Washington Redskins' Free Agent Breakdown and Offseason Outlook
On the heels of yet another loss, this time to the San Francisco 49ers, the now 3-8 Washington Redskins have little else to look forward to but the 2014 offseason. Mike Shanahan may feel his seat getting a little toasty in the weeks to come, even with another year left on his deal.
With no hope to make the playoffs, the Redskins can't enter evaluation mode and set themselves up to have a successful offseason.
Success for the Redskins, at least during the offseason, once meant throwing money at a collection of big names, failing to win games and repeating.
Now, with desperation setting in, cap room to spare and a solid collection of draft picks, the 'Skins can properly revamp to recapture their late-2012 form that led them to their first division crown since 1999.
Salary Cap Situation
Over the last two offseasons, the Redskins had to deal with $36 million in cap penalties for front-loading contracts during the uncapped year. It made re-signing their own players difficult and limited what they could do to pursue free agents to improve their roster.
In 2014, the Redskins will have around $20 million in cap space to work with, which doesn't account for players they may see fit to release and free up more cap room.
Expect a few players, like Brandon Meriweather and Josh Morgan to be removed from the books to free up even more space.
It seems unnatural to consider a team that finished 10-6 and won the division in 2012 has as many needs as the Redskins do but here we are. Both the offense and the defense are in need of more than just a piece or two to function.
The 'Skins offense needs at least one interior lineman, an upgrade to right tackle Tyler Polumbus, and a second receiver to give Pierre Garçon some breathing room.
Washington's defense needs at least one inside linebacker, a safety, a nickel corner and some help along their defensive line, if not a complete scheme change.
Depth on both sides of the ball is a must, particularly in the secondary, along the offensive line and at receiver.
Impending Free Agents
The Redskins have 21 players projected to be free agents for the 2014 offseason, of that number, five are starters on defense. The number is manageable enough, but it isn't about how many there are.
Washington needs to concern itself with long-term value when it comes to their projected free agents.
The big names set to become free agents are London Fletcher, Josh Wilson, DeAngelo Hall, Perry Riley and Brian Orakpo, who make up the five starters from the list. In addition to this group are Chris Baker, E.J. Biggers, Reed Doughty, Jose Gumbs, Nick Barnett, Rob Jackson, Bryan Kehl, Jerome Murphy, Darryl Tapp and Doug Worthington.
There may be no better time than now to revamp the defense which has been putrid across the board.
On the offensive side of the ball, potential free agents include Santana Moss, Fred Davis, Rex Grossman, Josh Morgan, Dezmon Briscoe and Aldrick Robinson.
Not nearly as critical of a group but definitely some decisions to be made, particularly with Davis and Morgan.
Release or Re-Sign
Of those 21 names set to hit the free-agent market, only a select few are locks to return or should be. Hall and Riley have done more than enough to earn their jobs for 2014 and beyond, but more importantly, the likes of Fletcher, Moss, Davis, Morgan and Wilson are better left to walk in free agency.
Fletcher is simply too old and has not been himself this season. He should walk away before he ventures into legacy-tarnishing territory.
Moss hasn't been as reliable this season as he was in 2012 and hasn't shown much to warrant a return.
Morgan and Davis have squandered their opportunities and would be too costly to retain even following mediocre seasons.
Wilson has been average at best since arriving in Washington and has lost ground to rookie David Amerson this season. Nothing of value lost if he is not retained.
The tough call to be made is Orakpo, who has been solid for Washington, but has not shown himself to be the elite pass-rusher he was drafted to be. He has been unable to produce double-digit sacks in any season following his 11-sack rookie campaign.
So do the Redskins bring him back on his potential or let him walk in favor of a better option? If they revert back to a 4-3, Orakpo would be more valuable, but if the 3-4 is here to stay, it may be wise to see Orakpo on his way. They can always use the franchise tag on him if they want to give him the chance to redeem himself.
The likes of Robinson, Jackson and Doughty deserve to be re-signed, but the rest are replaceable.
Potential Free-Agent Targets
Free agency is typically a touchy subject for the Redskins, but this offseason could be one of the best for the team to find some quality talent. The needs they can readily address via free agency are free safety, right tackle and either cornerback or receiver depending on how much they want to spend.
The biggest safety projected to hit the market is Buffalo's Jairus Byrd. He can cover, he's good in run support and he has 21 career interceptions.
Another potential target might be Aqib Talib of the New England Patriots, who has made the most of his one-year and put himself in a position to be a coveted corner. It would be a chance for Talib to reunite with his coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raheem Morris.
Michael Oher stands out as a possible option at right tackle, assuming he isn't pursuing left-tackle money. He would be a tremendous upgrade to Tyler Polumbus and would allow the Redskins to focus on improving the interior line through the draft.
Free agency aside, the Redskins have very clear needs at inside linebacker, safety, corner, defensive line, offensive line and wide receiver. They need depth as well as starting talent, the latter of which may be hard to come by without a first-round pick.
It may be time to consider putting Kirk Cousins out as trade bait in hopes of getting some return for the ability he has shown in limited action. Though unlikely, it may be an interesting wild card down the road.
The key targets for the Redskins in the draft should be corner, linebacker and interior offensive line.
A quality cover corner like E.J. Gaines out of Missouri would go a long way toward replacing Josh Wilson, and he should be around in the third round.
If they want to replace Fletcher with a leader in the middle of the defense, Stanford's Shayne Skov has the potential to fill the void.
With the need at receiver, the Redskins could pick someone like Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis, who could be a solid second receiver or a go-to slot receiver to open up the rest of the field.
Based on relative production, it would be reasonable to think the Redskins are in the market for a new coach or coordinator next offseason.
Kyle Shanahan has called a pitiful offense, showing a lack of balance and grasp of game flow. Keith Burns has coached one of the worst special teams units in the NFL. Jim Haslett has been on the hot seat for most of the year due to an inept defense.
It is unlikely that Kyle is going anywhere, thank you nepotism, but expect Burns to be replaced and a strong case made for Haslett's replacement.
One move that could save Haslett might be a shift back to the 4-3 defense, which would be a better fit for the personnel currently on the roster. The effort to transition a 4-3 group of players to an attacking 3-4 has failed and needs to be addressed immediately.
With more resources at their disposal, the Redskins are set to have a more productive offseason. However, they have a lot of questions to answer, between schemes, players, and overall team direction.
Things look a bit bleak for the Redskins at present, and it only stands to get worse if they continue to lose the way they have been.
Some may call for the heads of any and all Shanahans, but perhaps this tumultuous campaign is just the worst-case scenario for a team that defied the odds and made a great run to close out 2012.
If they can retain their important players, find some direction on both sides of the ball and add one or two key free agents and contributing draft picks, they aren't quite so bad off as they appear.
If nothing else, the 2014 offseason will be a time of necessary change but hopefully not the kind to set the franchise back another five years.