NFL teams can begin wooing free agents at noon Monday in a frenetic two-day scramble to cut deals before they become official at the start of the new league year Wednesday afternoon. For the Washington Redskins, who once loved to win this time of year, the next few days might not be as explosive as many fans hope.
Last week’s trade for Denver Broncos quarterback Case Keenum has relieved the pressure to sign a starter to replace the injured Alex Smith. Instead of pursuing Teddy Bridgewater or making an expensive run at Nick Foles to keep him from going to Jacksonville, Washington seems content to let Keenum and Colt McCoy battle for the starting job and either trade for or draft its quarterback of the future.
The Redskins probably can’t afford to be big players in free agency anyway. They head into the week with $16.2 million of cap space, according to the website Over the Cap — a number that will decrease when the Keenum trade and his $3.5 million salary become official Wednesday. They can boost their available cap room to close to $35 million through moves that include the anticipated releases of linebacker Zach Brown and defensive lineman Stacy McGee and the expected contract extension they are supposed to give guard Brandon Scherff.
Still, with the need to keep enough cap space to sign draft picks, Washington’s targets these next few days might be more modest.
“We’ve got a lot of places where we can help this football team,” Doug Williams, senior vice president of player personnel, said two weeks ago at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
The most glaring is probably at safety where the Redskins probably will make a run at Giants star Landon Collins, a strong tackling player who was a team leader in New York, played in college at Alabama (a place from which Washington prefers players to come) and has expressed affection for the Redskins and Sean Taylor.
If Washington signs Collins, who is projected to make $10 million in free agency based on the fact he is just 25, it might not have much room left to chase other high-end players.
The Redskins like several of their own free agents, including wide receiver Jamison Crowder, edge rusher Preston Smith and tackle Ty Nsekhe, but all might prove too expensive to retain. Smith is projected to have a big market based on his breakthrough season last year. Crowder could fetch as much as $8 million a year, though injuries that limited him to nine games last fall might scare some teams away. Nsekhe, who proved valuable filling in for tackles Trent Williams and Morgan Moses, might be able to land a bigger deal to start somewhere else.
The Redskins seem to want to bring back running back Adrian Peterson, who ran for 1,042 yards last season, but other teams have expressed interest in Peterson, and Derrius Guice’s return from a torn ACL might keep them from offering too much for Peterson.
With nine draft picks this year, Washington probably will take a playmaker high in a draft filled with several fast, skilled wide receivers and tight ends. This eliminates the need to chase most of the top wide receivers in free agency aside from Crowder and maybe a player such as Dallas’s Cole Beasley — if the Redskins can get him at a bargain price. Last year, they gave Paul Richardson Jr. a five-year, $40 million contract to bring more speed to the offense, but injuries limited him to seven games and 20 catches, a return that makes it less likely they will spend heavily at the position again this spring.
Team president Bruce Allen talked a lot at the combine about collecting draft picks and starting the season with as many as 12 players from the draft, including undrafted free agents. This appears to continue a recent organizational philosophy that relies less on the kind of splashy, high-priced players the Redskins used to pursue and more on building depth and internal competition.
In addition to wide receiver, the draft is strong at positions where Washington has needs. It should be able to find a talented safety or edge rusher to compete with Ryan Anderson should Smith sign elsewhere. In free agency, the Redskins might look to add depth or even a starter at middle linebacker (to go with Reuben Foster, whom the team is expecting to be a big part of the defense following any league suspension for a pair of domestic violence arrests last year) and offensive line.
More than finding a talented receiver or quarterback of the future, Washington needs to protect the quarterbacks it has. After going through two sets of starting guards last year, the Redskins need to find a starter at left guard and strengthen the second unit of their interior line. Any signings they make at these positions might not excite people but could be essential to anything else they do this offseason.
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