The Washington Redskins are unlikely to fix all their problems in one free-agency cycle. But just improving a roster that went 3-13 this season is sure to absorb a healthy chunk of the team's salary cap.
Thankfully, now the franchise has emerged from two years of restrictions; it has up to $33,581,070 worth of cap room, according to figures from Spotrac.com.
The priority should be spending to bolster a threadbare secondary. Given that the 2014 NFL draft is far from loaded at safety, the weakest position on the Redskins, that is where the money should go.
The market of free-agent safeties is rich with players who could immediately help the Washington defense. T.J. Ward, James Ihedigbo, Donte Whitner and Jairus Byrd are the quartet general manager Bruce Allen should focus on.
Allen would be smart to acquire a pair of safeties and at least one cornerback. That would allow him to dump uninspiring veterans like Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty.
More cap space could be created by parting ways with DeAngelo Hall. Despite a solid 2013 season, the 30-year-old's best days are likely behind him.
The cornerback class is certainly not as strong as the one at safety, but there are still of players who can help. An investment in Aqib Talib, the shutdown corner for the New England Patriots, would be an excellent move.
However, when combined with the money spent at safety, Allen would be spreading Washington's resources pretty thin. He could instead look at Walter Thurmond of the Seattle Seahawks.
His value may have been inflated since the indefinite suspension handed to Brandon Browner. But Thurmond certainly won't command the sort of marquee fee Talib is likely to fetch this offseason.
Thurmond would still give the Washington secondary a physical, press corner to pair with David Amerson.
Up front, the choices should be easier. In fact, it is more about retention than addition along Washington's front seven.
Keeping outside linebacker Brian Orakpo should be central to that retention policy. As the team's primary pass-rusher, Orakpo is vital to the defense, whatever form the unit takes in 2014.
Of course, injuries and some inconsistency in his play provide a note of caution to awarding Orakpo a bumper new deal, even after a 10-sack season.
A better option might be to adorn him with the franchise tag. This is an idea floated by Joel Corry of CBS Sports, and the numbers are favorable:
The most important player headed to free agency is Orakpo. The two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker has 10 sacks in his return from tearing his left pectoral muscle last season for a second time. Since Orakpo views himself as an elite pass-rusher, it will probably require a long-term deal in excess of $10 million per year with over $30 million in guarantees to retain him. Using the franchise tag, which will be right around $11 million for linebackers, is also an option.
It is worth giving Orakpo another year to prove he has finally become a player who can be counted on to create havoc every season. Considering his two campaigns with double-digit sacks were four years apart, taking a wait-and-see approach would be a smart move.
With Orakpo tagged, Allen could offer an appealing contract to inside linebacker Perry Riley, Jr. Like Orakpo, Riley will be key to the defense, regardless of the scheme employed. He is also one of the few players of the Shanahan era to improve every season.
Another player this front seven needs is mammoth D-lineman Chris Baker. With good coaching, the powerful, but raw, 26-year-old can be a particularly destructive force up front.
It just makes sense to keep a promising, younger player on a defense short of that kind of talent.
Moving over to the offense, the team shouldn't be in a rush to re-sign its free agents on this side of the ball. That means not bringing back wide receivers Santana Moss and Joshua Morgan or tight end Fred Davis.
Those moves will create additional cap room and the means to address what should be the primary focus, a woeful offensive line.
Picking up a pair of starting-caliber veterans should be the plan. Fortunately, the market offers plenty of choice. A player like Eric Winston of the Arizona Cardinals would solidify the right tackle position for a reasonable fee.
Either one of Kansas City Chiefs guards Jon Asamoah or, particularly, Geoff Schwartz would provide greater power along the interior.
For only a modest outlay, Allen should be able to significantly bolster the offensive front ahead of next season.
With simple planning, Allen can strengthen every pressing weakness on the roster this offseason. He will start off with ample resources and can boost them by cutting ties with high-priced veterans who no longer fit.
By being very selective with his own free agents, Allen can ensure the Redskins retain a strong core to rebuild with. That will make it easy to precisely target only those areas that need the most work for 2014.
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