should consider on its budget.

9. Brent Grimes, CB, Atlanta Falcons

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    Despite some injury woes, Brent Grimes would still be an excellent fit for the Redskins. His 2012 season was ended after just one game. It was a devastating blow for a player hoping to impress after receiving the franchise tag from the Atlanta Falcons.

    The 29-year-old is an aggressive corner who isn't shy about disrupting receivers at the line. Grimes also has good instincts on the ball. He fits the turnover-binging model head coach Mike Shanahan has wanted since switching to the 3-4.

    A year out injured and the play of Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson, could make Grimes surplus to requirements in Atlanta. If so, the Redskins should pounce and land a real contender to usurp current starters Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall.

8. Drayton Florence, CB, Detroit Lions

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    Another corner who could be a useful addition to a flagging secondary, is veteran Drayton Florence. He saw only sparing action for the Detroit Lions in 2012, but is a smart and physical cover man.

    The 10-year pro is a good zone defender and would fit the schemes Haslett has tried to integrate. He has the frame to press at the line and the experience to anticipate adjustments in pass patterns.

    Florence has certainly lost a step going deep. However, as an intermediate defender, he could be very useful in the slot and still offers starter potential.

7. Keenan Lewis, DB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Keenan Lewis would be an excellent signing for the Redskins. He possesses valuable scheme and positional versatility. He would also likely not break the bank, despite an excellent season for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Ostensibly listed as a cornerback, Lewis might fit best for the Redskins as a safety. He filled in at that position for the Steelers and proved to be an active and willing run defender.

    The 26-year-old registered 71 tackles and forced a fumble. Lewis also proved his worth in coverage, as he broke up 23 passes. He could give the Redskins the range they have desperately lacked at either safety position.

    His experience in the same defense Haslett has tried to incorporate in Washington would also prove invaluable. As the focal point of the secondary, Lewis could direct the coverages, alongside Haslett's zone blitz calls.

    After his stellar year, the Steelers will likely make an early effort to keep Lewis. However, the Redskins could justify making an extra effort to pry him away from the Steel City.

    They will be unlikely to tempt the likes of Dashon Goldson and Jairus Byrd with large enough offers. Lewis would be a more fiscally prudent and scheme-suitable choice at a position of need.

6. Ryan Mundy, S, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Ryan Mundy is another Steeler who could help fix a major area of weakness on the Redskins defense. An aggressive safety, Mundy is more of a downhill force than Lewis. He could be best suited to the strong safety role.

    Mundy loves to attack the line of scrimmage, but is also versatile enough be a factor in underneath coverage. He has filled in for both Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, offering some useful versatility.

    Mundy could be solid starter in Washington, playing the same scheme he has in Pittsburgh.

5. Larry Grant, ILB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Larry Grant could be a smart, low-key pickup for the Redskins' 3-4 front. That's despite enduring a disappointing 2012 season, following a promising 2011 campaign.

    Injury and the play of stellar starters NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, kept Grant to only six tackles. However, Grant has the size and 3-4 experience to be an asset at the heart of Haslett's defense.

    When they align in their base 3-4, the Redskins usually adopt a 2-gap front. So the inside linebackers are required to take on the offensive guards, particularly in the running game.

    Grant's 6'1", 251-pound frame allows him to be effective stifling the ground game. Although he doesn't boast the name value many fans might seek, Grant has proved his potential as a starter.

    He registered 39 tackles, two sacks, five pass breakups and one forced fumble in 2011. The Redskins are getting closer to needing a viable replacement for London Fletcher.

    Grant would be an excellent understudy at a position where the Redskins are short of quality depth. He could even start right away if needed.

4. Brad Jones, ILB, Green Bay Packers

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    If Fletcher does retire and the Redskins want a more immediate replacement, Brad Jones could be the answer. He has been a productive member of the Green Bay Packers' zone blitz and 3-4 schemes.

    Often wrongly overshadowed by the overrated A.J. Hawk, Jones plays fast and offers good blitz skills. The 26-year-old was responsible for 77 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble in 2012.

    Jones is a youthful player on the rise, who wouldn't need any time to adapt to the Redskins system. He would also add a greater level of athleticism to the middle of the defense.

3. Ricky Jean-Francois, DE, San Francisco 49ers

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    The Redskins could use another addition to their defensive line rotation. That makes San Francisco 49ers' youngster Ricky Jean-Francois a smart signing.

    He has spent his entire pro career in some version of the 3-4. He has the power and initial quickness to hold up at the point of attack and clog rushing lanes.

    Jean-Francois was unfairly chided for struggling to match the effectiveness of Justin Smith when he filled in for the injured star. In all fairness, how many linemen can match the level of Smith?

    Yet Jean-Francois is a capable player in his own right. At just 26, he has the potential to blossom into a credible starter.

    Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield both performed well this season. However, the injury to Adam Carriker created issues at defensive end, particularly concerning depth.

    Jean-Francois is stout and skilled enough to provide superior depth anywhere across the front and even push to start.

2. Antwan Barnes, OLB, San Diego Chargers

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    Mounting a consistent pass rush was a major issue for the Redskins all season. Situational edge rusher Antwan Barnes could solve the problem.

    A pure pass-rusher, Barnes attacks the edge with a quick takeoff and excellent agility. He has registered 18.5 sacks in three seasons for the San Diego Chargers. That includes 11 quarterback take downs as a full-time starter in 2011.

    The season-ending injury to Brian Orakpo exposed the lack of quality pass-rushers in the Redskins' rotation. Adding Barnes to the mix, would give the Haslett another useful weapon in obvious passing situations.

1. Shaun Phillips, LB, San Diego Chargers

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    If Shaun Phillips hits the open market Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen would be foolish not to consider signing him. The intelligent veteran is a superb 3-4 defender.

    A true playmaking linebacker, Phillips can excel on the inside as a stellar run and pass defender. Pairing Phillips with either Fletcher or the promising, but inconsistent Perry Riley, would dramatically improve the front seven.

    Phillips is also a dangerous outside linebacker. He has developed into a fine pass-rusher off the edge. Since moving to the outside, he has registered 24 sacks since 2010.

    In his ninth season, Phillips was still highly productive for the San Diego Chargers. He recorded 9.5 sacks, 50 tackles, two forced fumbles, three pass breakups and a safety.

    Some may be put off by his age, but the 32-year-old's skills aren't diminishing. His experience would be invaluable on a relatively young defense.