The Biggest Offseason Priorities for the Washington Redskins
For a team that just won its first division title since 1999, the Washington Redskins have a lot of problems to solve this offseason.
The Redskins have to get healthy, stay hungry and upgrade on both sides of the ball if they expect to repeat as NFC East champions and push for more.
Mike Shanahan looked like a fool when he indirectly declared the Redskins' season over before the bye week and a genius when the team rattled off seven victories to close out the season.
However, his work is not done, and even a purported contract extension shouldn't quench his thirst for another Lombardi Trophy. To get an idea of what the team has in front of them, here are the Redskins' biggest offseason priorities.
Restructure Contract or Part Ways with DeAngelo Hall
DeAngelo Hall is due $7.5 million next season, and he only showed that type of value in the final game of the season against a red-hot Dez Bryant. More often than not, Hall and his counterpart Josh Wilson were burned deep or played such soft coverage that third-down defense was nonexistent.
Hall has stated he is open to restructuring his contract, but his exact words are "I'm gonna try to get it done," which smacks of "as long as I'm still making bank, I'll hang around."
There is no question that when he is at his best, Hall can be a playmaking corner and be in the right place at the right time when the ball is in the air. He finished with four interceptions, largely due to the active hands along the defensive front.
Though the Redskins are working at a salary cap deficit, the defense takes a bigger hit if Hall isn't retained.
Restructure Contract or Part Ways with Santana Moss
Santana Moss is due $4.15 million next season, and while his eight touchdowns are the most he has scored since 2005, he is not the same player he was even two years ago.
The Redskins should absolutely retain Moss, unless they can find another suitable option at slot receiver. But with his total targets dropping from 96 last season to 61 this season, his contract is a bit lofty.
Moss has been a leader on and off the field, and however invaluable that is, the $4 million cap deficit the Redskins are working under means sacrifices must be made.
Moss isn't playing at a $4.15 million rate, so he can afford to take a pay cut to allow the team to have wiggle room in free agency.
Restructure Adam Carriker's Contract
Adam Carriker finished the 2011 season with 5.5 sacks and looked like an ideal fit at defensive end for the Redskins in the 3-4 defense. But a torn quad suffered in the second game this season landed him on IR.
Carriker's contract is worth upwards of $13 million over the next three years. With the emergence of Jarvis Jenkins, that may be a steep price to pay for a rotation player coming off a serious knee injury.
Not that Carriker didn't earn a nice deal after the season he turned in last year, but the Redskins overpaid expecting him to build on that season.
The Redskins are starving for cap space. Restructuring Carriker's deal would help.
Re-Sign Fred Davis at a Discounted Price
There is no question that Fred Davis, when healthy and unencumbered by suspensions or substances, is among the most athletic and difficult to defend tight ends in the NFL. He's too big for safeties or corners and too fast for linebackers.
Davis flashed his best in 2011, catching 59 passes for 796 yards and three touchdowns. However, there is concern that he'll never be an elite tight end like Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Tony Gonzalez.
With Davis coming off an injury in 2012 after being suspended to finish the 2011 season, the Redskins have a ton of leverage in contract talks. The Redskins placed the franchise tag on Davis for 2012, essentially forcing him to earn a long-term contract, and he failed to do so, regardless of the reason.
Washington could easily draft a bigger, younger, cheaper tight end to fill the void Davis would presumably create. But with draft picks at a premium, it may be safer to sign Davis to a modest, incentive-laden deal that bases his earning potential on production rather than perceived value.
Re-Sign Rob Jackson
In the absence of Brian Orakpo, outside linebacker Rob Jackson showed his ability to make plays on the ball and on the quarterback. In some ways, Jackson outshined Orakpo. But more than anything, he is experienced depth the Redskins can't afford to give up.
Jackson's fourth year saw him establish career highs in tackles, sacks and interceptions.
Orakpo, a pure power pass-rusher, demands the attention of the opposition, but Jackson plays smart. His four interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, showed excellent play recognition and the right-place, right-time knack that some players have.
Since Orakpo played through most of 2011 with an injury and missed 14 games last season for the same reason, he could go down with another injury. The Redskins need Jackson as insurance.
He's proven he's more than just the guy playing behind Orakpo.
Draft a Free Safety
The glaring issues in the Redskins' secondary may reflect poorly on their cornerbacks. But the absence of capable safeties compromised the defensive scheme and left Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall on islands, where neither is effective on a regular basis.
Barring some miracle that lands Buffalo Bills safety and possible free agent Jairus Byrd in Washington, the Redskins will need to draft a safety with their second- or third-round pick.
A strong safety would provide good for run support and big hits down the field. But a free safety would be ideal for a defense that struggled in pass coverage. With no viable options eligible to play or on the roster, the draft is the only option.
Phillip Thomas, 6'1", 215, Fresno State (Second Round)
D.J. Swearinger, 5'11", 210, South Carolina (Second Round)
T.J. McDonald, 6'3", 205, USC (Third Round)
Draft a Right Tackle
Jammal Brown never played a down, Jordan Black's appearance was forgettable and Tyler Polumbus proved himself capable as an emergency tackle and nothing more.
If the Redskins want to expand their offense, they'll need to bolster the right side of their line with a right tackle who can handle the pass rush and pave the way for Alfred Morris.
Trent Williams playing up to his draft status and earning a Pro Bowl nod made the absence of talent on the opposite side of the line that much more glaring. Mike Shanahan has made the most of a ragtag group of linemen, but it is only as strong as the weakest link.
It is possible that the Redskins seek a solution to their problem in free agency, but budgetary restrictions make the draft a more viable route.
Dallas Thomas, 6'4", 310, Tennessee (Second Round)
Xavier Nixon, 6'5", 314, Florida (Fourth Round)
Jordan Mills, 6'5", 315, Louisiana Tech (Fifth Round)
Replace Danny Smith
The Redskins have been unremarkable on special teams for much of the last decade, and Danny Smith was the special teams coach for nine of those years. Washington has been a revolving door of kickers and incapable punt returners.
Just last season, Washington saw five Graham Gano field-goal attempts blocked, while Sav Rocca had two punts blocked this season.
It was time for a change for Smith and the Redskins, and his departure for the Pittsburgh Steelers means there is a coaching vacancy. Special teams are an underrated facet of the game, but a good coach could produce a legitimate threat in the return game.
Develop Aldrick Robinson
Much like and perhaps more than Leonard Hankerson, the Redskins need to find a way to get the most out of Aldrick Robinson. In his first full season with the team, Robinson flashed skills and speed as a deep threat.
Though he finished with just 11 receptions for 237 yards, he led the team in yards per catch, averaging 21.5.
Sample size aside, Robinson has the potential to be a burner down the field and could be the heir apparent to Moss as a slot receiver. Though he caught passes in just eight games this season, his three touchdowns came in victories.
A freak concussion may have slowed him, but two of his three receptions over the final eight games went for a combined 117 yards and two touchdowns, evidence of his potential to hit big down the field.
Develop Leonard Hankerson
Leonard Hankerson's biggest problem has always been focus, which has affected his ability, or willingness, to catch the ball. He will be entering his third year in the NFL, and while his receiving yards jumped from 163 as a rookie to 543 this season, he needs to become a more consistent presence on offense.
Hankerson's issues keep him from being a threat every time he's targeted and prevents the Redskins from using him as a red-zone target.
The third longest passing play of the season was a 68-yarder from Griffin to Hankerson for a touchdown, and even then Hankerson nearly dropped the ball. He has the ability to be a good receiver, as good as a second or third receiver. But it needs to happen, or show signs of happening, this offseason.
Take Next Step on Defense
Injuries played a big part in Washington's defensive failures in 2012. But injuries alone do not account for the abysmal performance of the secondary. DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson seesawed between passable and horrendous in coverage with brief flashes of brilliance.
The Redskins' defense will get Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker back from injury, which instantly boosts its pass-rush capabilities.
The hallmark of all of the elite 3-4 defenses in the NFL is the ability to apply pressure and create opportunities on the back end. With Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan pressuring from the outside and the underrated rush skills of Carriker, Jarvis Jenkins, Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen, the Redskins have the makings of a scary front seven.
If the draft and free agency bring in capable safeties and help at corner, the Redskins' defense could see a precipitous leap in its ranking next season.
Refine Offensive Strategy
The read option was a tremendous offensive set for utilizing RGIII and opening up the rest of the Redskins' offense, particularly the play-action pass. However, it left Griffin open to far too many unnecessary hits.
If Washington wants its franchise quarterback to last a full season, or the rest of his career, it will change its approach.
Griffin is a polished passer, and with Alfred Morris proving himself capable of carrying the load on the ground, the Redskins don't need to rely so heavily on the read option to establish Griffin as a threat.
If the Redskins want to become regular playoff contenders and push for more, they'll need to get away from the gimmick approach to the offense. Much like the Wildcat that Miami made an offensive staple, NFL defenses will adjust to the pistol offense and the read option, so the Redskins can't get caught resting on their laurels.
With Morris established as a bruising back, there is plenty of room for play-action to work and open things up down the field.
The Redskins made an impressive seven-game run into the playoffs, going 5-1 in the division en route to their NFC East crown since 1999. If not for RGIII's knee deteriorating over the course of their playoff loss to Seattle, it could be argued that the Redskins may have made a deep run in the postseason.
What should not be overlooked in their success are the failures that had them sitting at 3-6 heading into the bye week.
Washington can't allow itself to forget the tumultuous start to the season that was littered with defensive letdowns, injuries and late-game breakdowns. They may have finished the season atop the NFC East, but the Redskins are still a work in progress.
If Washington intends to become a force in the NFL, it can't allow itself to become complacent, feeling as though it's entitled to anything.
It takes the right attitude to stay on top, and the Redskins need to show they have that attitude this offseason.
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