Let’s start on defense first. Washington needed to bring in fresh faces at just about every position given how poorly the unit fared in 2016. The Redskins improved at inside linebacker and safety with the signings of Zach Brown and D.J. Swearinger. Brown, 27, and Swearinger, 25, should both serve as upgrades at their positions, but it’s unclear whether they can be long-term solutions or simply stopgap players this year. Brown signed a one-year deal and will likely attempt to cash in next offseason with a long-term deal after failing to do so in 2017. Swearinger signed a three-year deal, but he doesn’t have any true guaranteed money beyond 2017. With 10 draft picks this year, the Redskins should seek to pick a young safety to pair with Su’a Cravens down the road and try to find a talented inside linebacker to groom.
Along the defensive line, Washington parted ways with veteran defensive linemen Chris Baker and Ricky Jean Francois, while adding Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee. Is the unit better off now than it was last year? It’s difficult to tell at this point. Washington should improve against the run with McClain, 28, and McGee, 27, but there are some questions about McGee’s position. The Redskins will use him as a five-technique defensive end, although everyone I’ve talked to outside the organization believes McGee is a better fit at nose tackle because of the tools he lacks as a pass rusher. The Redskins still need another five-technique tackle, however, and they need a nose tackle as well if McGee is projected at defensive end. As well-respected as defensive line coach Jim Tomsula is as a position coach, Washington still needs more talent here.
Washington could also select a pass-rusher in the draft given the questions beyond Ryan Kerrigan on the roster. Trent Murphy is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and he’s staring at a four-game suspension to start the season. Junior Galette, who was brought back on a one-year deal, hasn’t played a snap in his two seasons with Washington because of injuries. Preston Smith is a very talented pass-rusher, but he’s been inconsistent during his first two seasons.
On offense, Kirk Cousins should be in Washington for at least one more season after the team placed the franchise tag on its starting quarterback for the second consecutive year. The two sides have until July 15 to negotiate a long-term deal, but should Washington select a quarterback in this draft? With 10 picks, it wouldn’t hurt to draft one in the later rounds like the team did with Nate Sudfeld, a sixth-round pick, last year. There are some talented quarterbacks available in the first two rounds, but that would send the wrong signal to Cousins if the franchise really wants to lock him up long-term.
Beyond Cousins, the Redskins didn’t bring back veteran wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, but they signed Terrelle Pryor to a one-year deal. Jackson and Garcon both racked up over 1,000 receiving yards last year, but Cousins should still have enough weapons in 2017 with Pryor, wide receivers Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder, and tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, who re-signed before the start of free agency.
Will Washington invest another top pick on offense like it did last year with Doctson? Pryor will become a free agent after 2017, so there’s logic behind drafting a wide receiver with one of its 10 picks. It would make more sense to snag one of the top three running backs with the 17th overall pick. The Redskins have a nice duo with Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson, but there are some dynamic running backs available in the first round. Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey would both add another dimension to Washington’s offense with their athleticism and versatility.
Washington will have the same offensive line from 2016, which is great news. There are two holes it will need to address moving forward, however. The Redskins lack a backup option at center with John Sullivan reportedly signing with the Los Angeles Rams and Kory Lichtensteiger’s retirement two months ago. So Washington needs depth at center beyond Spencer Long, who had a solid season in his first opportunity at the position. Washington should also bring in competition at left guard, where Shawn Lauvao started 14 games last year.
With many needs addressed, at least in the short term, via free agency, the Redskins have the latitude to draft the best player available on their board when their turn arrives each round. Yes, the defensive line is still the weakest position, but they don’t have to force that pick in the first round. There will be some good options on Day 2 in what’s considered a deep draft class. Washington’s main priority in the draft should be stocking up on talent, regardless of position, because with the way the roster is structured in 2017, we’re staring at another significant roster turnover in 2018.