The Washington Redskins swapped out two veteran defensive linemen and replaced them with a pair that coaches and team officials view as upgrades. However, even if Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain do deliver on that promise, the Redskins’ decision-makers remain very much youth-focused as they aim to fortify this position group.
The addition of McGee, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract that included a $4 million signing bonus and $9 million in guaranteed money, and McClain, who signed a four-year, $21 million deal that featured a $5 million signing bonus and $10 million guaranteed, did not change coaches’ plans to rely on some of the young linemen already on the roster or the team’s intentions to draft at the position next month.
The Redskins decided against pursuing some of the top defensive line options in free agency because they remain convinced that the draft is the best way to build a roster. And coaches believe that second-year pro Anthony Lanier, and A.J. Francis and Joe Mbu, who both spent last season on the practice squad, will develop into rotational players who can have an impact.
Lanier displayed promise last preseason, but coaches still felt that he needed to get stronger and more seasoned before handing him a significant role in the defense. Lanier, a 6-foot-6, 282-pound Alabama A&M product, suited up for four games, but a foot injury forced him out of the final month of the season.
Francis and Mbu both boast impressive size at 6-5, 330, and 6-3, 310, respectively, but both lack experience. Francis, a former Maryland standout, has appeared in just three games in two previous stints with Miami and Seattle, and Mbu played in two games for Atlanta in 2015.
Francis and Mbu could wind up competing for the starting nose tackle position, however. The Redskins plan on using McClain and McGee as ends in their three-man front. Veteran Ziggy Hood, who re-signed this week, also could remain in the mix. Second-year pro Matt Ioannidis could as well.
And the Redskins still plan to address the defensive line in the draft, people familiar with their plans say. Those plans, plus the potential coaches see in Francis, Mbu, Lanier and Ioannidis, factored greatly in team officials’ decision to allow Chris Baker to depart in free agency and to release Ricky Jean Francois to save $4 million against the salary cap.
Draft analysts call this one of the deepest draft classes at defensive tackle and end in recent years. So, whether it’s a first- or second-round selection, Washington could potentially find a player capable of pushing for a key role as a rookie.
Note: Defensive back Darius Butler, whom the Redskins hosted for a free agent visit on Thursday, has decided to re-sign instead with the Indianapolis Colts, reportedly on a one-year, $3 million deal.