The Redskins entered free agency needing to make decisions on 18 players of their own whose contracts were expiring but also needed help at cornerback, safety and right tackle.
Punter Sav Rocca, guard Kory Lichtensteiger, tackle Tyler Polumbus, defensive end Kedric Golston, linebackers Rob Jackson and Bryan Kehl, tight end Logan Paulsen, fullback Darrel Young and long-snapper Nick Sundberg all agreed to new deals with Washington, and the team tendered restricted free agent nose tackle Chris Baker. In addition to Polumbus, Washington made two modest signings at right tackle: Tony Pashos and Jeremy Trueblood, both of whom are attempting to come back from injuries and revive their careers.
But Washington didn’t address its troubled secondary. In fact, the defensive back corps was weakened when the Redskins were forced to release cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who would have earned $8 million in 2013.
Now, the Redskins need at least two corners — one to start opposite Josh Wilson and another to cover slot receivers in nickel packages. The team also must address a hole at free safety after it chose not to re-sign last year’s starter, Madieu Williams. Strong safety is no sure thing with Brandon Meriweather still rehabbing from surgery on a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Washington made inquiries about a number of the cornerbacks on the open market, with New England’s Aqib Talib garnering the most interest. But as of last Wednesday, the team still was just $600,000 beneath the salary cap and couldn’t make a serious offer. Talib re-signed with New England for a one-year deal worth $5 million. Washington made inquiries about other cornerbacks, including Sean Smith, Derek Cox, Cary Williams, Antoine Cason and Greg Toler, but all signed with other teams.
The Redskins “just don’t have the cash to get a top corner,” said one person familiar with Washington’s deliberations. “The cap penalty really messed things up.”
The Redskins’ predicament stems largely from a two-year, $36 million salary cap cut levied by the league for the way Washington structured salaries in 2010, a season when the NFL had no salary cap. Goodell said Monday that he told the team personally that the league will not consider lessening the penalty.
“I’ve told the Redskins directly that there will be no change in that modification to their cap,” Goodell said at a news conference during a midday break in the NFL’s annual meeting at a Phoenix resort.
The team’s plan consisted of retaining many of their own players on cap-friendly deals and allowing longtime special teams ace Lorenzo Alexander to depart via a three-year, $9 million deal with the Cardinals. The team still hopes to re-sign tight end Fred Davis, who is recovering from surgery on his ruptured left Achilles’ tendon. But so far, the two sides remain apart financially.
The second half of the plan won’t play out until late next month.
One person familiar with Washington’s deliberations expects the team to use the NFL draft, which takes place April 25-27, to fill those holes.
Fortunately for Washington, which lacks a first-round pick but has seven picks in the six remaining rounds, this year’s draft class appears to boast a strong crop of safety and offensive line talent. Two league scouts and one other talent evaluator believe it is possible for the Redskins to select a starter at cornerback, safety and right tackle with their first three selections.
Remarking on the holes on Washington’s roster after the first wave of free agency, Coach Mike Shanahan said: “We will get to those [players] through the draft and possibly free agency or possibly guys that are out there that someone might not have the same level of skill that we think they have. So we will have them on our football team.”
Mark Maske in Phoenix contributed to this report.