Weighing the Pros and Cons of the Washington Redskins' Top Free-Agent Targets
Perhaps it is residual optimism from the new head coach and coaching staff changes, but this offseason feels different from those in recent years. For once the Washington Redskins have some cap space and the wherewithal to put it to good use during free agency.
As with any free-agent period, there are some things the 'Skins should look out for when courting their top targets.
After slapping the franchise tag on Brian Orakpo, per Rich Tandler of Real Redskins, Washington has just over $18 million to work with, though further roster moves could clear some more. The $11 million investment in Orakpo changes what the Redskins can do in free agency, particularly if they intend to add several quality players as opposed to just one or two.
Here are the pros and cons of some of the top free-agent targets for the Redskins.
Aqib Talib, Cornerback
Some of Talib’s best seasons in Tampa Bay came with Raheem Morris as his coach and coordinator. Morris is currently the secondary coach for the Redskins, which gives Talib a reason to sign with Washington beyond the dollar signs.
He’s a playmaker, and he’s physical, both of which were lacking at the cornerback position for Washington. The Redskins need someone who will give receivers a hard time, something Talib can do on every down.
How often does a player leave New England and thrive? Bill Belicheck is a great coach and has the right staff in place to get the most out of every player.
Talib may have been on his way toward greatness in Tampa Bay, but can he be the same player for the Redskins he was for the New England Patriots?
There’s a concern with paying top dollar for a player with character issues. Washington wants a player it can count on for years to come to be in the locker room, on the sideline and on the field. Talib can’t do that if he can’t keep his nose clean.
Alex Mack, Center
The quickest way to rebuild on offensive line is to upgrade the center position. Alex Mack is the best center in football right now, and the Redskins need to improve the center of their line immediately.
He’s managed to prove himself and stand out while playing for the Browns, who are undergoing a major front-office and coaching change. Without Mack, the Cleveland offensive line falls apart, and so too does their offense.
He’s the kind of linchpin the Redskins need in the middle of their offensive line.
The Cleveland Browns slapped a transition tag on Mack, per ESPN.com, which means he’s going to be a pricey signing. Since it is only a transitional tag, the Redskins need only exceed what the Browns are willing to offer him.
Much like Byrd, Mack could be out of their price range. The Redskins may have $25 million plus in cap space, but they need to be smart in how they use it.
Jairus Byrd, Free Safety
Jairus Byrd is arguably the top free agent of the 2014 class. He’s entering his prime and has made a name for himself as a ball hawk and a playmaking presence at free safety.
Byrd has all the physical tools necessary to lock down the center of the field in coverage while also being a factor in run defense. The Redskins secondary has struggled with safety play, a problem Byrd instantly solves.
He’s not renowned for his bone-jarring hits, but he can lay the wood. More importantly, he creates turnovers, which is something Washington's defense does not consistently do.
As the best free agent on the market, Byrd’s price tag is going to be lofty. Not that he hasn’t earned a lucrative deal but the Redskins can’t get into a bidding war that leaves them dedicating one-third of their available cap space to one player.
The hype around Byrd seems to have died down this season. He was franchised-tagged by the Buffalo Bills for the 2013 season and missed time due to injury which hurt his potential to cash in.
Even though he doesn't have an extensive injury history, Byrd missed five games in 2013, though he still managed four interceptions on the season.
Jon Asamoah, Guard
The Kansas City Chiefs may have been an apparition to start the 2013 season, but they proved they have some excellent talent on their roster—namely guard Jon Asamoah.
Asamoah has experience blocking in a productive ground game. He was part of an offensive line that paved the way for Jamaal Charles to the tune of 1,287 yards in 2013.
Youth is invaluable along the offensive line, which means Asamoah is doubly valuable because he’s young, but he has experience opening holes for a top-tier running back. It's a task he’d get to do for Alfred Morris in Washington.
Andy Reid has a history of finding players to fit his system and making them look amazing. When they leave for greener pastures or he swings trades, they don’t often succeed outside of his system.
Asamoah is good, but is he good because of Reid’s player-friendly system or because he is a genuine talent?
Arthur Jones, Defensive End
When you think of 3-4 defenses, you either think of the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Baltimore Ravens. They’ve managed to find talent to fit their system each and every year, and Arthur Jones is another versatile discovery that would do wonders for Washington’s 3-4 scheme.
Having experience in the 3-4 defense makes Jones an excellent option for the Redskins. Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker are both pricey defensive ends who either have not produced in Bowen’s case or have not played in Carriker’s case.
Jones is a two-gap defensive end who can stop the run, control his man and push the pocket if necessary.
He can play defensive end or nose tackle, similar to the way the Ravens have used Haloti Ngata. Though he is not a pass-rush expert, but he's tallied 8.5 total sacks over the last two seasons.
As part of the Ravens defense, Jones had the luxury of playing with some great teammates. Ngata alone is better than anyone along the Redskins' defensive line, and you have to wonder if he will thrive outside of Baltimore’s honed 3-4 scheme.
The Redskins can't pay out the nose for a player who may not deliver outside of one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Alterraun Verner, Cornerback
Richard Sherman may be considered the best cornerback in the NFL today, but if not for his mouth, he may have lost some ground to Tennesee’s Alterraun Verner. Verner didn’t play for a Super Bowl winner and his team didn’t go to the playoffs, but he was among the best corners in 2013.
He excelled opposite Jason McCourty, who signed a hefty six-year contract with the Tennesse Titans in 2012. Verner upstaged the player Tennessee felt was worth almost $43 million, making him worth pursuing and locking up long term.
Verner's 22 pass deflections and five interceptions in 2013 are proof that teams have yet to take notice and develop a healthy respect for his skills. McCourty finished 2013 with half as many deflections and no interceptions.
He’s physical even though he's just 5'10", 187 pounds, but he showed that he can lock receivers down. He’s still young and has some maturing left to do as a player, but if he’s turning heads now, imagine what he’ll do in five years for the Redskins?
Playing alongside McCourty meant Verner didn’t have to worry about half of the field. Washington doesn’t have that elite presence in its secondary, which could expose Verner as a solid—but not top-tier—corner in their scheme.
Verner just burst onto the scene in 2013, raising the question of whether he is a one-year wonder or the real deal. Can the Redskins afford to sink a ton of money into a player who has just one season of elite play?
Lamarr Houston, Defensive End
The Oakland Raiders remain a mess of a franchise, but sometimes they stumble upon talent like Lamarr Houston. Though he’s plugged in as a big 4-3 defensive end, Houston could be an excellent 3-4 end for the Redskins.
Excellent size and skills, Houston is a run-stopper through and through. He’s athletic enough to get to the quarterback, but his appeal is his ability to control his man and plug holes in the run game.
With 16 career sacks in four seasons, Houston isn’t the type to erupt for 15 sacks in the 3-4 scheme like J.J. Watt, but the mild success getting to the quarterback may be an asset.
He’d be cheaper, more productive and less likely to miss substantial time than Carriker or Bowen.
Houston has been good in Oakland, but even as a part of the 11th-best defense in the NFL, he didn't stand out. Is it simply a product of playing for the Raiders, or does he truly have a limited ceiling?
As a run-stopper, Houston is great. But he may be limited if asked to be more of a space-eater in Washington. If he's one-dimensional, he isn't worth much to the Redskins.