Offseason questions: How much is Perry Riley Jr. worth?


Perry Riley Jr. led the Redskins in tackles this past season. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Continuing our look at some of the most pressing questions facing the Washington Redskins this offseason, today we examine inside linebacker Perry Riley Jr., whose contract expires this winter.

The Redskins and Riley’s camp have held initial negotiation talks regarding a new multi-year deal, a person with knowledge of the situation said. But thus far, a signing doesn’t appear imminent.

A fourth-round pick out of LSU in 2010, Riley has distinguished himself as one of the most impactful draft picks of Mike Shanahan’s time in Washington. Of Shanahan’s 34 selections, only six, Riley included, have developed into a full-time starters.

Riley spent the two previous seasons as London Fletcher’s sidekick at inside linebacker. But this past season, although Fletcher continued to make all of the defensive calls while serving as an on-field extension of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, Riley’s duties expanded as he more frequently drew pass coverage assignments. He also overtook Fletcher as the team’s leading tackler, recording 115. He also recorded three sacks and an interception.

Fletcher, now 38, is believed to have played his final game as a Redskin, and likely in the NFL. That leaves a gaping hole in the heart of Washington’s defense, which is why Haslett views Riley as a priority re-signing this offseason.

Riley, if re-signed, would likely take over as the “quarterback” of the defense. He has spent the past four years following Fletcher around and picking his brain in position meetings and in their own private video study sessions, trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible from the future Hall of Fame candidate. Riley has made plays for the Redskins, but he will have to raise his level of play another notch of two so he becomes more of a difference-maker for the defense. Late in the 2012 season, he seemed poised to do so in 2013. But Riley’s impact wasn’t as significant as it could have been. Redskins officials believe he can take the next step, however.

But, how much is Riley worth?

He’s probably worth more to Washington than other teams because the departure of both inside linebackers/leading tacklers would set the team’s defense back significantly. And so, Riley’s representatives will try to capitalize.

They’ll take into account the fact that in the past two years, London Fletcher made $10.75 million and will likely ask for more than that because Riley is younger and has the potential to develop into a more impactful player, people familiar with the league’s bargaining process predict.

Two other league insiders predict that Riley, who has earned an average of $790,000 a year over the past four seasons, will seek a similar contract to that of Miami’s Dannell Ellerbe, who last season signed a five-year deal that pays him roughly $7 million per year.  Will the Redskins deem him worthy of that significant a raise? Or, will they let him test the market to gauge his worth and then act accordingly?

After resolving Riley’s situation, the Redskins also must decide what to do about the other inside linebacker spot. Keenan Robinson, who missed all of his sophomore season in the NFL with a torn pectoral muscle, and Will Compton, promoted late in the year from the practice squad, remain under contract. But neither have proven themselves.

Some of the other top inside linebackers expected to hit the open market: Arizona’s Karlos Dansby, Baltimore’s Daryl Smith, who are both over 32 years of age, and San Diego’s Donald Butler, New England’s Brandon Spikes and Denver’s Wesley Woodyard, who are 25, 26 and 28, respectively.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.

Coverage from The Post:

Opening Kick: Which quarterbacks would you rather have than Griffin?

Kyle Shanahan officially named Browns offensive coordinator

Offseason questions: Should Brian Orakpo be re-signed?

D.C. Sports Bog: When Seahawks GM Schneider was with Redskins | More Bog

The Early Lead: Wilson joins Jay-Z, Beyonce at Nets; does Letterman | More

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @Insider | Insider on Facebook

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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