Washington Redskins' Bargain Guide to the 2015 Offseason
The Washington Redskins ought to be careful shoppers this offseason. The roster has many needs, specifically in the secondary, along with the trenches on both sides of the ball.
Each position requires marquee reinforcements. It's impossible to find them at every area of need in one free-agency cycle.
Fortunately, ample bargain options on the market could provide immediate help. They include a versatile rush linebacker who would fit well in the team's more attacking version of the 3-4.
There's also room for an unheralded safety. In addition, a beefy nose tackle who may have played his way into a decent deal after a proving himself a solid option in 2014 might be available.
Here are the six bargain buys the Redskins would be smart to target this offseason.
Players Washington Should Target
Washington's new-look front office must tread carefully during free agency. That's especially true with $13, 328,139 worth of cap space, per OverTheCap.com. New general manager Scot McCloughan can work to increase that number by dumping some high-priced contracts.
Veteran defensive players Barry Cofield Jr., Stephen Bowen and DeAngelo Hall, along with aging and ineffective right guard Chris Chester, seem like prime candidates, per Spotrac.com.
But smart use of the shears notwithstanding, McCloughan's work will only do so much. He's also a team builder who emphasizes the draft, dubbing it a team's "lifeline," per Mike Jones of The Washington Post.
McCloughan has also indicated a resistance to signing players over 30 who've been molded elsewhere, according to ESPN.com's John Keim. That means players 25-30 with good upside and reasonable contracts will likely appeal to the former San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks executive.
The following players fit the bill without breaking the bank.
Jerrell Powe, NT, Houston Texans
Washington's transition to the 3-4 defense hasn't been smooth sailing since 2010 for one simple reason: The team hasn't had a big man in the middle.
The three-man front scheme won't ever work without a man over center who is beefy and powerful enough to occupy blockers and fill gaps. Houston Texans behemoth Jerrell Powe is an intriguing candidate.
At 6'2" and 331 pounds, Powe is certainly the mass of humanity that Washington's base front lacks. The 27-year-old appeared in every game for the Texans in 2014, making a trio of full starts.
He's adept in the two-gap techniques of defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's version of the 3-4. Yet there's still a fair chance this man mountain will be on the market.
For one thing, Houston used a third-round pick in last year's draft on ex-Notre Dame defensive anchor Louis Nix III. Knee surgery wiped out his rookie year, but Nix will still get plenty of chances to make the grade.
The Texans relied on 36-year-old free agent Ryan Pickett to fill in last season. If he retires, Powe's situation may change.
But if the one-time Kansas City Chiefs draft pick is available, Washington should take a chance. Powe has the mammoth frame to keep inside linebackers clean and clog running lanes.
Those are useful skills even in a more attacking version of the 3-4. Head coach Jay Gruden has stated his defense will switch to a more "shoot-the-gap" philosophy up front, according to Mike Jones of The Washington Post.
That means more one-gap principles. But even a more aggressive front needs a natural anchor, a lineman who can occupy double-teams.
Considering teams don't play their base defense as often in the NFL, nose tackle is still an important position, but not one that justifies a high-round draft pick or a big-money contract.
So offering a reasonable deal to Powe to be the focal point of the line on run downs is a true bargain worth considering.
Sam Acho, OLB, Arizona Cardinals
Sam Acho is another intriguing potential bargain who could be useful along Washington's defensive front seven. He's a classic 3-4 outside linebacker with the versatility and core pass-rush instincts that coaches covet at the key position.
Acho can switch to either side of the formation and use his thick frame to set the edge against the run. The 6'4", 257-pounder was a useful member of the Arizona Cardinals' solid run defense in 2014.
He's also adept in coverage, as evidenced by three career interceptions. Acho understands zone drops and how to read a quarterback's eyes.
If there's one area of concern, it's his inconsistent pass rush. Acho notched seven sacks as a rookie in 2011, but he followed that with just four in 2012.
Those numbers came in previous play-caller Ray Horton's version of the 3-4, more of a traditional guise. Acho then missed his chance to make a quick transition to the more attacking system of Horton's successor Todd Bowles.
He played in just three games in 2013 due to a broken leg. Acho did appear in all 16 games in 2014, but he was limited to a mere four starts.
But despite his durability and consistency issues, Acho remains a solid 3-4 linebacker who could be developed into much more. Washington's new defensive coordinator Joe Barry comes to the team after coaching linebackers for the San Diego Chargers.
He could help Acho refine his overall game. If Acho could make the leap, the 26-year-old would be an interesting possible replacement for pending free agent Brian Orakpo.
Washington's first-round pick in 2009 has had his own injury issues. He's missed 25 games in six seasons, including nine in 2014.
Orakpo also failed to carry the franchise tag and maintain stellar production. He notched just half a sack in seven games last season.
If the Redskins decide Orakpo is surplus to requirements, Acho would fit as a potential starter or at least as quality depth on both sides.
Marcus Gilchrist, SS, San Diego Chargers
To say this team needs safety help would be a gross understatement. The current starters, Brandon Meriweather and Ryan Clark, are aging, ineffective free agents.
Unfortunately, this year's market doesn't offer pickings as rich as last offseason. Safety is also far from the strongest position group in the 2015 NFL draft class.
These factors mean the Redskins may be best served searching for a bargain or two among less heralded options. In previous seasons, that approach has been a problem that's created the longstanding issues at the position.
But it doesn't have to be that way. All that's required is smarter, more selective shopping. Step forward, Marcus Gilchrist.
He put up solid numbers as the starting strong safety for the San Diego Chargers in 2014, including 76 combined tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles.
Gilchrist was the second most active tackler on the Chargers defense. He was forced into learning run support the hard way thanks to San Diego's soft 26th-ranked rush defense. It's telling that the only defender with more tackles than Gilchrist was fellow safety Eric Weddle.
But Gilchrist wasn't just active in the box. More importantly, he was a member of the NFL's fourth-ranked pass defense. The 26-year-old broke up five passes and snatched an interception.
His skill and comfort in coverage would be major assets to a Washington pass defense that ranked 24th last season and was particularly vulnerable to the deep ball. He would also bring familiarity with Barry and the type of scheme he wants to run, something that's a major asset for a new coordinator.
Gilchrist is a quietly solid pro who won't command top dollar on the market. For the price of a reasonable contract, the Redskins could claim a safety who is well-versed in run support and surprisingly capable in coverage.
Pernell McPhee, OLB, Baltimore Ravens
One of the keys to the more aggressive schemes Gruden and Barry are planning will be more versatile players who can thrive in multiple roles and alignments.
Pernell McPhee is one of the more flexible front-seven pass-rushers on the market. He's been a classic situational jack-of-all-trades for the Baltimore Ravens and coordinator Dean Pees' fire-zone pressure defense.
McPhee has rushed from a standing position off either side of the line. He's also attacked the pocket from a three-point stance, both off the edge and even from the inside as a 3-technique interior rusher.
Pees and ex-secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo, a master of the zone blitz, even designed pressures that had McPhee drop into underneath coverage. This range of skills is essential in helping a hybrid playbook work.
McPhee is also coming off his most productive season after appearing in all 16 games in a situational role. He recorded 7.5 sacks, 27 tackles and four pass breakups, all career-high numbers.
He'd be a great addition to Washington's base and sub-package defenses. The 6'3", 280-pounder would set a hard edge against the run and rush the passer from the outside in the 3-4.
From nickel and multiple-defensive back fronts, it would be anybody's guess where McPhee would line up and attack from.
The 26-year-old may be ready to cash his crackerjack-like skill set into a starting role. But even if he does, the lack of starting experience would rule out a bloated contract.
The Ravens would be unlikely to stand in his way considering they can still rely on Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil on the outside. Courtney Upshaw and Albert McClellan also provide strong depth.
He may not be essential in Baltimore, but McPhee could become an invaluable roving weapon in a more multiple scheme in D.C.
Joe McKnight, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
One obvious thing missing from Washington's offense is a dynamic and explosive third-down running back. The special teams could also use a dangerous, big-play return man.
McCloughan could score both for a modest fee provided he's willing to take a chance on Joe McKnight. The 27-year-old possesses game-breaking, field-stretching speed in the return game. He's particularly effective on kickoffs, gaining 65 yards on three returns in 2014.
As a running back, McKnight won't ever offer too much as a ball-carrier. But he is versatile and sure-handed enough to be an effective receiver out of the backfield.
McKnight's two touchdowns for the Kansas City Chiefs last season came on receptions in Week 3's 34-15 road win over the Miami Dolphins. They were part of a six-catch, 64-yard effort during which McKnight struck on screen passes, swing patterns and circle routes out of the backfield. He also flexed into the slot and even split out as a wide receiver.
But Gruden's desire for more big plays and flexibility from his running back rotation could convince Washington to overlook the problem. Bleacher Report Analyst Chris Simms has indicated Gruden prefers a more "electric" option for third-down back, also noting how the team entered the Darren Sproles sweepstakes last offseason—another shifty runner, capable receiver and prolific return man.
Provided he can return to full health, McKnight could fit the bill for what Gruden wants at a minimal sum.
Stefen Wisniewski, C, Oakland Raiders
Stefen Wisniewski isn't an elite offensive lineman, but he's young, versatile and bigger than Washington's current interior blockers. The latter quality is something that could put the 26-year-old Oakland Raiders starter on McCloughan's radar.
The new general manager once stated his belief that football is a "big man's game," per CSN Washington reporter Rich Tandler. That may be McCloughan's view, but it hasn't been the way in Washington since previous head coach Mike Shanahan was appointed in 2010.
He favored lightweight, more mobile blockers to carry out his famed zone-blocking techniques. But Gruden has always preferred a power-based game.
He may deem 6'3", 315-pound pivot man Wisniewski as a more suitable alternative to last season's starter, 6'2", 296-pounder Kory Lichtensteiger. The veteran converted guard is a capable blocker but is certainly slight for the type of offense Gruden and McCloughan clearly envisage.
If the franchise hierarchy still thinks Lichtensteiger is worth keeping around, Wisniewski would fit at guard, a position he's played before. The team needs an upgrade on 32-year-old Chester, who's set to count for $4.8 million against this year's cap, according to Spotrac.com.
Wisniewski could hit the market after spurning several contract offers from the Raiders, according to AP reporter Josh Dubow. He has plenty of potential to improve and would help out at two positions along the interior of an O-line that surrendered 58 sacks in 2014.
Each of the players on this list would be useful additions at key positions where the current roster is lacking, all for minimal fees. None is over 27 years old, and in the case of Acho, Gilchrist, McPhee and Wisniewski, some could even develop into excellent starters.