Washington Redskins: 4 Positions Mike Shanahan Needs to Address Next Offseason
The Redskins have been decimated by injuries over the past few weeks. They have already lost some of their biggest offensive weapons—running back Tim Hightower and tight end Chris Cooley are out for the season, and wide receiver Santana Moss is expected to miss five to seven weeks.
The injuries to the offense have exposed a serious lack of talent and depth on that side of the ball, and at 3-3, Shanahan’s team does not seemed poised to make a run at the playoffs.
Redskins fans were easily excited over a respectable 3-1 start, but playoff aspirations should never have been taken seriously. After all, this was originally expected to be a rebuilding year.
Shanahan has built a solid framework from the depleted roster he inherited prior to the 2010 season, but there are still holes to fill before the Redskins can reasonably expect to compete for a spot in the playoffs.
These are the four weakest positions on the Redskins’ depth chart. If Shanahan wants to take this team to the next level, he will have to address these needs through free agency and the NFL draft.
Priority No. 1: Quarterback
Shanahan could draft a promising talent like Baylor's Robert Griffin III to become his quarterback of the future.
It is obvious that neither of the Redskins’ current quarterbacks, starter John Beck and turnover specialist Rex Grossman, should be running the offense for very long.
Rather than looking to the free agent market, Shanahan will likely select a quarterback early in the 2012 draft.
He will have a talented group to choose from. Led by the unanimous No. 1 pick, Stanford’s Andrew Luck, this batch of quarterback prospects is one of the deepest in recent history.
The most likely candidates to land in Washington are Matt Barkley of USC (Southern Cal), Robert Griffin III of Baylor, and Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M.
Both Barkley and Tannehill are very talented, but Griffin has the greatest upside. His strong arm can really stretch the defense, which complements his speed and scrambling ability perfectly (he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds). The son of two military parents, Griffin has the intelligence and leadership to be a positive force in the Redskins’ locker room for years to come.
Grossman’s contract expires after the 2011 season, and his career in Washington has probably run its course. Whether it is Beck, Griffin or another prospect who will start for the Redskins next season, he can feel significantly less pressure knowing that he replaced someone as infuriating and disappointing as Grossman.
Priority No. 2: Wide Receiver
Santana Moss has led the team in receptions the past two seasons, but won't be able to carry the load for long.
Washington has not had an impressive set of receivers in a long time.
Santana Moss and Chris Cooley have led the Redskins in receptions for five out of the past six seasons. Both will be in their 30s before next training camp begins, however, and the team needs to develop some receivers for the future.
One of the best developmental strategies is drafting a quarterback and a No. 1 receiver in the same year. This allows them to establish a report and develop chemistry.
Shanahan has almost no choice but to take a quarterback at some point, and he should draft a receiver to pair him with. Alshon Jeffery and Justin Blackmon, two top-10 talents unlikely to fall to Washington, headline this class of receivers, but there is still value to be found in the second or third rounds.
One of those prospects is Dwight Jones, a 6'4", 225-pound receiver from UNC who runs a 4.53 second 40-yard dash and has all the physical tools to be the Redskins’ top wideout. He is ranked as the sixth- or seventh-best receiver in the draft, and he could easily fall to the second round, where Shanahan would do well to draft him.
The Redskins have young, fast receivers in Anthony Armstrong and Terrence Austin, so it is time to draft a possession-receiver, like Jones, who can make plays near the goal line and dominate smaller corners.
Priority No. 3: Offensive Line
Second-year tackle Trent Williams leads a young offensive line that could use some experience and leadership.
When an offense is struggling as badly as Kyle Shanahan’s is right now, poor offensive line play is often the reason why. This is not the case in Washington, but the current group is a far cry from Shanahan’s group in Denver. There is some talent across the starting five, but depth is a real problem.
The Redskins have already had two linemen go down with injuries: Trent Williams and Kory Lichtensteiger. Their most respected backup is Will Montgomery, who is now filling in for Lichtensteiger at left guard.
After Montgomery, the list gets pretty thin. The Redskins could add depth in the later rounds of the draft, but the line is not lacking in youth: the average age of the starting O-line is only 26 as it is, and that includes 30-year-old Jammal Brown.
If the Redskins have the cap room, grabbing a veteran free agent or two to bolster the line could pay huge dividends. Even some of the highest paid guards and centers are not too expensive, and protecting their young quarterback needs to be a priority for management.
For once, Daniel Snyder’s money could be spent on something that actually helps the team win games.
Priority No. 4: Cornerback
The Redskins could use some help at cornerback, since they evidently cannot rely on DeAngelo Hall to shut down top receivers.
The Redskins defense has performed well this season, but they could soon be facing issues at cornerback.
DeAngelo Hall is not a true shutdown corner. He has value because of his ability to create turnovers, but he lacks the coverage skills to contain the No. 1 receiver on most teams.
The next cornerback on the depth chart is Philip Buchanon, who will be a free agent in 2012. Buchanon performed well in 16 starts last season and could be worth re-signing. He has only played in one game this season, however, and may ask for more money than he is worth.
Letting him go could give the front office an opportunity to improve at the position in one of two ways.
One staple of Daniel Snyder’s tenure as owner of the Redskins has been the expensive free-agent acquisition, so it is best never to rule that out as a possibility. Kansas City Chief’s corner Brandon Flowers, whose contract will expire after this season, is one of the best cover corners in the game, and he’s only 25 years old.
Shanahan, the coach who traded for Champ Bailey, may be tempted to exercise Snyder’s deep pockets for a guy like Flowers or even a disgruntled Asante Samuel. Either one of these free agents would ease the pressure off Hall and the safeties, also allowing linebackers like Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan to get the quarterback more often and making the defense that much more effective.
Shanahan could also elect to draft a corner, maybe even with a second- or third-round pick. However he and Haslett choose to approach the problem, the Redskins get beat too often in pass coverage, and that needs to change next season.
Both strong safety LaRon Landry and middle linebacker London Fletcher will be unrestricted free agents this offseason. Assuming the Redskins re-sign the two undisputed leaders of their defense, coordinator Jim Haslett will have a strong unit again next year, and the Redskins can expect to be in every game.