Tracy Porter and Jason Hatcher are relatively big names, but an argument could be made that the two most important moves the Washington Redskins have executed since the start of free agency have involved lesser-known players from the offensive trench.
1. On the first day of the new league year, they signed free-agent guard Shawn Lauvao to a four-year, $17 million deal, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. That's starter money for a team that already had all five of its 2013 offensive line starters under contract.
2. On Friday, they saved nearly $2 million in cap space by releasing veteran center Will Montgomery, according to Mike Jones of the Washington Post.
This is a strong sign that the 'Skins have realized that they need to bulk up and rebuild in the middle of their offensive line.
Left tackle Trent Williams had a tremendous 2013 season, and right tackle Tyler Polumbus was a pleasant surprise. The edges weren't the problem. But Robert Griffin III was under constant pressure because defenses were wising up and overloading the middle.
With Griffin less of a mobile threat, containment on the edges wasn't as much of a priority, and the 'Skins would be smart to keep Griffin in the pocket more often than in years past. As a result, tweaks at the guard and center spots were necessary.
New head coach Jay Gruden may want to continue utilizing zone-blocking schemes implemented by Mike Shanahan, but those handpicked, undersized interior linemen were just too much of a liability in pass protection.
Montgomery gave up a ridiculous 22 pressures, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), despite working in a run-first offense last season. He was also the most penalized center in football. He's not exactly big and strong and is beyond his prime at 31. Time to beef up.
In terms of sheer size, right guard Chris Chester is actually bigger than left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, but Lichtensteiger is the better player, and Lauvao started 11 games at right guard for Cleveland last season.
Pro Football Focus gave Chester a terrible pass-blocking grade of -10.1, as he surrendered 45 pressures, which was the third-highest total among all NFL guards. Lichtensteiger gave up only 29 pressures and earned a positive pass-blocking grade.
|Most pressure allowed, guards, 2013|
|1. Todd Herremans||Eagles||48|
|2. Paul Fanaika||Cardinals||46|
|3. Chris Chester||Redskins||45|
|4. Dan Connolly||Patriots||42|
|5. Zane Beadles||Broncos||42|
|Pro Football Focus|
By cutting Chester, who is two years older than Lichtensteiger and is the team's oldest offensive lineman at 31, they'd also save over $2 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap.
With Montgomery gone, though, they can slide Lichtensteiger back to center while having Chester, Lauvao and whoever else fight for starting guard spots. That would give them a major boost in the bulk department, because Lauvao is six pounds heavier than Chester and a ridiculous 31 pounds heavier than Lichtensteiger. And he appears to be a more powerful player, especially in pass protection.
This might mean they're still not done with starting-caliber players on the free-agent market, which means Daryn Colledge (6'4", 299 pounds and a +2.8 PFF pass-blocking grade) and Charlie Johnson (6'4", 305 pounds and a -1.0 PFF pass-blocking grade) could be considered.
They'd help, as would some of the freakishly large guards projected to go in the top few rounds of May's NFL draft:
|Big guards in the 2014 NFL Draft|
|Gabe Jackson||Mississippi State||6'3"||336|
Finally, don't forget that Washington spent a third-round pick on the 315-pound Josh LeRibeus two years ago. The kid has taken only 22 snaps in his career, but it's time to see what he's got against Chester and Co.
The key is to explore all options, get proactive and be willing to sacrifice some of that zone-blocking prowess and athleticism in order to keep RGIII upright. The Redskins appear to understand that, which is great news.