With the NFL’s free agency period now roughly two weeks old and the biggest flurry of action complete, Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said he felt ‘okay’ about his team’s moves thus far.
Overseeing the rebuilding efforts from last season’s 3-13 collapse, Allen retained pass rusher Brian Orakpo using the franchise tag and re-signed key defensive players Perry Riley Jr., DeAngelo Hall, Brandon Meriweather and Chris Baker. In an attempt to upgrade their pass rush, the Redskins signed former Cowboys defensive lineman Jason Hatcher, and they and added reinforcements at inside linebacker. They also added a wide receiver, cornerback and offensive lineman.
But outside of Hatcher, Washington failed to land any top-level impact players, and a number of needs remain.
“I feel okay,” Allen said in an interview at The Washington Post on Thursday afternoon. “It’s easier if you said we had one or two deficiencies to target players, but we needed to address every position on the football team except for quarterback. And, so we talked to a lot of players at the beginning of free agency, tried to calculate who we could afford and who we couldn’t, knowing that we needed at least a dozen if not more.”
The Redskins entered free agency with just more than $18 million to spend after designating Orakpo as their franchise player and re-signing Hall and Baker. The team pursued some of the top defensive backs on the market but wound up bowing out of those bidding wars and watched them sign elsewhere.
Safety represented one of Washington’s greatest needs, but it wasn’t until this week that Washington settled on re-signing Meriweather. The team remains in talks with veteran Ryan Clark, but thus far, the two sides have failed to reach an agreement. That could lead the Redskins to relying on the young talent already on the roster.
Asked about the approach at safety and the remaining plans, Allen said, “We re-signed Meriweather, and as I had mentioned, [2013 fourth-round pick] Phillip Thomas, we had high hopes for him last year. He was going to start for us and he ended up missing the year [with a Lisfranc injury]. So, we’ll see how they do, [and there’s] the draft coming up, and free agency does go until June.”
Washington this year had greater flexibility in free agency than in years past because of the absence of the $36 million salary cap penalty that the league leveled against the team (docking $18 million in each of the two previous offseasons) for how salaries were structured in the uncapped offseason of 2010.
Those penalties prevented the Redskins from meeting some needs in past years, and also forced them to address the futures of some of their players until this year, Allen explained. Although Washington had no penalties to work around this year, the roughly $30 million in cap space went quickly, forcing the team to practice restraint.
“As I said when I addressed the cap issue a year ago, some of these players, if we had the cap room that was taken away, we would’ve addressed them last year: the Perry Rileys, Brian Orakpo, DeAngelo Hall,” Allen said. “Being able to sign them in free agency was good. But, fiscal restraint, we’re trying to figure out the right value for the players.”
Hatcher represented the biggest outside signing. His addition is expected to help the Redskins accomplish their goal of upgrading the defensive line. Allen said a change in game-day philosophy also could help bolster the pass rush.
“The defensive line, we need to improve our performance and it’s the reason we also signed [defensive end] Cliff Geathers to it, and we’re not done. We got [Baker] back and we’re hoping Stephen Bowen comes back healthy,” he said. “Because now if you have a rotation in the system, we will be able to provide some heat. The other thing to note is, 50 percent of the time, we’re in the four-man. And when you run a 3-4 defense, a lot of times you’ll only dress five defensive linemen on game day. And I think we’ve been talking about addressing it to make sure we have at least six bodies, so they’re fresh and they’re pass-rushers. The last couple years, they’ve been run-stuffers that don’t give you much help in the pass.”
Offensive line upgrades also ranked high on Washington’s to-do list for this offseason.
The Redskins added guard Shawn Lauvao, who is expected to start at one of their interior offensive line spots. Meanwhile, Washington has worked to find additional pieces. They pursued tackle Donald Penn, but lost out on him to the Oakland Raiders. This week they also hosted center Brian De La Puente and guard/center Mike McGlynn, but neither has signed.
The Redskins do have three young prospects – 2012 draft picks Josh LeRibeus (guard, third-rounder), Adam Gettis (guard, fifth-rounder) and Tom Compton (tackle, sixth-rounder) – who remain on the roster, but have rarely played.
Allen expects to soon gain a better understanding of their capabilities so the Redskins know where they stand at those positions entering the draft.
“We’re going to find out,” he said. “We’re going to do some things a little bit differently on offense. We’re going to find that out. The great news is when you hire a new coach, you get to have an extra minicamp. We’re going to have that before the draft.”
Washington’s minicamp can begin April 7. Teams with returning coaches begin theirs April 21.
A few signings still could take place. Allen said as of Thursday, Washington had roughly $6.7 million in salary cap space to work with. But the true key to long-term success, he believes, lies in the NFL draft, where Washington must do a better job.
“Without a doubt,” he said when asked if the team must improve its draft success rate. “When you finish last, it means you weren’t building things right. … We have to do a better job. Now, hopefully Phillip Thomas comes back healthy, hopefully [running back] Chris Thompson comes back healthy [from a shoulder injury], and maybe last year’s draft will look a little bit better if they do, and if [safety] Bacarri Rambo improves.”
Allen later added that he has confidence that the team can soon develop into a consistent contender.
“When we were interviewing coaches and hearing how they were going to put their fingerprints on the team, it gave you a confidence that you’re closer,” he said. “We have made some wrong decisions. It is having a very good draft. It is making sure that some of these guys we got in free agency not only get play time but also are effective in their roles they are put into. I feel confident about our direction because of the coach we have and some of the components we have.”
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.
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