NFL Free Agents Who Can Quickly Become RGIII's Best Friends
If the Redskins plan on staying atop the heap in the NFC East, they need to give Robert Griffin III some help.
And it won't be easy.
The Redskins organization pulled a few sneaky moves during the uncapped year in 2010 that they are still paying for. When the dust settles on what may be a last-minute injunction from the team's side to the NFL, the end result should be the same.
The Redskins will enter free agency in 2013 strapped to an $18 million penalty, the second of two installments totaling the $36 million that owner Dan Snyder reportedly overspent trying to take advantage of a one-year loophole in true Jerry Jones-form.
That money will be re-distributed to 28 teams in the league not called the Redskins, the Cowboys, the Raiders or the Saints.
If Dan Snyder and GM Bruce Allen want to take RG3 and his friends to Disney World in 2013 it's going to be on a shoestring budget. Their neighbor, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, went this year, and they hear Joe Flacco and his friends had a great time.
Here, we break down a few free-agent candidates who may serve as viable options to ride in the backseat with star QB Robert Griffin III on the trip.
Old Friends: Defense
First, let's break down the salary-cap pickle the Redskins find themselves in prior to the official start of free agency.
The first order of business is to get under the salary cap. Washington is currently about $3 million over as things stand, and the team needs to trim some fat in order to simply have a legal payroll. Creating enough space to actually make any moves in free agency is a whole different goal entirely.
If the team wants to get Griffin some new friends, they may need him to say goodbye to some of his old friends.
According to Mike Jones of the Washington Post, the Redskins have 19 players who have their own deals coming to an end that must be accounted for. Washington will be able to cut a good amount of stinky bait this way.
Jones lists these players as on contract with the biggest cap figures coming into the 2013 season:
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall: $8 million—Ridiculous. Make him restructure or cut him, plain and simple. Hall deserves maybe one-third of that amount, and would likely take it rather than test his value on the open market. He's a team captain and loves the D.C. area. A team player like Hall surely knows he is not worth that much and will be open to restructuring.
Nose tackle Barry Cofield: $6.3 million—You won't see it on the stat sheet, but Cofield was effective in 2012. He had the second-most hits on the QB of any NFL interior defensive lineman and the third-most batted passes to go along with his three sacks. Tough to restructure.
Linebacker London Fletcher: $6.2 million—London Fletcher may be a future Hall of Famer, but he's a future Hall of Famer who is already acting like he's ready to take a job at the NFL Network as an analyst with all the recent retirement talk. Make him restructure or retire. At this point, Fletcher knows that teams aren't in the business of paying 38-year-old linebackers anywhere near $6 million—certainly not in any sort of long-term deal.
Defensive end Stephen Bowen: $5.5 million—Dock his pay and make him prove he's healthy.
Cornerback Josh Wilson: $5.3 million—No DB in the Redskins secondary deserves this kind of money given the product they put on the field against the pass in 2012. Get him out of here with his $5.3 million and tell him to take Tanard Jackson with him.
Linebacker Brian Orakpo: $5.1 million—Worth every penny. A semblance of a pass rush in 2013 should be helpful in every aspect of the defense.
Defensive end Adam Carriker: $4.75 million—Same as Orakpo. You gotta pay up for the pass rush. As we saw in 2012, you lose these two guys and the defense is in trouble all over the place.
Safety Brandon Meriweather: $2.9 million—It may just be that he was hurt all last year, but with the depth of the safety position in the 2013 NFL Draft, it seems that better options to Meriweather can certainly be found in the middle rounds of the draft. A player like Jonathan Cyprien or Shamarko Thomas would be an immediate upgrade that could be had in the third or fourth round.
Old Friends: Offense
Now we start talking about best friends. If Griffin is getting some new ones, he can't keep all his old ones.
These are the players with notable existing contracts who RG3 has come to lead through his rookie season as the offense's signal-caller. Salary figures again courtesy of the Washington Post.
Wide receiver Pierre Garcon: $8.2 million—One of the most vitally important pieces on the offense, Garcon will be a difference-maker once able to make it through a full season healthy. Keep him on board. He's worth a cap hit that is the tenth-largest among active NFL receivers.
Tackle Trent Williams: $7.98 million—Worth every penny.
Wide receiver Santana Moss: $6.16 million—Ridiculous. Tell Moss to take a hike if he won't bring that number down to $3 million or so. He had his worst season yardage and receptions-wise since 2002, tallying only 41 catches for 573 yards. Colts WR Reggie Wayne came into the league the same year as Moss and is only scheduled to bring a $1 million greater cap hit to his team in 2013. Wayne had 106 receptions for 1355 yards in 2012 as a comparison.
Wide receiver Josh Morgan: $5.1 million—Really!? The Redskins have more "half-good," gadgety receivers than any other team in the NFL outside of the New York Jets. Morgan made some really nice plays in 2012, and showed promise, but the team is strapped and cannot keep Garcon, Hankerson, Moss, Robinson, Morgan, Banks, Briscoe and whatever FedEx Field hot-dog vendor they may have had to use some Sundays in 2012.
Guard Chris Chester: $4.3 million—The right side of the offensive line was a nightmare for running back Alfred Morris in 2012, but as we'll get to, it was due to the right tackle, not Chester, the right guard. Chester is a great player who needs to be kept around, especially if Washington plans on bringing in a new right tackle. It's Kory Lichtensteiger who needs out. Josh LeRibeus is on a cheaper contract and one look at the Premium stats on ProFootballFocus.com will show you what your eyes saw all year. The Redskins could not run off of left guard or right tackle in 2012.
Center Will Montgomery: $2.65 million—Needs to be kept around, plus the team already restructured Montgomery's deal last season when handling the first installment of the same $18 million gorilla in the room.
The Redskins paid out the nose for RG3 as far as draft picks go, but fortunately for them, their franchise QB is still under a cheap rookie contract.
The Redskins could conceivably do something like the Falcons did Friday in their purging of John Abraham, Michael Turner and Dunta Robinson and clear up some room to operate.
Any combination of these moves, plus possibilities with high-profile free agents of their own such as Fred Davis, could lead to a workable situation through the free agency period.
Andre Smith, RT, Bengals
The right tackle position in Washington has been a disaster. Starter Tyler Polumbus has struggled himself, but we've seen that there is no depth behind him, either.
The right side of the line needs a powerful anchor like the left side has, or at least begin developing one. That's really all Polumbus has played at the level of, anyway.
Andre Smith would be a home run. The Bengals elected not to use the franchise tag on Smith, who they may be content to let test the open market. Dan Snyder may be able to work some kind of back-loaded long-term deal that reduces the initial cap hit as Smith reportedly wants nearly $9 million.
Winston Justice, RT, Colts
Justice can play in the zone-blocking scheme, and while a bit of a retread, would be a huge and immediate upgrade on the relative cheap.
Eagles fans were not happy with the trade to Indianapolis in 2012, as Justice started the season looking good. He's not a spring chicken at 28, but still likely has some good years left despite an injury-filled end to his 2012 campaign.
Phil Loadholt, RT, Vikings
Another home run. The Vikings still may use the franchise tag on Loadholt, but are not likely to want to pay the $9.8 million dollar salary that comes with it. This is an offensive line group that Vikings GM Rick Spielman will likely want to keep together, but the Vikings have cap issues of their own to deal with.
Gosder Cherilus, RT, Lions
To the casual eye, Cherilus has looked mediocre to terrible as times in the NFL, getting consistently overextended and contributing to the overall undisciplined play of the Lions offensive line.
Some may be surprised he was graded as the league's eighth-best offensive tackle by Pro Football Focus. I still tend to think he's not athletic enough to strive in a zone-blocking system.
Josh Cribbs, WR, Browns
Many thought that Pierre Garcon was being grossly overpaid when he signed his five-year, $42.5 million contract in 2012, but he proved during the season that a Robert Griffin—or, honestly—Kirk Cousins-run offense operates much more effectively with him than without him.
He looks like the No. 1 WR that the Redskins hoped for, but the receiving corps around him is disjointed and lacks identity. A more solid No. 2 threat is vitally important to opening things up for RG3 in the passing game.
Josh Cribbs and RG3 would make fast friends. He could line up at the Z, in the slot, flexed out or even in the backfield out of Tank and other flanked pistol formations. Cribbs is a model citizen and a hard worker as a player who wasn't drafted. Cribbs would add yet another "wild card" dimension to the offense. A defense will always respect a player like Cribbs, who is a threat to go the distance any time he gets the ball in his hands.
Danny Amendola, WR, Rams
Danny Amendola becomes a quarterback's best friend the minute he walks in the building. Just ask Rams QB Sam Bradford.
Amendola is a slippery force through the intermediate zone shells. He runs precise routes, has dependable hands and plays his guts out.
The only real knock on RG3 coming out of Baylor was that he "threw to open wide receivers" but didn't necessarily "throw receivers open." While he proved that was not the case in 2012, it is easy to see that Griffin was most comfortable throwing the ball to routes scripted to come open at a point in time at which he could throw the ball.
Think about the Santana Moss touchdowns—always a wide open read.
Amendola has a gift of making those reads look "wide open" in timing patterns that most others simply don't. If the team could manage a swap of some sort that involved losing Morgan and any other receiver not named Garcon or Hankerson in order to make room for Amendola, that would be a huge win for the Redskins.
And the beginning of a nightmare for some rebuilding NFC East secondaries.
Fred Davis, TE, Redskins
Fred Davis is reportedly ahead of schedule in his recovery from a ruptured Achilles' tendon, and he has been cleared to ramp up physical activity according to the Washington Post.
Davis is scheduled to hit free agency after a 2012 season in which this injury occurred just seven weeks in. In 2011—while very productive—Davis missed the final four games of the season for failing a drug test.
The "raw" athletic ability that Davis had coming out of USC has seemingly translated to the NFL level, and RG3 has hardly gotten the chance to know Davis. Even in a stacked free-agent market for tight ends, the Redskins should make every concession possible in order to keep Davis around.
That type of athletic weapon at the tight end position in the new Shanahan offense could be a matchup nightmare—and something tells me the organization knows it. Sign him on a cheap deal for a year after surgery with a promise to revisit the contract once this whole cap mess has blown over.