They haven’t let their minds entertain the subject at great length, but the Washington Redskins’ players all know the breakup is coming. After one last game Sunday against the New York Giants, the team’s failed 2013 campaign will conclude. In the days, weeks and months that follow, Washington’s roster will be significantly overhauled. Coach Mike Shanahan could depart as well.
“As a group, we all know this is going to be the last time we’re together,” outside linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “Nobody’s naive to the situation. This is the NFL. This is a situation where a lot of guys are on one-year deals or whatever the case may be. But things change year after year. Obviously this will be the last time we’ll suit up together, and hopefully we can go out with a bang to at least get the bad taste out of our mouth and finish the season somewhat on a positive note.”
Of the 53 players on Washington’s roster, 17 have expiring contracts. Four more players who are on the team’s injured reserve list also will hit free agency. Even more will get cut for cost-saving or performance reasons.
It’s possible that fewer than half of this year’s players will wear burgundy and gold next year.
The defense will be hit the hardest. Seven of the 11 defensive starters are impending free agents, including longtime Redskins like Orakpo, London Fletcher (who has said he expects to retire), Reed Doughty and DeAngelo Hall. The only current starters under contract for next year are outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, nose tackle Barry Cofield and free safety Brandon Meriweather. (Stephen Bowen is a starter at right end but has been lost for the season to a knee injury. His replacement, Chris Baker, will be a free agent).
Linebacker Rob Jackson and cornerback E.J. Biggers, who are frequent contributors off the bench, also have expiring deals. Some of the defensive players could return, but others likely will not, as all of the players are well aware.
“That’s every year in the NFL locker room,” said inside linebacker Perry Riley Jr., who would like to re-sign with Washington. “The rosters are constantly changing from year to year. It’s just another year in the NFL, and it comes with the business.”
On offense, wide receiver Joshua Morgan is the only starter who will be a free agent next season, but longtime fan favorites like Santana Moss and Fred Davis also will hit free agency. Meanwhile, an offensive line that has struggled with consistency is expected to experience a degree of change as well, although all five starters remain under contract.
Controversy has encompassed this team for the past month, and questions regarding Shanahan’s future have swirled for the past three weeks. Meanwhile, the losses have continued to mount, making changes inevitable.
But the players have tried to block out the questions about the future while purposing to battle for one another.
“There’s just so much uncertainty. You don’t really know what’s going to happen,” Morgan said. “You just savor this last game with your teammates, but other than that, you can’t really worry about nothing else. The bond that’s created in the NFL is with you and your teammates. That’s the brotherhood. Those are the people you end up talking to years down the road. . . . So you just enjoy that bond with your teammates regardless of your circumstances, regardless of your record, regardless of your coaches or whatever. You play for what you play for and just make sure you keep a tight grip on that and never lose your grip on nothing.”
The Redskins’ roster might have taken on a different look next season regardless of whether this season had featured success or failure. Management had made an effort to keep the roster largely intact the past two offseasons despite the $36 million salary cap penalty that restricted the number of new players they could have brought in.
This year, those penalties are no more, and the Redskins could have more than $20 million to spend in free agency this spring. But because of all the expiring deals and the poor performances during this 3-12 campaign, team officials still may have to take a frugal approach to cover all of the team’s needs.
However, players are interested to see how things play out.
“It’s going to be an exciting offseason for a lot of different reasons,” Hall said. “For this team, to get some of the cap money back, for some of the guys in this locker room, to see what direction we go in, for myself to figure out where I land, for [Meriweather], E.J. [Biggers], for Josh [Wilson]. It’s going to be a lot going on for a lot of guys in this locker room for the offseason. It’s pretty interesting. Definitely pretty interesting. And not just the secondary.”
Players all said they wouldn’t allow themselves to reminisce about their time together as they approached Sunday’s finale. They would reserve those emotions for after the season. Meanwhile, Shanahan — who has refrained from discussing the uncertain future ahead — encouraged his players to bring their best efforts in their last hurrah.
“Guys that are out of the playoff hunt, you go back as a head coach or as a GM and you take a look at a lot of the games that players are playing when they’re not playing for a playoff spot to see which guys play at a certain standard,” Shanahan said. “I know when I came here I took a look not only at the last games — the three last games of the season — I looked at how they practice, the practice squad players over the last three weeks. I think you can tell a lot about somebody when they’re not necessarily playing for a playoff spot.”