Redskins’ Bruce Allen fails to take care of secondary first as NFL free agency opens

Jason Reid
Columnist March 11

Washington Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen must have an ingenious plan that required him to be patient as NFL free agency began Tuesday. Perhaps the team’s leader will unveil his secret strategy soon, and his thinking will become clear. Until then, though, one question comes to mind: Has Allen actually watched the Redskins’ secondary play?

Anyone who has observed Washington’s awful defensive backfield realizes the team needs major help at cornerback and safety, and it was available as free agency kicked off with many franchises aggressively pursuing top players in an attempt to fill needs. And then there were the Redskins. There were no corners or safeties — let alone potential difference-makers at those positions — among the first five players the Redskins signed on the opening day of the new league year.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

By failing to quickly address the secondary, Allen made yet another strategic mistake (after using the franchise tag on outside linebacker Brian Orakpo) in his first offseason in charge of constructing the roster. He should have done what it took to acquire a proven corner or safety capable of helping the Redskins build something they haven’t had in years: an effective secondary. But on a day the Redskins needed to make a big splash, Allen only produced ripples.

His first moves were to bring back linebacker Perry Riley Jr. and wide receiver Santana Moss. In addition, Allen added guard Shawn Lauvao, linebacker and special teamer Adam Hayward and wideout Andre Roberts.

The Redskins drafted and developed Riley, who led the team in tackles last season. It made sense to retain him, especially considering there’s still a hole to fill at the inside linebacker spot opposite Riley. Moss’s declining stats the past few seasons have coincided with his shrinking role in the offense, and he turns 35 in June, but he’s still good in the locker room.

Along the offensive line, the Redskins must improve at right tackle as well as guard. Maybe Lauvao will provide a boost at one interior position. Considered a top-notch player on special teams, Hayward joins a unit that was comically bad last season. Top wideout Pierre Garcon will welcome Roberts, who possesses scare-the-defense speed.

With the exception of re-signing Riley, however, Allen could have made the other moves later in free agency. That’s when most teams pursue role players such as Lauvao, Hayward and Roberts. There’s usually an early run on star-caliber players because, well, they’re stars.

And what’s most disturbing about Allen’s troubling start is that the Redskins have money to spend, but Allen seems to have no clue how to spend it.

The Redskins actively pursued former Carolina Panthers safety Mike Mitchell, a person familiar with the situation said, but were outbid by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mitchell, 26, had a breakout performance with Carolina last fall after four so-so seasons as a member of the Oakland Raiders. The Redskins envisioned him teaming with cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who is coming off a great rebound season, to anchor a rebuilt secondary. Instead, the Steelers will now look to Mitchell to improve their team.

Mitchell reportedly received a five-year, $25 million contract. Granted, that’s a lot of money. In order to get quality players in free agency, though, you have to be willing to pay them. The Redskins began the process $18.58 million under the salary cap. They had the resources to go all out for Mitchell but chose to spread it around. That’s smart thinking in approaching free agency in some years — but not this one.

The Redskins finally have flexibility after the expiration of the two-year, $36 million cap penalty imposed by the NFL. They’re coming off a drama-filled 3-13 season in which former coach and team architect Mike Shanahan was at war with quarterback Robert Griffin III and burned every bridge in sight until owner Daniel Snyder surrendered and paid Shanahan $7 million not to work next season. The Redskins have finished last in the NFC East division in five of the past six seasons. For the Redskins, now is not the time to take a let’s-wait-and-see approach with an area of glaring need.

What’s also confusing is that Allen was willing to overpay for Orakpo. In his first major player-personnel decision after replacing Shanahan, Allen used the franchise designation on Orakpo, who will receive at least $11.455 million next season. That’s way too much money for an edge rusher who has merely been a good player.

Even with Orakpo, the Redskins’ pass rush hasn’t been disruptive enough since the team switched to a 3-4 alignment. It appears highly doubtful the Redskins will improve their defensive line, which wasn’t very good last season, anytime soon. That’s why they need better players on the back end of their defense.

There’s still plenty of time for Allen to surprise Redskins fans. He may have a trick or two up his sleeve. But you get a sinking feeling that there’s just nothing there.

For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

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