Can the Redskins Offense be Rebuilt Without the Draft?

It’s a legitimate question.  If this is the uncapped year that small market teams have feared for the last two decades, and the Redskins are one of the most payroll-adept teams in the league, this is a legitimate question.  It’s not, “can the Redskins rebuild an efficient team through free agency?”, or “is this the best course of action?” or “will there be repercussions from the league if the Redskins go this route?”  This is strictly an analysis to ask if there’s enough there to shift the team towards something that Mike Shanahan could win with without a noticible improvement on defense.

The key is this: the NFC East appears to be loaded again next year.  The Eagles are in a little bit of flux, but they might have the most talented team, the Giants are going to be at 9 or 10 wins even if they don’t solve their defensive puzzle, and at 10 or 11 wins, the Cowboys are looking like the team to beat right now.  If this team finishes in last place, it’s competing for nothing.  The gap between the Redskins and the rest of the division is large and needs to be closed primarily through free agency.  Is it even possible?

The thing is, the Redskins need to improve basically across the board on offense, and some positions don’t even offer upgrades.  For example, can the Redskins upgrade at quarterback?  Not if they can’t sign Chad Pennington, and in his case, is any amount of money going to be worth it to go to a system that doesn’t really emphasize his strengths and where he doesn’t have much by way of receivers or an offensive line?  Doubt it.

Of course, there are positions the Redskins can improve at by writing checks.  Running back seems easy enough.  One of the advantages of the zone blocking scheme is that it’s something run by a lot of college football teams, so most of the pool of available runningbacks has been successful in it before.  I don’t know if any of the big name guys are good fits here, I’d pass on Chester Taylor, Willie Parker, and Larry Johnson.  Darren Sproles might be available, but he’s been in a man blocking scheme exclusively for the last few years.  None of these options make more sense than having Clinton Portis for another year, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t twenty or so qualified backs that have been playing in the CFL or UFL or somewhere that could run the ball for the Redskins next year.

Looking outside of the backfield, things get more interesting:

Wide Receiver

The Redskins could sign up to two guys to play with their three young guys: Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas, and Marko Mitchell.  They would have to be willing to move Santana Moss or Antwaan Randle El to have the roster space, but that can be done in the uncapped year to improve via free agency.  And the receiver market is, if nothing else, intriguing.

Antonio Bryant is the one guy who sticks out as a threat on the outside that the Redskins have ties to through Bruce Allen who signed him in 2008 after he was out of the league in 2007.  The other option for a flanker position would be Seahawks UFA Nate Burleson.  But the Redskins are weaker on the interior and this is also a pretty interesting market for slot receivers.  Josh Reed has been with the Bills seemingly forever, but his contract has expired and he’s property of the highest bidder.  It’s hard to imagine the Redskins not having a place in the offense for Kyle Shanahan favorite Kevin Walter.  And although he’s bounced around the league for a year or two, Bobby Wade has proven to be a good third option in a west coast system.  Don’t know if I like Wade over Randle El, however.

At Tight End, I like Detroit free agent Casey Fitzsimmons as a backup to whatever role Chris Cooley will play next year.  They are the same breed of player.  Todd Yoder is unlikely to return.

Offensive Tackle

There’s about five guys in this free agent class that can line up at left tackle and not embarass themselves, even if they have help.  None would be a better option than returning Levi Jones in his current role.  Chad Clifton is the most highly touted of all free agent lineman, and he’s going to cash in somewhere, but his days as a league average left tackle are in the past.  Like Jones, he’s a below average LT at this point.  Tony Pashos last played right tackle for the Jaguars, and he’s never played LT before, despite career long speculation that he’s physically able.  Mike Gandy is more or less a Derrick Dockery clone who the Cardinals played at left tackle on a whim, and nearly won a super bowl with.  He’s basically a backup in the NFL, but he’s a marginal starter at left guard and would make an excellent sixth lineman.  Finally, Barry Sims is one of the weakest offensive tackles in memory, but he’s been able to keep himself employed by playing a position that’s in great demand and being unable to move inside without embarassing his line coach.  No one else in the class can can play left tackle.  Now you know why the 4th overall pick pretty much has to go to that position, unless Chris Samuels can gut out another season (and not just the first four games, thanks to career threatening spinal stinosis).

If you open up the discussion to career right tackles, then you can roll out names of servicable players like, well, Jon Jansen.  We’ve come so far in the last 8 months.  Mark Tauscher and Damien McIntosh are also barely servicable tackles in their mid-thirties, and Cornell Green is a bit less than that.  Wayne Hunter has never started a game in his career despite playing six seasons for Jacksonville and the Jets, but he’s intriguing because of his role as a sixth lineman/TE for the Jets, he’s got frequent game experience.  And unlike everyone else on this list, he’s not old as dirt!  Neither is Artis Hicks, but he’s pushing the players-who-would-backup-Stephon-Heyer category.

Guards

Weird position for the Redskins to improve in.  None of the available players are better than a healthy Randy Thomas, but what the heck is a healthy Randy Thomas anyway.  Chester Pitts has played left guard his whole career, and the Redskins have no real plans to bench Derrick Dockery yet.  So he could move to right guard, but more likely, Houston will franchise him.  Bobbie Williams doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a Redskins team that is going to try to install a zone/cut-blocking scheme, offers nothing Thomas doesn’t, and blocks the only real Guard prospect on the roster, Chad Rinehart.  Ben Hamilton, who played seven seasons for Mike Shanahan in Denver, is much more interesting, but ultimately still distracting from the greater purpose.  Then there’s Atlanta’s Kynan Forney, basically the same idea, without the personal relationship.  Everyone else just seems out of place in this discussion.  I can’t see the Redskins making a free agent move here.  Maybe if they release Randy Thomas, chasing Pitts or Hamilton makes some sense.  But even then, only a little bit.  And it wouldn’t be a good sign for Dockery.

Center

Casey Rabach is walking free on March 5, best of luck to him with the rest of his career.  The Redskins have some in-house options here with free agent Kory Lichtensteiger, and second year player Edwin Williams.  You should not be surprised if the Redskins add Casey Wiegmann on a one year deal after the NFL draft if the Redskins don’t pick anyone at the position.  Wiegmann was the Chiefs center from 2001 through 2007, and Shanahan offered him refuge on the 2008 Broncos, where he made the pro bowl for the first time in his career.  The catch is this: Wiegmann turns 37 prior to training camp.  He’d be no lock to make the team, but given the career starts of the top two guys on the depth chart right now (one), Wiegmann’s 160+ starts look all that more appealing.  And compared to Kevin Mawae, Wiegmann is really young!

All Redskins Pre-Draft Hypothetical Team

QB–Jason Campbell, RBs–Selvin Young, Andre Hall, FB–None, WRs–Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly, Kevin Walter, Marko Mitchell, TEs–Fred Davis, Chris Cooley, OTs–Levi Jones, Tony Pashos, Stephon Heyer, OGs–Derrick Dockery, Randy Thomas, Chad Rinehart, Cs–Casey Wiegmann, Edwin Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger

Would that team be able to compete with a league average defense?  That’s a barely serviceable offensive line.  Sacks from the Zorn year’s would probably decrease due to the simplifcation of the quarterback’s role in the offense, less to read means Jason Campbell takes fewer negative plays, which is good.  Probably costs him a bit of YPA in the process (7.1 –> 6.8?) due to fewer open receivers.

Sadly, all the money in the world isn’t going to get the passing attack to the next level.  The Redskins need to spend a few first round picks on skill position players (includes the LT) in order to bring the offense to the level of the last few Shanahan coached offenses.  It’s an offense that doesn’t throw to the backs very much, so adding a stud receiver to the mix wouldn’t hurt.  I think a signing like Kevin Walter could bring a lot of production, even if he can’t bring Andre Johnson with him.  It would give Jason Campbell a third proven target to throw to this season, besides his TE duo.  And he could eat the coverage that would bring Malcolm Kelly the one on ones that Mike Shanahan feels would make him a productive player.  And how about Devin Thomas out of the slot?  Could a linebacker or safety matchup with that?

But the offensive line isn’t even going to have an average player until the Redskins either get healthy, or draft an above average player.  Free agency doesn’t have a solution for the terrible offensive line.  It’s a position that needs to be a focal point of the draft.  And not just in the first round, though that’s where the LTs will go.  OL has to be the focus of the entire draft.  I’ll show in future articles how the Redskins can easily re-structure their front seven on defense with free agents.  And I’ll also show how there’s one position on that side of the ball that the team should consider addressing with the draft, even given the needs on offense.

It may be an uncapped year, but there’s not much out there on offense that will fit into the scheme and help the team win.  Link to me the next time someone suggests to you that free agency can solve the issues with the OL.

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