By 4 p.m. Saturday, the Redskins must cut 22 players to form the initial 53-man roster of the 2016 season. Note the word “initial”; a lot can change between now and the Sept. 12 season opener against Pittsburgh. After players pass through league-wide waivers, Washington could make additional signings and part with some of the players who did survive Saturday’s cut.
It’s believed that General Manager Scot McCloughan and director of pro personnel Alex Santos will seek additional help at outside linebacker once additional players become available. They should have a few to consider. About 682 players (aside from Washington’s 22 cuts) will hit the streets between now and Saturday as each team gets down from 75 to 53 players. Some will re-sign to their original team’s practice squads – if they have remaining eligibility – once they pass through waivers unclaimed.
Unlike in the past, when the Redskins had poor records the previous year and thus ranked high on the waiver-priority list, they now rank 21st and could see desired players awarded to other teams ahead of them.
But all that will sort itself out this weekend. Between now and then, team brass has some difficult decisions to make at a number of spots on the roster.
Here’s a look at five of the toughest calls the team could have to make:
1. Third quarterback vs. a player who can help elsewhere: Washington likes rookie Nate Sudfeld, but all of the decision-makers agree that he’s a year, maybe two, away from reliable backup status. The Redskins would like to keep Sudfeld and develop him for a larger role in the future. But does that mean keeping him on the 53-man roster, or the practice squad?
The practice squad would involve a big roll of the dice, as he would have to go unclaimed on waivers before the team could sign him. Sudfeld showed promise. Another team could snag him, possibly. A 53-man spot would avoid that risk. But can Washington really afford to carry a third quarterback — an automatic inactive on Sundays — and pass on carrying a player at another position who has a chance to contribute every week, whether on special teams or as a backup on offense or defense?
2. Veteran defensive linemen: Some within the organization prefer to carry six defensive linemen, while others lean toward seven. But settling on this group isn’t easy. Chris Baker is a lock, and Ziggy Hood had the best preseason of any player on his unit. But Ricky Jean Francois, Kendall Reyes, Cullen Jenkins and Kedric Golston could face some uncertainty. Another veteran, Jerrell Powe, and rookies Matt Ioannidis and Anthony Lanier, and another youngster, Corey Crawford, definitely do. Neither Jean Francois nor Reyes managed to significantly distinguish himself. They should both make the cut, but who starts?
The recently signed Jenkins still seems to have some left in the tank entering his 13th year, but he has only two practices and one preseason game under his belt. Golston worked almost exclusively as the starting nose tackle, but Hood also saw a fair amount of action there with the first unit. You could make the argument that Hood is more versatile and effective at either nose or end, and that the team can’t afford to use a spot on Golston for only eight to 12 snaps a game. Golston is a well-respected member of the locker room and organization, and his release would come as a bit of a surprise. But how much weight will sentimental value carry on a unit that desperately needs to improve?
Lanier has shown great promise, but he remains raw and probably isn’t realistically ready for prime time. He and Ioannidis (who only had a few bright spots) could both benefit from a year on the practice squad.
3. Four running backs or three? Matt Jones and Chris Thompson are locks, but who joins them? It’s hard to envision this team carrying more than three running backs, although the injury histories of both Jones and Thompson, and the promise displayed by both Rob Kelley and Mack Brown, makes it almost seem smart to carry four. That means trimming from another position. They’re already going without a fullback most likely, and it also seems unlikely that the team will carry more than three tight ends (look for Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis and Niles Paul to make the cut).
So another unit would lose a member if this happened. Both Kelley and Brown have something to offer as running backs and special-teams contributors. But, realistically, could the team get one of them onto the practice squad and call them up later if someone got hurt? Or did that monster night as a 1-2 punch make both too valuable to risk losing to waivers?
4. Four safeties or five? Some within the organization would probably prefer to go with seven defensive linemen, nine linebackers, six cornerbacks and four safeties. Others lean towards six defensive linemen, nine linebackers, six corners and five safeties. Who wins this argument? Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland, Greg Toler, Quinton Dunbar, Dashaun Phillips and Kendall Fuller are the six corners who seem set to make the roster. DeAngelo Hall and David Bruton Jr. are your starting safeties, but if he can stay healthy, Duke Ihenacho could wind up pushing Bruton for time. Will Blackmon seems too valuable and versatile to part with. Those four, then, seem like virtual locks.
But Deshazor Everett played like a man determined to force his way on to this roster. The second-year pro, who made the team as an undrafted rookie last season and has become one of its top special teams players, just might carry too much value to pass on. Hall, Bruton and Blackmon also all have only so much football left in them. Keeping a young player around to develop makes sense.
5. Eight offensive linemen or nine? This could come down to needs elsewhere and the level of comfort with the center depth chart. It seems as if only seven offensive linemen will dress for games — the five starters, a swing tackle and a backup guard/center. It’s difficult to dress eight, with only 46 of the 53 players active on game days). That’s why Spencer Long’s development at center was so important.
But are the Redskins confident enough in Kory Lichtensteiger’s durability and Long’s readiness behind him to go without Austin Reiter and Josh LeRibeus? Reiter probably offers more promise than LeRibeus, who has played more games but remains inconsistent with his snaps. Reiter still has practice squad eligibility, however, and the team could look elsewhere for more center help. With that in mind, keeping eight offensive linemen — Trent Williams, Shawn Lauvao, Long and Lichtensteiger and Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses, along with Ty Nsekhe and Arie Kouandjio, would be a logical choice.