The key free agents on the Washington Redskins' radar are the three top players on their otherwise dire defense. General manager Bruce Allen must agree fresh terms with the team's best pass-rusher, its most competent cover corner and a developing young playmaker in the middle.
Of course, any team coming off a 3-13 season needs more than just retaining existing talent. It also needs quality additions from the outside.
For Washington, that means targeting premium reinforcements for a threadbare secondary. The pursuit could take them to a star of the New England Patriots who was coveted by the Redskins last offseason.
Allen is also likely to be tempted by another AFC East defensive back, one who has been in a contract stalemate with his current employers for some time.
Here are the odds for Washington retaining a few of its own stars, but also adding those who can key a quick turnaround in 2014.
Keeping Brian Orakpo should be an easy choice after an outstanding season in 2013. His 10-sack performance could attract a few more suitors on the open market though. But the Redskins need their premier pass-rusher still on the books for 2014.
New head coach Jay Gruden will wisely keep the current 3-4 defensive scheme in place, per a report from Mike Jones of The Washington Post. That is a clear hint that the team will make a strong push to retain the scheme's most productive player.
Indeed, Allen has already begun negotiations with Orakpo's agent, according to Zac Boyer of The Washington Times.
But things might not be as straightforward as they appear. NFL.com writer Mike Coppinger points out that top-tier players at Orakpo's position usually command salaries upwards of $11 million annually.
At his best, Orakpo is certainly worth that level of investment. But there are also reasons why Allen might be reluctant to rubber stamp such a deal.
After all, Orakpo only has two seasons out of five with double-digit sacks. He has also suffered upper body injuries, most notably a torn pectoral muscle that ruled him out of 14 games in 2012.
The skeptics may feel it more prudent to let Orakpo prove he can produce a second straight dominant season before paying big. In that scenario, the team would likely adorn its first-round pick in 2009 with the franchise tag, something Coppinger suggests is a possibility.
But the Redskins are not likely to find a 3-4 pass-rusher as capable as Orakpo without making an investment similar in size to the one needed to keep him around.
Aside from 2012, he has only missed one other game through injury, so any durability concerns are slightly exaggerated.
Orakpo also has the look of a player for whom the light has finally come on. He is more comfortable than ever with this 3-4 system.
Those factors will weigh heavily on the minds of team officials during negotiations. Bet on Orakpo getting paid with a handsome but not eye-watering deal.
Odds Orakpo Re-Signs: 3-1
Perry Riley Jr. is another linebacker Washington would be wise to keep in town. He is one of the few members of a suspect defense to have improved every season.
Negotiations over a new contract have already started, per a report from Zac Boyer of The Washington Times. Those negotiations could be tough though, as other circumstances have increased Riley's value.
Veteran backups Nick Barnett and Bryan Kehl are both free agents, while London Fletcher is expected to retire. That would leave Riley as the only experienced, starting-caliber inside linebacker on the defense.
But far from simply being the last man standing at his position, Riley's value is endorsed by his growing role in the defensive scheme.
As Mike Jones of The Washington Post highlights, Riley has taken on more responsibility as the successor in waiting to Fletcher:
Riley spent the two previous seasons as London Fletcher’s sidekick at inside linebacker. But this past season, although Fletcher continued to make all of the defensive calls while serving as an on-field extension of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, Riley’s duties expanded as he more frequently drew pass coverage assignments. He also overtook Fletcher as the team’s leading tackler, recording 115. He also recorded three sacks and an interception.
Riley, if re-signed, would likely take over as the “quarterback” of the defense. He has spent the past four years following Fletcher around and picking his brain in position meetings and in their own private video study sessions, trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible from the future Hall of Fame candidate. Riley has made plays for the Redskins, but he will have to raise his level of play another notch of two so he becomes more of a difference-maker for the defense. Late in the 2012 season, he seemed poised to do so in 2013. But Riley’s impact wasn’t as significant as it could have been. Redskins officials believe he can take the next step, however.
That last line is significant, as is Jones' assertion that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett considers retaining Riley a priority.
If Riley is the next on-field play-caller for this defense, that only increases the odds the Allen re-signs him.
But the team is not without options in any negotiation with 2010's fourth-round pick. Experienced inside linebackers can usually be picked up cheap. Indeed, this year's market features several wily vets who could appeal.
That could weigh on Allen's mind if, as Jones anticipates, Riley seeks a deal on a par with what the Miami Dolphins paid Dannell Ellerbe last offseason, a contract Jones puts at $7 million annually.
That may seem like a steep figure, but the Redskins have spent a long time trying to stockpile pieces for their 3-4. They are likely to be loath to let a player as versed in their scheme as Riley walk.
A lack of credible depth also makes it likely Washington re-signs Riley soon, albeit probably not on an Ellerbe-like contract.
Odds Riley Re-Signs: 3-1
DeAngelo Hall's contract negotiations will likely court as much controversy as the player himself. The Redskins have started talking with the motor-mouth cornerback over a new deal, according to Mike Jones of The Washington Post.
Jones' report indicates the two parties will work toward a "multiyear contract," a contract Haslett deems as another offseason priority. To many, such a deal will be deemed a reasonable reward for a fine season by Hall's usually erratic standards.
He led the defense in interceptions and plundered three touchdowns. Hall had some standout games against a few of the NFL's premier wide receivers.
But in typical fashion, Hall also had moments when he bordered on being a liability. He was ripped apart by the New York Giants and Jerrel Jernigan in the season finale.
Yet, despite any struggles he experienced in 2013, Hall remains the best cover man on the team. But being the best cornerback on the league's 20th-ranked pass defense doesn't mean you get paid like a top-tier player at the position.
Hall is 30 and still far from consistent. Washington could easily look to several of the enticing options available in free agency. Veterans like Brent Grimes, Antoine Cason and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie should all be considered targets.
The team also used its top draft pick last year on David Amerson, a player they will expect more from in 2014. But for Amerson to develop, he needs to be on the field regularly.
Yet, regardless of any other options Allen might pursue, Hall's bargaining position remains strong. He just completed a Pro Bowl season. The Redskins also have fellow corners E.J. Biggers, Josh Wilson and Jerome Murphy ticketed for free agency.
Given how valuable three starting-calibre cornerbacks are to defenses in today's predominantly pass-first league, Hall will likely be back, even if his deal takes a little longer to thrash out than expected.
Odds Hall Is Re-Signed: 4-1
This might be the offseason Washington finally tires of Fred Davis' baggage. The supremely talented tight end wore the franchise tag in 2013, but barely featured.
He was easily supplanted by third-round pick Jordan Reed, who now seems to have a lock on the starting role. While Gruden does often like to use two-tight end sets, Davis may not be ideally suited to such a role.
He is not the big-bodied intermediate receiver who would effectively complement Reed's ability to stretch the field.
Not only that, but Davis' career in D.C. has been blighted by off-field issues. He served a four-game suspension for substance abuse issues in 2011. Davis could be set for his second such suspension, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.
Even when he's been available Davis has, by his own admission, had trouble staying awake during team meetings, per a report from Jim Corbett of USA Today.
There is no denying Davis is a potential playmaker for quarterback Robert Griffin III. But his value has been diminished by Reed's emergence, as well as too many disciplinary issues.
His ability may still tempt Gruden to try to work him into a new-look offense. But the safer bet is the Redskins let Davis walk to test the market.
Odds Davis Is Re-Signed: 20-1
The Redskins have a decent shot at snaring the prize cornerback in this year's free agency. Aqib Talib certainly answers a major team need as a legitimate shutdown corner.
He was a target last offseason, according to Mike Garafolo of USA Today. But it may be easier than expected to pry Talib away from the New England Patriots this year.
Despite being one of the few elite members of the New England defense, owner Robert Kraft doesn't sound too keen on paying Talib.
CSN New England writer Tom E. Curran cites an interview Kraft gave with radio station 98.5 The Sport Hub's Felger and Mazz show where the owner sounded skeptical:
It’s not like we have unlimited funding so . . . He wasn’t on the field a lot of the time since he’s been with us. It’s a balance of us balancing all that out and what is he worth. I think he’s happy here and would like to be here and we’re happy with him and we’d like to have him here and now it’s just about doing business.
The durability issues Kraft refers to concern a lingering hip problem, according to Curran. Those fitness concerns could diminish the market interest in Talib. But they might not put Washington off, considering some of the staff's familiarity with the player.
Secondary coach Raheem Morris worked closely with Talib when the two were members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During that time he also came into contact with Allen.
Kraft's hesitancy could pave the way for Washington to make Talib the kind of offer Curran believes he wants:
As well as Talib played in the second half of 2012, his persistent hip problems and off-field transgressions left him without real suitors. So he re-upped in New England for one year at $5 million.
It was reported the Patriots made a five-year offer to Talib and that three other teams also showed interest, but Talib opted to go short-term and align himself for free agency again. Well, free agency will arrive in a few weeks and the Patriots are in an interesting spot with Talib.
With money to throw at him, along with good knowledge of the player, the Redskins have a better chance than most of landing Talib.
Odds Talib Signs: 4-1
Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com believes the AFC East club will "make every effort" to re-sign free safety Jairus Byrd. But the two parties failed to come to terms last season, leaving Byrd to begrudgingly wear the franchise tag.
Despite Brown's optimism, a new long-term contract for Byrd seems unlikely. That opens the door for Washington, perhaps the most safety needy team in the NFL, to make a major push.
A move for the opportunistic 27-year-old is endorsed by CSN Washington reporter Tarik El-Bashir. He rightly believes the team cannot afford to enter another season with a patchwork group at the position.
But in the same article, fellow CSN Washington scribe Rich Tandler offers a note of caution, believing Byrd will command an annual fee around the $6 million mark.
While that represents a hefty outlay, it is more than worth it to finally fix a perennial problem position. Byrd is the smart, big-play ball hawk this team has needed for too long.
But the competition for the player would likely be intense. Byrd has the knack for producing turnovers, having intercepted 22 passes and forced 11 fumbles in five seasons, per statistics from NFL.com.
Those numbers will make Byrd coveted on the open market. The Redskins may shy away from a bidding war, knowing there are other quality safeties available, such as Donte Whitner of the San Francisco 49ers.
Yet Byrd remains this team's best choice.
If he really wanted to stay in Buffalo, Byrd and his representatives would have struck a deal by now. Players who want to stick around don't usually engage in the kind of lengthy holdout Byrd engineered last offseason.
If Allen has the will to make to beat the competition, and he certainly should, Washington can land Byrd and go a long way to bolstering its suspect secondary.
Odds Byrd Is Signed: 5-1