The team has $20.4 million in cap space dedicated to Alex Smith, who may never play again after suffering a gruesome leg injury in Week 11. That accounts for 10.7 percent of the team’s salary cap, according to the website OverTheCap.com. Smith and the team remain hopeful he will return, but that’s unlikely to happen for the 2019 season.
That leaves the Redskins with an expected $17.7 million in salary cap space, which ranks No. 24 of 32 teams, when free agency open on March 13.
What can fans expect to see from the Redskins in free agency? Let’s take a look:
They may be priced out of the QB market: Coach Jay Gruden has long expressed his appreciation of Colt McCoy, and Gruden could decide to go with him as the starter next season, signing Josh Johnson or another low-cost option to back him up and possibly drafting a quarterback either early or late in April’s draft.
The problem with that approach is that McCoy has yet to show himself capable of leading a winning team for 16 games, and injuries have often derailed his career, including last season. For a coaching staff and front office on the hot seat, relying on McCoy is a significant risk.
That’s why the Redskins could look to the free agent market for a quarterback to compete with McCoy, but the top option, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Nick Foles, is likely too pricey for Washington, considering Smith’s $94 million deal. Salary cap website Spotrac.com estimates Foles will have a market value of more than $19.2 million per year.
Tyrod Taylor, Teddy Bridgewater and Ryan Fitzpatrick are thought to be more reasonable options, but adding any of the three would likely require the Redskins to do some restructuring of existing contracts or cutting players (which will likely need to take place regardless of whether the team adds a veteran QB). And none of those players are considered to be high-level starting quarterbacks at this stage of their careers.
After last season’s offensive line debacle, they will likely add a guard: The team gambled last offseason by not being active in the guard market, and it was burned by that choice during the season when it went through three sets of guards because of injury.
Arie Kouandjio was considered likely to be the 2018 starter at left guard, but a season-ending surgery last summer to repair a torn quad ended that. He’s a free agent this offseason. Shawn Lauvao was brought back on a one-year deal despite his injury history and played just five games before landing on injured reserve. He’s unlikely to be brought back.
That leaves the team looking for a full-time starter at left guard, opposite Brandon Scherff. Rodger Saffold (Rams), Andy Levitre (Falcons), Ramon Foster (Steelers), Quinton Spain (Titans) and J.R. Sweezy (Seahawks) are believed to be the top guards available in free agency, but this is a position where the team could find a quality starter who fits within their cap space.
They are likely to sign a safety, as well: The Redskins traded a fourth-round pick to the Packers for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at the trade deadline, but he struggled in the Washington secondary. The team could bring him back on an affordable contract, but if not, it will have to find another option in free agency. The team released D.J. Swearinger before the final game of the regular season after he publicly criticized defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, and the future of safety Montae Nicholson is unknown after he was placed on the non-football illness list following an arrest on an assault charge.
The good news is there should be plenty of talent on the free agent market, starting with six-time Pro Bowl honoree Earl Thomas and also likely including Lamarcus Joyner, Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu and Adrian Amos.
There are no easy answers at wide receiver: Washington had one of the least productive receiving groups in the league last season, and slot receiver Jamison Crowder is a free agent who is expected to garner some interest on the open market.
“Crowder is very good at what he does. The injuries kind of bother you,” former Redskins general manager and NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly said. “But he’s one of the better slot receivers in the NFL.”
There is a chance that Crowder’s injury history — which includes being limited to nine games and 29 catches this season — will limit interest from other teams, and he is willing to sign a one-year prove-it deal with Washington for a reasonable price. The slot receiver market will include veterans such as Golden Tate, Cole Beasley, Randall Cobb and Tavon Austin, but it’s unclear that any of those players would be worth the cost for Washington.
They may have to let Preston Smith walk: Smith was ranked as the No. 13 available free agent this offseason by Pro Football Talk, and Spotrac estimated that Smith will command a four-year, $44.76 million deal. Given the Redskins’ salary cap situation and the fact that 2017 second-round pick Ryan Anderson is available to take Smith’s starting spot, Washington could let Smith walk and look to address depth with a cheaper option in free agency or the draft.
“You want to upgrade. You want to get a better pass rusher than him,” Casserly said of Smith. “He plays the run okay, but you need a better pass rusher, so you can’t overpay the guy. You might just put Anderson in there and go play . . . Smith doesn’t have outside speed, that’s what he lacks. Without having outside speed, that’s going to limit him as a pass rusher.”
The Redskins could target an aging veteran such as Clay Matthews in free agency, but the top edge rushers will likely be out of Washington’s price range.