Projecting Washington Redskins' NFL Free-Agent Targets
The Washington Redskins’ options in free agency are tied to their existing roster, as well as the $18 million cap penalty that stalks their every move. Free agency promises to be less exciting than the draft, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t players out there who could contribute in 2013.
The decision to leave the franchise tag unused wasn’t a surprise, as the team still needs to make roster cuts and do some restructuring in order to get under the salary cap by March 12. These moves will determine the free-agency spending, as well as the route taken in the draft next month.
With that in mind, this article will look at five free agents who could offer value in the market as Washington looks to continue the momentum started in 2012.
Corey Lynch, S, San Diego Chargers
In an earlier piece, I highlighted Corey Lynch as a value player who has shown he can be relied upon. This isn’t something the Redskins have had at the safety position for a while, so it’s a win-win situation.
Although the draft is deep at safety and cornerback this year, Mike Shanahan needs to know he can get a player who can start in Week 1 with no hassles. Although the talent level is high in the 2013 draft class, the feeling persists that the guys who can start immediately are the guys who will be taken before the Redskins pick.
With Fred Davis’ future still up in the air, Shanahan may elect to use his second-round pick on a TE. He could elect to release London Fletcher, free up cap space and take a linebacker. He could surprise everyone and pick up a receiver. All these options mean he could lean toward free agency to help shore up his secondary, and Lynch would be a good acquisition.
He played well when given the opportunity for the San Diego Chargers last year and can also be a contributor on special teams. Lynch is experienced enough to take the field in the opening game and has the technique to be used at either safety position.
His selection doesn’t preclude the selection of a safety in the draft, either; it just means the Redskins won’t have to gamble as much on a player going straight from college to the top of an NFL depth chart.
Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots
With all the focus on Wes Welker, it’s easy to forget that Julian Edelman is also an unrestricted free agent this year. Edelman had a bigger role to play at the start of 2012, but a hand injury meant that Welker got all his snaps and Edelman was stuck on the sideline.
Edelman is also the New England Patriots’ best punt returner, so it’s possible that New England brings him back for that reason alone, figuring that he’ll make an occasional contribution as a receiver. However, if Welker is re-signed, Edelman could look to further his career somewhere else.
While the Redskins spent money on Pierre Garcon and Joshua Morgan last year, the rest of the receiving corps remains uncertain. Leonard Hankerson failed to have the breakout year that was expected of him, while Aldrick Robinson is not yet a reliable option. Santana Moss has a $6 million cap hit this year, so a decision also needs to be made about his future.
Edelman is young and strong and has a great work ethic. His durability has been an issue in the past, but he has shown enough to make him an attractive free agent on the open market.
He’s the only player to return a punt for a touchdown in each of the past three seasons, and even though he only had 21 catches last year, he picked up 235 yards and three touchdowns.
He would be a valuable addition to the Redskins receiving corps as he has the versatility to play any receiving position. This would give Kyle Shanahan more flexibility in his play-calling, particularly if Kirk Cousins starts the opening games.
Ryan Harris, OT, Houston Texans
Shanahan drafted Ryan Harris in 2007, but since he left the Denver Broncos, he hasn’t been interested in bringing him back to his team, passing on him each time Harris was available. However, this year could be the year that he finally relents and the two are reunited.
Harris is a functional player with good experience within a zone-blocking scheme. He’ll be available cheaply and last year looked to have recovered from the herniated disc that kept him sidelined in 2011.
He turns 28 on March 11, so still has something to contribute. It’s unlikely that he’ll be a difference-maker on the team, but he’ll provide good backup to Tyler Polumbus—should he be re-signed, of course—as well as allowing Tom Compton and any other potential draft picks to develop.
Shanahan was understandably cautious about bringing Harris in, as his injury history is a big red flag. However, with some decent performances in 2012, Harris could be on his way to a solid season and is worthy of consideration.
For what it’s worth, he has previously been open to the idea of working with Shanahan. In 2011, Denver radio station, 102.3 The Ticket (via The Washington Times), interviewed Harris and asked if he would play for his old coach again:
Yeah, I had a great experience with Mike Shanahan. [He] drafted me into the league, gave me my first opportunity. We had the No. 1 pass offensive line [in sacks per pass] and the No. 3 rushing offensive line [in yards per carry] so I know he’s got a system that works. He knows how to put players together.
Leodis McKelvin, CB, Buffalo Bills
When Buffalo Bills GM Buddy Nix stated that Leodis McKelvin was going to be the starting right cornerback, it came as a surprise to many. Since drafted 11th overall in 2008, McKelvin has been underwhelming, to say the least.
He broke his leg during his second year in the league, and even though he became a starter in 2010, his ability in coverage was constantly called into question due to his decision-making.
It’s not that he was out of position, but rather that he couldn’t find a way to make a play on the ball in the air. He would often look the favorite to win possession, but then it would find a way to elude him. There’s no question that he could be a stud, but the fact that he has yet to prove it suggests that he may never do so.
It may be that Nix is projecting him as the starter in order to create more interest in free agency, or he could be attempting to light a fire under the player to get him motivated for the season. Either way, the Redskins could show some interest, despite the less-than-flattering review of his play.
Washington needs corners who can stay with receivers, and McKelvin can do that. The NFC East has some impressive guys catching the ball, and Washington gave up a lot of big plays last year. Yes, improved safety play would give them a lot of support over the top, but just having corners in good positions also helps.
It’s a perfectly reasonable argument to state that there’s no point having a defender in the right position if he’s incapable of making a play, but McKelvin would still offer some stability at the position that just wasn’t’ there last year.
He will consider himself a starter, but other teams may not. This could drive his price down and he could yet be available for a decent sum.
Greg Toler, CB, Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals don’t have a lot of depth in the secondary, so they will be keen to retain Greg Toler. ESPN.com ran a “Must-Keep Free Agents” piece in February and Toler was named among them, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him stay in Arizona.
However, a new defensive coordinator means that nothing is guaranteed, so there may be some room to make Toler an offer. He is a D.C. native, so a return home would be of interest to him, and the Redskins’ sudden emergence from the cellar will also be a factor.
Pete Prisco at CBSSports.com ranks Toler as the top high-value free agent this year, and I’m inclined to agree with him.
He’s not likely to break the bank, and at 6’0” and 192 pounds, he would bring some size to the secondary that the team currently lacks. He’s good in coverage and has shown the ability to make a play, with seven turnovers across his career—including five interceptions.
Toler tore his ACL and missed the entirety of the 2011 season, and as a result he didn’t look as strong last year. However, he also showed enough improvement to reassure his coaches that he will be a much better player in 2013.
Two years removed from the ACL injury, he projects as a starter on a lot of teams—not just those deficient in the secondary. If the Cardinals choose to let him hit the open market, the Redskins will be first in line to pick him up.