5 Big Splashes the Washington Redskins Could Realistically Make in Free Agency
When the clock strikes 4 p.m. ET on March 11, it's safe to assume that the phone lines at Redskins Park will be logjammed with free-agent difference-makers ready to continue their NFL careers in D.C.—a stark contrast from last year.
With $36 million of crippling cap penalties finally in the rear-view mirror, the Washington Redskins will be major players in free agency this offseason—general manager Bruce Allen said as much earlier this month to SiriusXM NFL Radio (via the Washington Post).
But for those expecting the reckless spending of burgundy and gold past, don't hold your breath.
The organization has been shrewd with player contracts since Redskins owner Dan Snyder hired Allen in late 2009. With glaring needs across the board, free agents will be paid what the market dictates; no one player should be grossly overcompensated.
That doesn't mean the Redskins won't acquire big-name talent, it's just that the price tags will be more Nordstrom than Neiman Marcus.
Let's take a look at five high-profile free agents, young and old, who could end up being new passengers on Redskins One.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.
Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo Bills
Washington's safety play in 2013 was laughingly deficient. The unit was so thin that sixth-round draft pick Bacarri Rambo—even back-up cornerback E.J. Biggers—was thrust into a starting role.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post's Mark Maske reported that the contract of Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather will void five days after the Super Bowl, making him an unrestricted free agent.
In short, it's not breaking news that the Redskins need help—and a lot of it—at safety.
If Bruce Allen and Co. were to get into a bidding war for any free agent, the Bills' Jairus Byrd is that guy.
The 27-year-old has 22 interceptions since entering the league in 2009 and would instantly bring a game-changing presence to the secondary.
Byrd will have multiple suitors, including his current team.
Bills President Russ Brandon told The Associated Press (via ESPN.com) that despite last offseason's contract dispute, the organization will try to keep Byrd in Buffalo:
"We are all hoping to get a deal done," Brandon said. "And we're going to do the exact same thing this time, work our tails off to try to get another one done."
The words "hoping" and "try" don't exactly scream confidence.
Many Redskins fans bristled when defensive coordinator Jim Haslett was retained but, truth be told, Haslett had very little talent to work with in 2013.
It's funny how acquiring a player of Byrd's merit tends to transform embattled coaches into great ones.
Aqib Talib, CB, New England Patriots
Aqib Talib's exceptional play this past season will warrant a nice pay day, whether it's from the Patriots or another corner-needy team.
While Boston.com's Adam Kaufman points out that Talib is comfortable playing in New England, money talks—and it will depend on how much of it the Pats are willing to shell out compared to other teams.
Another place where the 27-year-old may feel at home is in Washington. The Washington Post's Mike Jones told Bleacher Report Tuesday that he expects for the Redskins to target Talib in free agency.
Let's connect the dots.
Bruce Allen drafted Talib in 2008 when he was general manager of the Buccaneers. Redskins secondary coach Raheem Morris and, yes, new head coach Jay Gruden were members of that 2008 coaching staff in Tampa Bay. Morris was also Talib's head coach from 2009-2011.
"That's my dog," Talib said of Morris in 2011, via Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune.
Talib's brushes with trouble have been well-documented, but his one-and-a-half seasons in New England were free of negative headlines. Still, character issues may scare teams off from giving him the long-term contract he desires.
Whether it's Talib, Tennesee's Alterraun Verner or someone else, the Redskins need an impact corner in his prime to pair with last year's second-round pick, David Amerson. Talib fits that bill. The familiarity of the parties involved could be the tipping point to getting a deal done.
Anquan Boldin, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Simply put, Anquan Boldin is a gamer.
In his first year in San Francisco, Boldin caught 85 balls for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns. He was the one constant who quarterback Colin Kaepernick leaned on for much of the season.
The 49ers have a lot of personnel decisions to make this offseason, and it's possible Boldin may be one of the odd men out. If that proves to be true, his leadership and postseason experience would be a hand-in-glove fit for a young Washington offense in need of a No. 2 receiver.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Boldin's play in 2013 was graded the highest among all unrestricted free-agent wide receivers:
|Name||Age||'13 Team||PFF Grade||Snaps|
Robert Griffin III would benefit from having a reliable elder statesman across from Pierre Garcon. Plus, the Redskins can afford to construct two-year deals with "win now" veterans before having to worry about dishing out long-term contracts to Griffin and running back Alfred Morris.
Washington could also draft a wide receiver, but it would be foolish to expect any immediate contribution—nightmares of Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas are still dancing in the heads of Redskins fans.
Boldin has appeared in four Conference Championship Games and two Super Bowls, winning one. He's as tough a player as you will come across in the NFL. What better way to wind down a decorated career than with two years of productive change in Washington?
Charles Tillman, CB, Chicago Bears
Redskins brass will do everything in their power to infuse youth into the secondary this offseason. But what if the services of a savvy veteran with a nose for the football are available for a year or two?
That's an option to strongly consider.
Last weekend, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Bears cornerback Charles "Peanut" Tillman is expected to test the free agent market. The 11-year vet is coming off of an injury-riddled season, but has managed to stay relatively healthy throughout his career.
Tillman actually has a unique tie to Robert Griffin III—they went to the same high school in Texas. Last October, Chicago Tribune's Rich Campbell profiled Copperas Cove High School's two biggest stars:
Charles hates when I tell this story," Griffin told Washington reporters, via Campbell. "But he came back to the Cove when I was in seventh grade and played basketball with us, so it was pretty cool. I was a young kid. I was excited to meet Charles Tillman from Copperas Cove, Texas, and he always has been a great guy. He came back a lot.
Though they play on different sides of the football, that hometown connection could provide added comfort to Griffin as the organization aims to erase any lingering negativity from the Shanahan regime.
Tillman, who will be 33 in February, is a two-time Pro Bowler and was first team All-Pro in 2011. He has a career 36 interceptions, 40 forced fumbles and nine touchdowns.
While it's clear his best days will be left in the Windy City, Tillman's presence as a third corner—especially if pending free agent DeAngelo Hall bolts—could pay dividends in D.C.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants
Hakeem Nicks had a 2013 to forget, failing to catch a touchdown for the first time in his five-year NFL career. To boot, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported this month that Nicks was fined repeatedly by the Giants this season for missing treatment and being late to meetings. Big Blue is not expected to bring him back in 2014.
Hakeem Nicks is not the only player to be late & miss treatment. He’s not a bad guy. But in a contract year, this frustrated #Giants.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 19, 2014
NJ.com's Jordan Raanan notes that as Nicks hits the free-agent market, the league-wide perception of the 26-year-old is mixed. But count Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett as one in the pro-Nicks camp:
I think he's a hell of a football player," Haslett told Raanan. "He's big, athletic, obviously fast and strong. When he's healthy, he's obviously one of the better ones in the league. Obviously he hasn't been healthy for two years. To me, when he's healthy, he's scary. I think his issue is just health.
A tandem of Garcon and a healthy Nicks, to go with tight end Jordan Reed, would give Robert Griffin III an embarrassment of riches in the passing game.
Ultimately, this would be a move that comes down to dollars. If another team is willing to give Nicks top-end money, then it's a non-starter for Washington.
But if the market is cool on Nicks, the Redskins may have an opportunity to pluck a Pro Bowl receiver away from an NFC rival. That's a heck of an offseason victory: strengthening your team while simultaneously weakening the division.
You can bet Snyder and Allen wouldn't mind sticking it to the organization they blame for their cap penalties, either.