Washington Redskins: State of Franchise at the Start of the 2014 Offseason
As disappointing as the Washington Redskins' 2013 season was, there doesn't appear to be much change on the horizon.
While the Redskins did fire Mike Shanahan and in turn hire Jay Gruden, a litany of coaches and players are poised to return for the 2014 season.
What does this mean, you ask?
Well, in a league in which roster upheaval often accompanies a new coach, the Skins keeping the status quo is a signal that they aren't too far off from contention.
With that said, let's take a comprehensive look at the state of the Redskins entering the 2014 offseason:
2013 Season in Review
From having Super Bowl aspirations to picking atop the NFL Draft—never mind, that pick was traded—what exactly went wrong for the Redskins in 2013?
Judging from the Super Bowl declaration, the talent was there. According to Mike Shanahan's ego, the right coaching staff was as well.
But what wasn't there was the health of Robert Griffin III's surgically repaired knee.
Cast aside this talk of "Super Bowl or bust" and remember that, in 2012, the Redskins' most successful season in recent memory was, at one point, over after a Week 9 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Dead in the water at 3-6, Shanahan essentially declared that the team would begin playing for next season.
Then Griffin happened. Spurred by the rookie quarterback's arm and legs, the Skins were able to mask an inept—but opportunistic—defense and make the playoffs.
In 2013, this didn't occur.
Immersed in the rehab of his knee, Griffin made few strides as a passer. Not necessarily adept at going through his passing progressions, plays he would scramble on in 2012 turned into sacks—or worse, turnovers—last season.
Add in a mediocre defense that wasn't forcing turnovers at the same rate, and it's no longer shocking that Washington fell on its face.
The lone positive in the lost season may have been the ouster of Shanahan. Turning in only one winning season in his tenure as coach, last season shined a light on the underachieving that had encompassed Washington under Shanahan's direction.
Coaching Changes/Current Staff
From the bounty it surrendered to obtain Griffin, to the disparity in the team's play in his good and bad performances, Washington goes as Griffin does.
Guess it's a good thing then that the Redskins garnered the services of Gruden to further coach up their franchise quarterback.
An offensive coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals prior to his hire, Gruden directed a Cincinnati offense that was 10th in total offense and eighth in passing offense last season.
Praised for getting the most out of the marginally talented Andy Dalton—in the regular season, anyways—Gruden may be the right man to get Griffin to realize his vast potential.
While head coaching changes normally are accompanied with turnover on the coaching staff, Gruden has made it a point to retain key assistant coaches from the Shanahan regime.
One such coach is Sean McVay. The tight ends coach last season, McVay is now Washington's offensive coordinator. Although, it's with the caveat that Gruden will be calling the offensive plays.
At the age of 28, McVay is now the league's youngest offensive coordinator.
Still, despite his age, McVay is a respected offensive mind. In an interview with Zac Boyer of The Washington Times, Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen acknowledged this.
“I think the thing that sets him apart is his knowledge of the game and his ability to communicate – that makes him great. He’s a guy who is credentialed in knowledge of the game and is ready for this job,” Paulsen said.
Some other coaches retained by Gruden were defensive line coach Jacob Burney, defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and, most notably, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
Widely expected to be canned after commanding a Redskins defense that consistently was one of the league's worst, Haslett was retained because of the talent, or lack thereof, that he was working with.
Recounting past matchups with Haslett-led defenses, Gruden said, according to Mike Coppinger of NFL.com, "I know what he's about and I know the scheme he plays is very difficult."
With familiar coaches in tow, the Redskins transition under Gruden will go a lot smoother. By having continuity on both sides of the ball, Gruden has already begun to put his players in the best position to succeed.
In fact, with Griffin being the lone exception, this line of thinking was probably bolstered by the performances these players turned in during 2013.
Morris' rushing output dropped from 1,613 yards in his rookie year to 1,275 last season. But his decline is more tied to a reduction in touches than performance. Owning an average of 4.8 yards per carry as a rookie, and 4.6 last season, Morris' numbers confirm this.
In regards to Garcon, just direct your eyes to the Washington record book. After tallying 113 catches and 1,346 yards last season, you'll see Garcon's name atop the franchise's single-season receptions list.
While Griffin's numbers were down across the board last year, the Redskins' faith in Griffin's ability to lead the franchise from the depths of mediocrity has never wavered.
From the hiring of the offensive-minded Gruden, to the current trade chatter surrounding Kirk Cousins—via ESPN's Adam Schefter—all signs point to Washington going all-in with Griffin.
But after glancing at the field of NFC teams who posted postseason wins in 2013, the Skins have to realize that a defensive cornerstone is also needed.
Washington's defense toiled between bad and mediocre last year and its defensive depth chart is short on players who could fill this void.
Brian Orakpo is the most viable candidate to build around. But with his pending free agency, the Skins would be making an expensive bet that Orakpo can make the transition from good to great if they re-signed him.
But without a first-round pick to nab such a player, Washington may have no other choice.
Salary Cap Situation
Washington enters the 2014 offseason with nearly $30 million in salary-cap space.
This is a stark contrast to the past two seasons when the Redskins were hampered by a $36 million salary-cap penalty.
Nonetheless, as good as Washington's cap sheet looks at the moment, it can clear even more cap space with the ouster of some overpaid veterans.
The likes of Adam Carriker, Stephen Bowen and Chris Chester are currently ciphering off over $18 million of the Skins' cap space. By releasing these players, an additional $7 million would be available for Washington to spend.
With this amount of cap space available, the Skins could pursue elite free agents like Aqib Talib and Jairus Byrd to shore up their dreadful secondary.
Salary cap information is courtesy of OverTheCap.com
Impending Free Agents
Offense: J.D. Walton, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss, Rex Grossman and Fred Davis.
Defense: Brian Orakpo, Perry Riley, Chris Baker, Darryl Tapp, Rob Jackson, E.J. Biggers, Reed Doughty, Josh Wilson, DeAngelo Hall and Nick Barnett.
Washington will enter the 2014 offseason with a marginal set of players headed for free agency. Of its 15 free agents, 10 are defensive players.
On this side of the ball, Orakpo, Hall and Riley are the key players the Redskins have to focus on re-signing.
In regards to Riley and Hall, the Redskins don't have much of a decision to make. With Washington keeping its 3-4 defense, it can't afford to lose Riley in the wake of London Fletcher's retirement.
A solid player in his tenure with the Redskins, it's unlikely that Riley will receive the type of contract on the open market that could discourage them from re-signing him.
This also applies to Hall. Despite tallying four interceptions in 2013, Hall isn't the cornerback that teams will covet in free agency. That would be Aqib Talib.
In a cornerback market flush with younger and better players like Alterraun Verner, Hall probably doesn't have a big payday on the horizon.
Unfortunately for the Redskins, the same can't be said for Orakpo.
In a free-agent landscape where the Paul Krugers of the league can net a $40 million deal despite owning only 15.5 career sacks, Orakpo could break some team's bank.
But will it be Washington's?
Considering the lack of alternatives available in free agency, and the cap space the Skins have available, the answer will be yes.
Turning the attention to the offensive end, the Redskins don't have any impact free agents. Morgan was a complete bust in Washington and Davis was cast in the shadow of Jordan Reed.
In regards to Moss, his best days are long behind him.
While his leadership and professionalism would be missed, Washington needs to find Garcon some help. And going on 35, Moss is no longer the player who can provide it.
NFL Draft Preview
While the statuses of Hall, Orakpo and Riley will affect who Washington specifically drafts, defense will be the hallmark of the 2014 NFL draft regardless.
Linebacker, safety, cornerback or defensive lineman, you name it and the Skins are in need of an injection of young talent.
And Washington is in luck. This year's crop of draft prospects is littered with quality defensive players.
With prospects like cornerback Stanley Baptiste-Jean, linebacker Christian Jones and pass-rusher Jeremiah Attaochu set to be available after the first round, the Skins could still net an impact defender despite not having a first-round pick.
But in case Washington does decide to venture onto the offensive side, then offensive tackle prospects like Seantrel Henderson and Antonio Richardson could potentially solve the team's Tyler Polumbus problem.