With the scouting combine two weeks away and free agency looming not long after that, the Redskins will have to be clever to fill their biggest holes while also becoming faster and more athletic — something Coach Jay Gruden wants and something many talent evaluators have noted when assessing Washington’s needs.
How they get there may be tricky given the lack of cap space. And even if they open up more cap room by releasing or trading players such as Josh Norman, Zach Brown and Vernon Davis, the players they bring in might not excite Redskins fans who are looking for splashy solutions.
Here is a look at the biggest positions of need, ranked in order of importance.
The Redskins do not expect Alex Smith to play in 2019. Running back Chris Thompson admitted as much when he recently told NBC Sports Washington that Smith playing this season “probably isn’t going to happen.”
But team management is concerned that Smith may never play again and has been preparing to find Washington’s next franchise quarterback. Still, the Redskins might not make a big move at the position. Gruden always has believed longtime backup Colt McCoy can be an effective NFL starter; players love McCoy’s fierce competitiveness in practice and that he knows the offense well. The team has started contract talks with last year’s emergency starter, Josh Johnson, who wants to return.
Many evaluators and analysts say that if the Redskins really like a quarterback at the top of the draft, then they should do everything they can to get that player; otherwise they should wait until later rounds and pick a player to develop.
Given the cap situation, Washington may well go into next season with McCoy as the starter, sign a journeyman to compete with Johnson and pick a quarterback in the second half of the draft. Even a player such as Teddy Bridgewater, who should be ready lead a team again after a year backing up Drew Brees in New Orleans, might be too expensive for the Redskins.
Given that the Redskins have lost Smith, need a legitimate playmaker on offense and have holes in their defensive backfield, it seems odd to say that offensive line is a position of need. After all, the line is supposed to be one of Washington’s strengths. But injuries have forced the Redskins to patch things together the past two years, cutting into the line’s ability to be as creative on offense.
After Smith, the coaches considered the torn pectoral that ended right guard Brandon Scherff’s season to be the most significant injury on the team. And while Scherff is expected to be back by training camp, Washington has to consider the injuries that have cost Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams 13 games in the past three seasons as well as the nagging ailments that slowed right tackle Morgan Moses last year.
At the least, the Redskins need to find a left guard to replace the departing Shawn Lauvao and add more depth, given that backup tackle Ty Nsekhe is a free agent. As the Redskins learned last year, the pool of good interior linemen is small. If a player such as Oklahoma’s Cody Ford, who can play either tackle or guard, is available when Washington picks in the first round, the Redskins might be compelled to take him.
The Redskins’ need for a significant playmaker was exposed last year even before Smith and Scherff went down. Injuries to receivers Jamison Crowder and Paul Richardson as well as Thompson, a third-down back, left the Redskins looking slow and lethargic. Tight end Jordan Reed, a Pro Bowl player in 2016, didn’t have the impact Washington hoped he would as he returned from offseason toe surgery.
Coaches continue to be confounded by receiver Josh Doctson, who fought through a painful heel injury to contribute at times, only to disappear at others. The team’s 2016 first-round pick needs to have a breakthrough season, but there is no certainty he will. Trey Quinn showed promise in the brief moments he was on the field, but ankle injuries robbed him of nearly all his rookie season.
So far the Redskins haven’t made a big move to bring back Crowder. Gruden likes him, but the receiver might be able to get as much as $8 million a year in free agency and Washington might not be able to afford that.
Free agent Golden Tate could be a great fit for Gruden’s offense but, like Crowder, is probably too expensive. Gruden wants his team to be faster, and the Redskins need receivers who can separate themselves from defenders. Antonio Brown will cost too much, but his cousin, Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown, is an appealing prospect. Does Washington dare take a first-round receiver again?
This is an obvious need given the Redskins currently don’t have any safeties aside from special teams player Deshazor Everett and last year’s fourth-round pick, Troy Apke, who was injured most of the season. Star D.J. Swearinger was cut the last week of the season; trade deadline pickup Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a free agent; and Montae Nicholson is on the reserve/NFL list after his arrest following a December fight in Ashburn. Even if Nicholson, whose legal issues are unresolved, returns, he is hardly guaranteed a starting role. His playing time had diminished before the arrest.
Clinton-Dix has said he would like to sign with the Redskins even though he struggled when playing with Swearinger. Coaches were increasingly frustrated with the team’s safeties at the end of the season, especially in Washington’s blowout loss to the Giants. Their belief that Swearinger had declined as the season went on made it easier for them to let him go after he blasted defensive coordinator Greg Manusky following a Week 16 loss at Tennessee.
In addition to Clinton-Dix, the top safeties available in free agency include Earl Thomas, Landon Collins and Tyrann Mathieu. None of them might be options, however, given the Redskins’ limited resources. They may have to look for a more modestly-priced safety and take one in the draft. Alabama’s Deionte Thompson could be an appealing prospect given Washington’s affinity for Crimson Tide players.
Free agent Preston Smith presents a quandary. The Redskins want to keep a player they spent four years developing, especially because he showed signs last year of becoming a top pass rusher, but he could be an attractive free agent for a lot of teams needing a pass rushing 3-4 linebacker.
Ryan Anderson played opposite of Ryan Kerrigan last year and had two sacks, but Smith’s 24.5 sacks in the past four years are hard to replace. Washington is helped by the fact there will be a lot of pass-rushing linebackers available in free agency, which could either drive down Smith’s market or lead them to a bargain with another player.