10 Washington Redskins Who Need to Step Up in Their Final Contract Year
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The manner in which the Washington Redskins' front office handled the NFL-imposed $18 million salary cap penalty this offseason was a textbook example of money and personnel management in a league wrought with overpaid stars who underperform.
Having survived that financial hardship, the Redskins top brass may face a more daunting task next year as more than two dozen players, according to Spotrac.com, become unrestricted free agents at the completion of this season.
The team managed to make it through relatively unscathed in both this offseason and last year as they offered several players a restructured contract or negotiated a one-year contract in order to comply with the $36 million total penalty.
While some of these players enter their final year of a multi-year contract, others such as cornerback DeAngelo Hall and tight end Fred Davis, agreed to re-sign with the team this offseason by signing for a single season.
With the official start of Redskins training camp July 25, players will need to focus on their role with the team and their task at hand in game-by-game situations.
However, there is no denying the fact the players who face free agency in 2014 need to make a strong showing this season, realizing the need for a breakthrough performance and proving they are worth keeping.
In some cases, the player may find their performance this year is a make-or-break scenario when it comes time for roster re-evaluation this time next year.
In most, if not all, cases, these players need to have a banner year so their future with the team is not a question of "Should they return to the team?" but "How much will it take to keep them with the team?"
In the following slideshow are 10 of the most notable Redskins who need to prove their worth as they enter the final year of their contract—three on offense and seven on defense.
I have taken into account the competition at the player’s position, 2012 statistics and individual circumstances that may or may not affect the likelihood of their return.
All statistical information provided by ESPN.com.
Wide Receiver Josh Morgan
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Josh Morgan enters his sixth NFL season as the starting right wide receiver with the Redskins. He is the seventh highest-paid member of the team and is in the final year of a two-year, $11.5 million contract.
Morgan returns to training camp after multiple offseason surgeries including the removal of a plate and seven screws in his right ankle which he injured in 2011 prior to joining the Redskins.
In addition to his ankle surgery, Morgan had ligaments surgically repaired in both hands—injuries he sustained and played through last season. He hurt one hand in New Orleans in Week 1 and the other one in Philadelphia in Week 11.
Through it all, Morgan feels ready and determined for the upcoming season.
“I think it will be a lot better,” he told CSNWashington.com in late February. “That was the whole reason for doing it right after the season, so we could rehab. I think it’s going to be a lot more fun this year, more pain free.”
If the Redskins choose to scale back quarterback Robert Griffin III's running game then passing will have to increase. With that comes the added responsibilities for Morgan and other wide receivers to make catches.
Last season, Morgan played in all 16 regular season games and led the Redskins receiving corps with 48 catches. He was the targeted receiver 73 times, and accounted for 510 yards and two touchdowns.
Although he averaged only 32 receiving yards per game, 29 of his receptions (60 percent) resulted in first downs.
Morgan will need to increase his numbers in all receiving categories to remain as one of the top Redskins wide receivers under contract next year.
Wide Receiver Santana Moss
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As he enters his 13th NFL season, Santana Moss is a veteran who has been with the Redskins since 2005. He has been with the team the longest among those on the current roster.
Moss is the No. 2 left wide receiver behind Pierre Garcon and enters his final year of a three-year, $15 million contract he signed in 2011.
As a backup wide receiver who started during Garcon's absence due to injury last season, Moss was targeted 61 times and made 41 catches for 573 yards. More than half of his receptions (26-of-41) were for first down.
While a decision on whether to retain Moss may be difficult due to his, shall I say, seniority, his level of production as a backup is admirable. A factor anytime he is on the field, Moss is a deep threat although he may no longer have the speed he once possessed.
He is one of the best slot receivers, not just on the Redskins but in the NFL. Plus—and it's a big plus—RG3 looks to him as one of his "go-to" guys and sure enough Moss pulls through with some big plays at key moments.
He may still be able to haul in a long pass for a completion or touchdown, like the 77-yard touchdown thrown by QB Kirk Cousins in Week 5 and a 61-yard TD in Week 11 last season, and he is widely respected by teammates and defenses alike.
As long as he remains healthy which has never really plagued his career, Moss should at least be considered on a year-to-year basis following this season.
Tight End Fred Davis
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Tight end Fred Davis enters his sixth NFL season after signing a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the team during the offseason.
Despite playing in just seven games due to a torn Achilles last season, Davis is listed by ESPN.com and is the likely starting tight end for the Redskins entering training camp in a few weeks.
Davis has a lot to prove in 2013 after limited playing time last year. With just 24 catches and no touchdowns, Davis did impress when he made a catch as 17-of-24 receptions (71 percent) were first downs. He averaged 13.5 yards per reception.
Competition has grown at tight end with the addition of rookie Jordan Reed and the increased playing time during Davis' absence last season by Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul.
One advantage for Davis is the possibility of the Redskins adopting more two tight end sets, something seen on a more frequent basis lately in the NFL.
With the added pressure on Davis to perform week after week, a big year may allow him to get the big payday he thinks he deserves. Teammate and wide receiver Josh Morgan is one of his biggest fans.
"He runs great routes, he's faster than your average tight end, he has great hands and he does a lot of things that open up things for us receivers and for the run game," Morgan told the USA Today last month. "It's going to be a pleasure to have him back this year."
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall
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Cornerback DeAngelo Hall had a tumultuous offseason with the Redskins as he was released from the team in mid-March because his $8 million salary was outrageous considering the salary cap restrictions the team faced this offseason.
It was a move that many, including Hall, expected. He was willing to negotiate a restructured contract but the Redskins, on the eve of free agency, decided to release him.
In an interview with Washington, DC radio station 106.7 The Fan, via CSNWashington.com, Hall offered his view of the entire situation.
“There’s no way we could be good and compete and get some other contracts done that we needed to get done with me making this kind of money,” Hall said. “We both knew it. We couldn’t agree to anything from the jump, so they had to do what they had to do, which was release me.”
Less than a month later, Hall signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract with additional incentives totaling upwards of $1.25 million.
As he enters his 11th NFL season, Hall can look back on last year and take pride in his accomplishments. He tied a career high with 95 combined tackles and a career best 68 solo tackles in 2012.
His four interceptions ranked him second on the team and he made some key plays, deflecting 14 passes. He has earned the nickname "MeAngelo" for his selfish style of play which works fine as a defender.
With the addition of cornerback David Amerson, the Redskins first pick and 51st overall in the 2013 NFL draft, combined with his extended career and loss of speed and agility at a position which requires both, Hall may be hard-pressed to not only keep his starting job but remain with the team following the 2013 season.
Cornerback Josh Wilson
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Cornerback Josh Wilson is one of several Redskins who restructured his contract for the 2013 season in order to help the team comply with the salary cap penalty. He enters his seventh season in the NFL after joining the team in 2011.
At the time of his signing in 2011, Wilson agreed to terms with the team for a three-year, $13.5 million contract. His 2013 salary was set to count $5.3 million this season but instead the team and Wilson reworked a deal that pays him $2 million in salary with a signing bonus of $1.3 million.
Wilson was the starting right cornerback last season and he has been a starter in every game since joining the team. He combined on 74 tackles with 54 solo tackles and intercepted two passes in his second season with the Redskins.
In 2013, Wilson appears secure at the right cornerback as only Richard Crawford is currently listed behind him on the team depth chart, according to ESPN.com.
He does have a very talented rookie in David Amerson who can step in and step over Wilson for the starting spot if Wilson is not up to the Redskins level of high standards coming out of training camp.
One note to mention which may or not be a factor is Wilson's offseason surgery. In May 2013, various media outlets, including NBC Sports, reported Wilson had surgery in March to repair a torn labrum (the cartilage in the shoulder joint) as well as his pectoral muscle.
Wilson is expected to be ready to participate fully in training camp at the end of July.
Free Safety Reed Doughty
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Free safety Reed Doughty is in the final year of a three-year, $4.125 million contract as he enters his eighth NFL season.
He finds himself in the position to start the regular season as the Redskins starter unless competition from rookies force him into a backup role in 2013. Both Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo played strong and free safety in college.
Doughty was the second leading tackler on special teams last season behind departed linebacker Lorenzo Alexander who signed with the Arizona Cardinals in the offseason. He should see an increased role on special teams and played in every regular season game last season.
He has some room for improvement at his position this year as he has only two interceptions in his NFL career, one of which occurred last season.
That statistic alone puts him in a class you do not want to be in when you consider the rookie duo of Thomas and Rambo combined for 29 collegiate interceptions. Thomas had 13 in three seasons while Rambo had 16 interceptions in four seasons.
In addition, Doughty experienced a substantial drop in tackles from previous season—69 combined tackles, 44 of them solo last season. That is quite a drop from his 2011 season when he accounted for 88 combined and 58 solo tackles.
Linebacker Bryan Kehl
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Linebacker Bryan Kehl re-signed a one-year, $740,000 contract with the Redskins in March 2013, one day after the team learned they had lost special teams leading tackler and co-captain, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander.
During the 2012 preseason, (via The Washington Post) he led the defensive unit with 16 tackles, two sacks, three pass breakups and an interception.
Kehl did not survive the final round of roster cuts prior to the start of the 2012 regular season. He joined the Kansas City Chiefs for a brief time last season (three games), was cut, and the Redskins claimed him off waivers November 28.
Kehl enters his seventh NFL season and played in only five games last year with the team. His presence on the field was predominately as a special teams player, working alongside Alexander.
He can play both inside and outside linebacker and his specialty was best on display on the kickoff and punt return and kickoff coverage units.
Currently, Kehl is listed on ESPN.com's Redskins depth chart as the No. 2 left inside linebacker behind defensive stalwart London Fletcher. Should Kehl perform admirably or better, along with Fletcher possibly retiring after this season, he is poised to move into the starting spot on defense, not special teams, at left inside linebacker.
A lot of "If's," but a possible scenario nonetheless.
Linebacker Perry Riley
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Linebacker Perry Riley was drafted out of LSU and immediately there was talk about Riley becoming the successor to linebacker London Fletcher upon his retirement. He signed a four-year, $2.32 million contract in 2010 with $1.45 due this season.
For the last two seasons, Riley has lined up alongside Fletcher as the Redskins' inside linebackers. Fletcher on the left. Riley on the right. Together the duo have been a menace to opposing defenses.
2012 proved to be Riley's finest year. He finished the season with 129 tackles, second on the Redskins to Fletcher's 139, and was credited with 3.5 sacks. He accounted for double-digit tackles in five games, including a career-high 15 tackles against Baltimore in Week 14.
Following his selection in the 2010 NFL draft, website SB Nation and their Redskins site hogshaven.com asked writers who covered Riley while he excelled at LSU to assess his attributes and they provided the following analysis in April 2010.
"He's not a good pass rusher. Riley's more comfortable stuffing the run or dropping back into coverage, as he has real problems blitzing the quarterback. He was a starter for two years (while at LSU) and he racked up only two sacks, though he did have 13 TFL's (tackles for loss.) He's also not blazing fast, he's far more suited to the middle of the field than playing outside."
Riley appears to have all of his ducks in a row heading into training camp and the regular season. Should he continue to show the level of play he is capable of achieving, as he did last season, his market value will increase significantly when it comes to re-signing with whichever team is interested.
If, for whatever reason, he suffers a slump, as it does tend to happen time to time, questions may arise over whether he has already peaked or is past his prime despite his relative inexperience in the NFL.
The pressure he will feel most and why he needs to step up his game is to prove the naysayers and haters wrong that last season was just a fluke.
Linebacker Brian Orakpo
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The much anticipated return of linebacker Brian Orakpo has fans of the Redskins defense coming to his aide and defense before the regular season kicks off. After signing with the Redskins in 2009 for the tune of a five-year, $15.4 million contact, he enters his fifth NFL season with the team with heavy expectations.
Despite his outstanding, yet short, NFL career, Orakpo finds himself returning from a torn left pectoral muscle injury that occurred in Week 2 last year which sidelined him for the entire season. He suffered the same injury, although not as severe, the previous season.
In his first two years in the league as a Redskins linebacker he made the Pro Bowl. In his 2009 rookie season, he recorded 11 sacks and in 2010 another 8.5 sacks. Combined with 106 total tackles over two seasons and you begin to see why talk surrounding his return this season brings about a smile from Redskins fans.
The problem is, Orakpo isn't thinking about his future during this upcoming season.
ESPN.com's NFL East writer Dan Graziano reported June 17 that the team, more specifically Coach Shanahan, intends to let Orakpo play out his final season on his contract instead of re-signing him to a long-term contract this offseason.
Could there be questions or doubts regarding his long-term health and abilities following his twice-injured left pectoral muscle? Regardless of why, Orakpo remains focused on what he needs to do.
“I’m not worried about it,” Orakpo told The Washington Post June 14. “I’m concentrating on having a successful season. Everything will take care of itself.”
This year, Orakpo is listed as the starting right outside linebacker and is scheduled to earn $5.1 million, making him the sixth highest-paid player on the Redskins in 2013.
Linebacker London Fletcher
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Why or how, you might ask yourself, can London Fletcher step up his play this season in what will likely be his final year in a storied NFL career?
Linebacker London Fletcher is destined for the NFL Hall of Fame. Period. As he enters his 16th NFL season, he continues to amaze even those who have called him over-the-hill, past his prime, a has-been or those that insist he has overstayed his welcome in the NFL.
Say what you want but the man is, as the website KnowItAllFootball.com put it, "The most underrated player in NFL history." A few excerpts from their article.
1. "Fletcher is the career leading tackler among all active NFL players, and it’s not even close. He has 1921 career tackles and, barring injury, should eclipse the 2000 mark by the end of the 2013 season."
2. "During the decade of the the 2000s (2000-2009), no NFL player made more tackles than London Fletcher. He had 1386 during the decade."
3. "Since he came into the league in 1998, the 38 year old Fletcher has suited up and played in every single regular season game throughout his career — 240 of them to be exact."
The question remains, what if anything could Fletcher possibly do to increase his chances of securing a new contract in 2014? The answer is nothing.
Despite numerous injuries last season, including ankle and elbow surgeries during this offseason, Fletcher gets a free pass from Coach Shanahan to practice with the team if he wants or if he is up to it. This was true at the most recent OTAs and throughout last year's regular season practices between games.
Should Fletcher want to come back and sign a one-year contract, will the Redskins feel obligated to sign him as he requests. After all, he did lead the team in tackles and interceptions last year. The man is 38 years old!
If at any point his injuries increase in frequency or his performance significantly declines—since we know he is not as fast or agile as the other linebackers on the team—does the team pass on the opportunity to have his leadership, obvious ability and skills and on-field example go by the wayside?
In a nutshell, it would be hard to expect Mr. Fletcher, who is old enough to have a son as an NFL rookie if you think about it, to do a better job than he did last season.