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Redskins have work to do, needs to meet

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After months of evaluation, planning and strategizing, the Washington Redskins are poised to execute an offseason plan crafted with the intention of upgrading their roster to build on last season’s 10-6 campaign.

What exactly that plan entails remains to be seen. The salary cap-strapped Redskins appear to be in a holding pattern as crunch time approaches.

Beginning midnight Saturday, the league’s new arrangement permits agents to begin shopping their impending free agents to opposing teams. Players still can’t sign until the start of the new league year – 4 p.m. Tuesday – but are free to negotiate. Players released before then already are free to negotiate.

It’s believed that the Redskins have some work to do to get below the salary cap of $123 million by either restructuring contracts or releasing players. Washington is roughly $3 million over the limit, thanks to the $36 million salary cap penalty imposed last season by the NFL because of the way the team structured contracts during the uncapped 2010 season.

Washington, which was docked $18 million per season for two seasons, has been working to recoup at least some of this year’s cap space, but no changes had been announced as of Thursday night.

The Redskins need to clear significant cap space to pursue players on the open market, and re-sign some of their own 18 players who are set to become free agents.

The priority re-signings for Washington are believed to be linebacker/special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander and tight end Fred Davis. And it remains to be seen how last year’s starting left guard, Kory Lichtensteiger, and starting right tackle, Tyler Polumbus, figure into Washington’s plans. Meanwhile, tight end Logan Paulsen, starting fullback Darrel Young and outside linebacker Rob Jackson, who filled in for the injured Brian Orakpo last season, are among a handful of restricted free agents that Washington wants to keep in the fold.

But to meet its pressing needs in the secondary, Washington likely will have to turn to free agents or the draft. Thanks to injury, poor performance and subpar talent at the safety positions, Washington’s defense struggled against the pass last season, ranking among the worst in the league. It remains to be seen whether projected starting strong safety Brandon Meriweather can make a full recovery from a torn ACL, or whether free safety Tanard Jackson will be reinstated by the league after a year-long suspension for violating its substance abuse policy.

The picture at cornerback is equally unclear. Josh Wilson remains under contract, as does fellow starter DeAngelo Hall. But Hall is scheduled to count $8 million against the salary cap and is in jeopardy of being released unless Washington can restructure his contract. Cedric Griffin, who held down the third cornerback duties for most of last season, also is a free agent.

There’s both good and bad news when it comes to free agent defensive backs.

The good: the market features a number of quality safeties and cornerbacks. The safety crop includes Dashon Goldson of the 49ers, Charles Woodson, who was released this winter by Green Bay, Baltimore’s Ed Reed, William Moore of the Atlanta Falcons, Kenny Phillips of the Giants and Louis Delmas of the Lions. The cornerbacks on the market include the Eagles’ Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Aqib Talib of the Patriots, and Sean Smith of the Dolphins.

There also are a number of quality offensive tackles, including Cincinnati’s Andre Smith, Minnesota’s Phil Loadholt, New England’s Sebastian Vollmer and Eric Winston, formerly of the Chiefs.

The bad news: Because of its cap situation, the Redskins may have to go the more affordable route and sign less-established players such as cornerbacks Greg Toler of the Cardinals and Kyle Arrington of the Patriots, safety Chris Clemons of the Dolphins and tackle Ryan Harris, formerly of the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos. The team also could wait until the draft to meet needs it isn’t able to address in free agency.

People around the league have had trouble predicting how active the Redskins would be in free agency, mainly because of their salary cap predicament. Some sources have the said that Redskins were considering legal action to recoup some of the docked cap space, but as the negotiation period and signing start date approach, the team has yet to take action.

A number of Washington’s free-agents-to-be have received initial offers from the team, but the asking prices and the money offered differ significantly, and the team has yet to respond to counter-proposals.

More on the Redskins : Hamilton: Fletcher deserves another shot Will Redskins pursue Eric Winston? Figuring out Richard Crawford’s place on team

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