The 6 Moves the Washington Redskins Must Avoid in Free Agency
The team can create even more room by giving up on a pair of uninspiring veterans. But the additional resources still have to be spent wisely.
That means avoiding overpaying for a wide receiver who doesn't belong at the top of his position on the free-agent market. It also means not being held to ransom by a promising but inconsistent inside linebacker simply because numbers are thin at the position.
Here are the six moves Washington must avoid in free agency.
Overpaying Perry Riley Jr.
General manager Bruce Allen has already brought back the most important linebacker on the defense, outside pass-rusher Brian Orakpo. The move to franchise tag Orakpo has rightly been lauded as a smart one by Rick Snider of the Washington Post.
But Allen must now avoid overpaying for inside 'backer Perry Riley Jr. It would be easy to fall into that trap considering the team's weakness at the position.
London Fletcher has retired and depth is virtually nonexistent. Veterans Nick Barnett and Bryan Kehl are free agents, while 2012 fourth-round pick Keenan Robinson has missed 21 games through injury.
Those factors put Riley, who led the defense in tackles in 2013, in a strong bargaining position. It's true that the 25-year-old has grown as a player.
He is versatile, athletic and productive. But there are still some inconsistencies to his game. Riley will miss many tackles he should make and can be fooled in zone coverage.
The advantage Allen has is the strength of the market at the position. Several quality veterans, including Jon Beason, Karlos Dansby and Daryl Smith, are available.
So is New England Patriots bruiser Brandon Spikes. All of these experienced pros fit well in a linebacker-led scheme like the one Washington operates.
There are also plenty of options available via the draft. Prospects like Stanford's Shayne Skov or Wisconsin's Chris Borland will be on the radar in May.
Riley is a solid and developing starter, and if Allen can do the right deal, then he should. But the team can survive his loss.
It can certainly resist entering a bidding war with the player and still be confident of restocking the position.
Bringing Back Josh Wilson
In early December, I suggested re-signing free-agent cornerback Josh Wilson, so this is something of a U-turn. The veteran should not be brought back, because he doesn't fit in what should be a bigger secondary in 2014.
The 5'9", 188-pounder was less than impressive last season. While he was turned into a convenient scapegoat by many fans, Wilson didn't do enough to justify a new deal.
Allen and new head coach Jay Gruden must take the opportunity to target more physically imposing defensive backs this offseason. On the rare occasions this secondary played press-based coverage in 2013, it looked good.
Returning veteran DeAngelo Hall can play press despite not being much bigger than Wilson. So can last year's top draft pick David Amerson. That leaves Wilson as the odd man out.
He is one of three cornerbacks, along with E.J. Biggers and Jerome Murphy, set to be on the market. But the need for depth at the position doesn't justify bringing Wilson back.
There is a difference between depth for the sake of it and having quality options on the bench. Allen and Gruden can find better both in free agency and the draft.
A rookie prospect like 6'3", 211-pounder Keith McGill would fit the bill. So would a free agent like Seattle Seahawks nickel corner Walter Thurmond III.
Keeping Adam Carriker
Washington has a pair of veteran defensive ends carrying high salaries for the 2014 NFL season. Both are also high injury risks.
Of the two, Adam Carriker should be the one to go, while Stephen Bowen should be kept around for another season. Carriker has missed the last 18 games with quadriceps injuries.
He counts for $6,510,416 against the cap, per figures from Spotrac.com. He has not displayed the durability, or the dominance when healthy, to justify that figure.
Releasing Carriker is a cold move, but a necessary one to save some money.
Bowen makes an even bigger hit on the cap at $7,020,000. He also suffered a torn PCL that wiped out his 2013 season after Week 11.
But Bowen has been more effective than Carriker when healthy, as one of the best two-gap D-linemen on the team. Unlike Carriker, he has never previously been blighted by injury concerns.
He can at least provide cover at a position where depth is thin behind nominal starters Jarvis Jenkins and Chris Baker.
If Bowen's recovery goes well, it would be a mistake to part ways with one of the few natural 3-4 fits on the Washington front seven.
Overpaying for Any Position Except Defensive Back
Any team coming off a 3-13 campaign has a lot of areas that need work. But Allen and Gruden won't fix everything in one offseason.
They will still need to make priority judgements. The first one should be deciding which position needs the most investment in free agency.
It simply has to be the woeful secondary. Despite serious problems along its offensive front and at wide receiver, the defensive backfield most needs a major injection of talent.
A new starting cornerback and a pair of safeties are required. Allen could easily justify spending big, or even overpaying, to land two of those players.
A premier corner like Aqib Talib of the New England Patriots makes a lot of sense. So does a smart safety like Donte Whitner of the San Francisco 49ers.
Landing that pair and rolling the dice that the draft offers enough prospects to fix other areas would represent a successful offseason.
What Washington cannot do is overpay in less pressing positions by becoming enamoured with some of the names on the market. That would yet again leave the team scouring for bargain veterans and untested prospects to fill holes in the secondary.
That approach has been a catastrophe the last two seasons.
Emphasizing Youth over Experience
One of the most annoying aspects of the destined-to-fail Mike Shanahan era was the uncomfortable emphasis on youth over experience when acquiring players.
Many fans couldn't wait to endorse the building of a young roster and pour scorn on signing anyone over the age of 26. But all the Shanahan youth movement brought the franchise was three losing seasons out of four.
It was yet another example of a regime simply paying lip service to a popular misconception. Allen and Gruden cannot make that same mistake.
They must not ignore the quality veterans on the market who can help this team win now. After all, this franchise has a storied history of trusting experienced pros to deliver success.
If a player like Shaun Phillips, who turns 33 in May, can be signed to boost the pass rush out of nickel sets, then do it. Similarly, Dansby may be 32, but he is also an intelligent playmaker with a wealth of experience operating in the middle of a 3-4 front.
Talented players can no longer be ruled out simply because they'll never see 25 again.
Signing Eric Decker
The Washington offense needs another productive and consistent wide receiver to support Pierre Garcon. But if the team spends big on Eric Decker, any optimism regarding the new Gruden-led regime should be snuffed out.
It's not a question of whether Decker merits being paid like a No. 1 receiver. Instead, the concern is signing a wideout who struggles against press coverage, despite standing 6'3" and weighing 214 pounds. A receiver teams can take out of a game without ever resorting to double-coverage.
Pass-catchers like James Jones and Emmanuel Sanders represent better value. As do rookies like Jordan Matthews and Allen Robinson.
Signing Decker to a big contract would be to fall love with the name and reputation over the actual talent. It would mean overpaying not only for a player who wouldn't live up to the billing, but also at a position that is not a primary need.
Any time a Washington fan calls for Decker to be signed between now and the end of free agency should be a signal to take cover. Avoid at all costs.
Steering clear of these pitfalls during free agency will see Allen and Gruden do enough sensible work to reshape their roster to cause a few surprises in the new season.