As another disappointed season winds down in Redskins Nation, there are only two things Redskins fans can take solace in; one, that's it'll be over, and two, that the off-season seems to be rich with unrestricted free agents and a deep, talent draft class.
It's clear that the culture has changed in Washington, even if the winning ways haven't followed right away. The Redskins will approach the off-season with a new view; production over name value, and hard workers over primadonnas. The Redskins have a lot of holes to fill, after years and years of ignoring certain positions, and with still trying to install new systems with the proper personnel.
Fans have a tendency to think it has to be one way or the other--you can either draft people, or you can bring in free agents, but you can't do both. This is false--the Redskins will have to balance out all their needs with the right mentality, and the right mix of hard workers.
So, let's take a look at the free agents and potential draftees the Redskins should strongly consider bringing in to upgrade the team in 2011.
If you ask Redskins fans, there's only one receiver Shanahan and Allen should go after in the offseason--Vincent Jackson.
Despite his being suspended on DUI (after repeated offenses), and despite his somewhat outrageous pay demands, Redskins Nations have bought into the idea that if they can just get Vincent Jackson, all their troubles will fade away.
You know, like Brandon Lloyd was supposed to solve everything.
While Jackson has been productive and seems to have cleaned up a bit, it could just be an act to get out of San Diego. Not to mention the fact that A.J. Smith has considered applying the franchise tag to Jackson, meaning it would be another season before V-Jax was available.
Instead, there's a solid, jump ball, physical receiver in free agency that no one is talking about; Minnesota wide receiver Sidney Rice.
Rice has been a solid receiver every since he was drafted, but his numbers absolutely exploded when Brett Favre came onto the Minnesota Vikings. Rice went from a number two to a number one with Favre throwing the ball to him. The catches he's made have been incredible, and his worth ethic has never been in question. He's a quiet, "I'll go about my business" kind of receiver, happy to get his touches and to succeed.
Rice has a few nagging health concerns, but it's hard to ignore that the one season he started all sixteen games, he caught 83 balls for 1,312 yards and nineteen touchdowns. It's also hard to ignore the positive effect he has on the other players on the field, as both Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin have seen upticks in production with him in the game to stretch the field.
The Vikings have a lot of issues to deal with in the upcoming season. With trying to find money to either repair or replace the Metrodome, not to mention trying to pay other free agents, and potentially setting aside more money to extend Adrian Peterson (who will be a free agent in 2012), Rice may slip through the cracks.
If so, he may be a younger and less costly option under a salary cap than V-Jax.
If the Redskins don't address the o-line at some point in the offseason, Redskins fans are likely to riot. The oft-ignored line has been amongst the most maligned things this season, and if the Redskins are going to have any sort of success in the future, upgrading the offensive line is going to be a key to their success, especially if Rex Grossman is under center. Grossman is much better in the pocket than out, and while Will Montgomery, Kory Lichensteiger and Derrick Dockery provide good depth, none of them are good enough to be starters going forward.
Enter Deuce Lutui. Otherwise known as that dude that Derick Anderson was joking with on the sidelines during the Cardinals own personal Monday Night Massacre.
The Arizona Cardinals run their own version of the Zone Blocking Scheme, which would mean Lutui would likely be familiar with the system and could be plugged in right away. He's still pretty young for an offensive lineman, and could provide another veteran presence on the offensive line along with Jammal Brown.
And who knows? If the 'Skins are ever losing, he can keep them in good spirits on the sidelines. That's always a plus.
San Francisco's quarterback situation is interesting to say the very least.
Alex Smith will be a free agent this season. Troy Smith is erratic and hasn't yet proven that he's a starting caliber quarterback, and David Carr's playing days are likely long since behind him.
Meanwhile, Nate Davis has been sitting on their practice squad most of the season, embroiled in the chaos, even though Niners fans seem to be screaming to start the young man out Ball State University.
Davis likely wouldn't be able to start in the opening games of the season, but he's an interesting project quarterback. He's got a cannon for an arm (click here for an example, and an Elway name drop), and is younger than John Beck.
With so many holes on the team, even though people hate it, it might be wiser to ride with Rex and take a chance on a guy in free agency. Or more likely, just a guy who's sitting on a practice squad who may not have a chance to start at all. The Niners are in a position to take a quarterback in the draft, and a new coaching staff may prefer taking a quarterback there than the guy on the practice squad.
Davis is an interesting prospect and has performed well in preseason action over the last two years. If nothing else, it'd be nice to take a chance on him and hope he develops into something.
The 3-4 defense is here to stay, but if it's going to have any level of success, it needs a real nose tackle. Ma'ake Kemoeatu might be a servicible back-up, but he's not the answer the team needs. And while Anthony Bryant as looked promising in his snaps at nose tackle, he doesn't get the kind of push and absorb the kind of blocks you want from the nose position either.
Aubrayo Franklin has put together several solid seasons as a member of the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, but he may be looking for more money and a ticket out of the Niners with the entrance of a new head coach. He's young for a defensive linemen, and could provide the anchor the Redskins need in the middle of the line to make it dominant, or at least to make it work.
Franklin is athletic, and was originally a draft pick of the defensive powerhouse Baltimore Ravens. You need a nose tackle for the 3-4 to work, and Franklin could be just the guy to get the Redskins defense back on track.
The Redskins need a free safety.
This is not simply a desire. The Redskins have been struggling to fill the position of free safety since the untimely death of Redskins great Sean Taylor. With LaRon Landry back at his natural position and excelling at it, there's no way the Redskins would move him back to that position.
Kareem Moore...is horrible. There's no two ways about it. If you've ever seen a running back or a wide receiver break a big run after a missed or broken tackle, it's usually because of Moore, even if the rest of the play goes right.
At safety, free agency is a little bit thin. The best safeties have already signed back with their teams, or would be playing out of position at the free safety spot. So, it would be time to draft a new free safety to finally solidify this position for good.
Jermale Hines has put together solid seasons in his time at Ohio State, and is capable of catching balls to create turnovers, as well as hitting hard to compliment the playing style of Landry.
But more importantly...he can tackle. Sometimes you don't need someone who can make the big hits. Sometimes you just need someone who can tackle, and in 2010 Hines gathered 63 tackles, 32 of which were on his own.
Even a rookie would be an improvement over the inept Moore, and Hines seems to be a very good prospect.
Veteran center Casey Rabach isn't getting any younger, and to say he's lost a step or two in recent years would be an understatement. In fact, you can often see him getting pushed back on the line and making his quarterback stumble and sack himself, which has happened more than once this season.
Stefen Wisniewski has been a starter ever since his senior year. He's smart, athletic, and can play at guard or at center. The Redskins drafted Trent Williams in the first round last year to effectively seal down the left tackle position for years to come. Now, the Redskins have to seek to solidify the next most important position on the line, and Wisiewski can fill that position day one on the line, while learning from a veteran like Rabach, who would provide good depth.
Ryan Torain is a beast out of the backfield, and is more than good enough to start for the Washington Redskins.
However, Torain isn't the fact running back in the league. Speed isn't everything---Terrell Davis never had a great 40-yard dash time and he still did insane thing in Mike Shanahan's offense---but the Redskins could use a change of pace, speed back that can block out and catch the football out of the backfield, not to mention a back that could adaquately replace Torain if he were to get injured again.
DeAngelo Williams is a great running back who is used to the kind of system that Mike Shanahan runs. He's also reaching that iffy age for all running backs in the NFL; he will be 28 in April next year. Despite having a Pro Bowl season in 2009, injuries have begun to nag him a bit.
Even so, Williams upside outweighs his down side, and as a two headed monster out the backfield, the combo of Torain and Williams could be very potent, and could also serve to keep them both healthy for longer.
Williams contract with Carolina expires soon, and with younger running backs in Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson likely to stay on with the new coaching staff the Panthers put in place, Stewart could slip through the cracks.
He's also a less costly, slightly younger, definitely less big mouthed option than Clinton Portis, who's contract will be coming up.
Williams could be the Thomas Jones to Ryan Torain's (way slower) Jamaal Charles, and could help reinvigorate his career.
If the Redskins are going to draft a quarterback, I'd much rather they took a guy in the later rounds. There are a lot of needs on the team, and drafting a quarterback high with no line to protect him is a risky proposition.
With no college quarterback coming out of the draft who will be able to start day one, the Redskins need a young prospect they can develop and teach the offense, and if the 'Skins are hell bent on picking up their own quarterback instead of someone else's, Andy Dalton should be available in the middle or late rounds of the draft.
Dalton is a smart, mobile quarterback with a good arm who will likely fall into the later rounds. He, like everyone else, wouldn't be a quarterback that could start right away, but with some time, he could turn into a solid prospect for the Redskins. He's done well for the TCU Horned Frogs, and could do well for the Redskins as well.
If the Patriots keep doing as well as they are, it's hard to think they'd let Logan Mankins slip through the cracks. Then again, Bill Belichick has let many a great football player go, even after Super Bowl runs. Mankins is a Pro Bowl guard who still has a lot of life left in him.
Solid in the run game and great in pass protection, Mankins is a high caliber player who would be well worth whatever asking price he wanted. The Redskins could solidify their guard positions have great depth if they felt they need to draft more guards, which wouldn't be a bad idea.
If Rex Grossman will be the starting quarterback season (and no matter how much fans don't like it, it's likely that this will be the case), solidying the line will be a priority, as when Rex Grossman has time to throw, he can be a very efficient quarterback.
Mankins would be a great piece of that puzzle.
There are Redskins fans who are still miffed at ownership for trading away potential Hall of Fame corner Champ Bailey for running back Clinton Portis. Ironically enough, that trade was made when Mike Shanahan was in Denver. Shanahan clearly saw something in Champ that he thought was worth giving up Portis for.
It'll be interesting to see if he doesn't take another chance on the vet when he's a free agent.
Bailey may have lost a step, but he's had another to give, and is still a viable shutdown corner in this league. If Champ isn't a viable cornerback any longer, he could always be moved to free safety, where again, anyone would be a better choice than Kareem Moore.
It would set a lot of things right for Champ to return home to where his career began and potentially retire in the burgundy and gold. I know a lot of Redskins fans would be thrilled to have Champ back in a Redskins uniform.