What’s left in free agency that can help the Redskins?

After a rough first week of free agency, the Redskins have demonstrated professionalism and patience in the second and third weeks of the 2012 league year, opting to forego competitive offers for the most shiny objects on the free agent market.  This process has allowed their current cap figure (estimated at $7.1 million under the cap) to expand on a relative basis as the rest of the NFL ran itself out of cap space.

That doesn’t mean the last two weeks have gone entirely without complication.  Though they have sufficient room under the cap, the Redskins have not been able to lock up London Fletcher.  They have been unable thus far to negotiate a long term contract with Fred Davis.  They’re not apparently close enough to needing more cap space to address contract issues with Trent Williams (high base salary) or Chris Cooley (potential cap casulty).

Still, lack of positive progress is hardly a bad thing.  There’s plenty of time to move the franchise in the right direction.  I believe the Redskins actively hurt their long term chances during the first week of free agency by downgrading in the secondary and spending too much on wide receivers who didn’t offer much of an upgrade over the current veterans on the Redskins.  The last two weeks have gone much better by comparision.

In this space below, I will address potential Redskins targets to fill their needs through free agents at bargain basement prices.

Need #1: Middle Linebacker

Option A: London Fletcher (37)
Option B: E.J. Henderson (32)
Option C: Geno Hayes (25)

There are still alternatives to be had here on the cheap if the Redskins can’t get The Captain locked up before the draft.  E.J. Henderson played his college ball at Maryland.  He’s had an injury riddled career, but outside of that, he’s a guy who is pretty comparable to London Fletcher when the Redskins signed him back in 2007.

Geno Hayes was a three year starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who is just 25 years old, remarkably young for a free agent.  Bruce Allen selected him in Tampa, but the new brass of the Buccaneers appears ready to move on.  It’s debatable whether he fits the prototype for the MLB position in Jim Haslett’s 3-4 scheme, but he’s stylistically similar to Fletcher: undersized, and can get sideline to sideline.

If the Redskins cannot address this before the draft, they will be forced to consider spending their third round pick on a guy like Nevada LB James-Michael Johnson, or possibly trading up for a falling Dont’a Hightower at the end of round two.  Neither option is an ideal starting option next season.

Needs #2&3: Safety

Option A: Chris Harris (30) & Yeremiah Bell (34)
Option B: Abram Elam (31) & Sean Jones (30) 
Option C: Husain Abdullah (27) & James Ihedigbo (29)

The Redskins need to bring in two safeties to compete with de-facto starters DeJon Gomes and Brandon Meriweather.  It is reasonable to assume that the Redskins have already turned their eyes to the draft to find those players.  Here we’ll just focus on what’s left in free agency.

The three proven commodities remaining at safety on the FA market are Harris, Bell, and Elam.  Any of those three would instantly become the Redskins’ top safety upon signing.  Husain Abdullah is an intriguing option because he fits with the model the Redskins have been operating on in free agency to get younger in the process of strengthening the roster.  Jones and Ihedigbo don’t really fit a philosophy, outside of the fact that of the six guys listed above, they are the ones most likely to play for a veteran minimum.

Possible Redskins targets in the draft include Christian Thompson of South Carolina State, Kelcie McCray of Arkansas State, George Iloka of Boise State, Tony Dye of UCLA, and then a pair of Big Ten safties: Aaron Henry of Wisconsin and Trenton Robinson of Michigan State.

Need #4: Right Tackle

Option A: Marcus McNeill (29) or Max Starks (31)
Option B: Kareem McKenzie (33) or Vernon Carey (31)
Option C: Barry Richardson (26), Brandon Keith (28), or Stephon Heyer (28)

This market has been incredibly slow to develop, and Demetrius Bell wasn’t going to be a great fit for the Redskins anyway (if Trent Williams had gotten the injury that Jason Peters did, Bell probably would have been a Redskin today). 

The best option for the Redskins would to get a veteran on a one year deal (sort of like Sean Locklear last season) who is coming off an injury (McNeill – back, Starks – ACL tear) and hope to get them healthy and able to compete with Jammal Brown for the RT position.  Both McNeill and Starks are good starting tackles in this league, given their health.

The next best option would be to sign a career RT who has a low market value (such as McKenzie or Carey, who both had poor seasons in 2011), and give the Redskins veteran depth at the tackle position, but depth that’s a clear step above the Tyler Polumbus’ of the world.  McKenzie and Carey are clearly reaching the end of the line, so while they would represent depth that can step in given the deterioration of Jammal Brown’s health, they would only be valuable on one year contacts, and we’d be doing the same dance again next year.

The only other option is to go significantly deeper into the FA market, and try to target players with a more favorable birthdate, though a questionable recent history of performance.  The reason I forced you to remember that Stephon Heyer was still in the league (sorry) is because I couldn’t in good conscience list Barry Richardson above without pointing out that Heyer is a MUCH better player.  Still, those two years of age make a big difference if you are talking about using the FA market to develop a starting RT.  28 is probably too old to do that with.  At that age, you’re essentially arguing that another team misevaluated their own talent by letting it hit the market.

In the draft, expect the Redskins to lock in early on Cal’s Mitchell Schwartz, or Florida State’s Andrew Datko.  If those two are off the board by the time the Redskins select in Round 3, filling this position in 2012 could be an adventure.

Need #5: Slot Corner

Option A: Alan Ball (27)
Option B: Donald Strickland (32)
Option C: Justin Tryon (28)

This need likely should be a lot higher, but then again, did you think I’d be able to find three needs greater than right tackle, a major weakness of the Redskins roster since 2007?

It’s kind of amazing that all the players that Mike Shanahan got rid of in the first two seasons he was here are now sitting out there as the best available talent to fill major needs on the Redskins roster on the cheap.  But hey, at least the Redskins didn’t give up on anyone who went elsewere to become a pro bowler….

Alan Ball was consistently torched in Dallas and was beaten out by Orlando Scandrick to be the slot corner in Dallas, but when you are talking about young players in the defensive secondary, you expect the results to be ugly early on.  That’s one of the reasons that the Redskins probably shouldn’t give up on Kevin Barnes just yet.  Barnes, like Ball, has at times been targeted by the opposing offense in the gameplan as a guy who will give up yards and points.  But, ya’ know, Aaron Ross was that guy as well up to and including the start of this season, and the Redskins tried to get him to be their slot corner just this past month.

Strickland has had some success off the bench as a reserve for Rex Ryan’s Jets.  And obviously, Tryon had a great season as the slot corner in 2009 here, a good enough season where the Redskins were able to get compensation for him in a trade with the Colts.  He had a good season with the Colts in 2010, but coming out of the lockout couldn’t work his way ahead of Jacob Lacey, was released, and briefly spent time with the Giants before ending up on IR around midseason.

The Redskins are reportedly very high on Vanderbilt CB Casey Hayward in the draft.  Hayward projects as a starter down the road in a loaded CB class.  Unfortunately, the last time the draft class was this strong at CB and the Redskins took one in the third round, they took Kevin Barnes, who I think needs more time to develop than he is going to get.  Alabama’s DeQuan Menzie would be a much better pick for the slot corner position, and could certainly play as a rookie.  The best guy for the job, Georgia’s Brandon Boykin, almost certainly will not be there when the Redskins select in round three.  Later on, Iowa State’s Leonard Johnson is an intriguing name, but I’m not sure he’s physical enough to play anywhere but the edge on defense.

Need #6: Edge Pass Rusher 

Option A: Matt Roth (30)
Option B: Jordan Walden (27)
Option C: Chris Wilson (30)

The Redskins have two guys on their roster who can get after the passer: Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.  Maybe two and a half if you think highly of Rob Jackson.  They need more depth than they have here, especially since they are locked in as a zone team who needs a pass rush to protect the corners and safeties (and linebackers) that can’t really cover all that well.

Matt Roth is by far the Plan A here.  He’s dealing with deteriorating skill, but Roth has serious experience in the 3-4 defense and was a clone of Ryan Kerrigan back when he was in his athletic prime.  Jordan Walden was the starting ROLB opposite Clay Matthews in Green Bay before losing that job.  If nothing else, he would figure to push Rob Jackson and Markus White for their roster spots, and is just 27.

And hey, look, it’s another (!) guy who would fill a Redskins need who was on the roster in the Mike Shanahan era, albiet, a guy who probably won’t be in the league next year.  Wilson didn’t play in 2011 after failing to make the Eagles roster and is strictly a reserve at this point.

Need #7: Versatile 3-4 Defensive Lineman w/interior pass rush ability

Option A: Wallace Gilberry (28)
Option B: Amobi Okoye (25)
Option C: Tommie Harris (29)

The Redskins need to find a guy who they can align at all three defensive line positions in their base defensive looks who has at least a limited repitoire of pass rush moves and can anchor at the point of attack.  If they don’t find this guy, then Kentwan Balmer just might end up making the Redskins roster.

Okoye would be a projection to this defensive front, but there’s no question he’d earn his contract as an interior pass rusher in sub packages.  Guys who have 4-3 experience would be nice in this role, because like Barry Cofield last year, you can line them up on the nose just as easily as you can line them up over the tackle, and you’re getting the same output.  In the words of the immortal Herm Edwards, “they don’t know what they don’t know.” 

Speaking of that, that’s exactly what happened with Tommie Harris in San Diego last year after Harris failed to make the Colts opening day roster.  Harris, a former pro bowler who ran into health issues, revitalized his career as a 3-4 end.  Harris is dealing with personal issues far more important than the game of football right now (his 29 year old wife passed away in Februrary), so it could be awhile before he gets back to the field, and he might even choose not to sign with any team in 2012.  But when he’s ready to come back to football, the Redskins should be interested.

Wallace Gilberry, of course, served the role precisely as defined above for the Kansas City Chiefs these last three seasons.

The best argument the Redskins have for staying away from these three guys is because you can find defensive lineman who fit this mold in the draft in the mid rounds and late rounds.  It might make sense for the Redskins to target Nevada’s Brandon Roy in the sixth round.

Need #8: Center or Right Guard

Option A: Chilo Rachal (26)
Option B: Dan Koppen (33)
Option C: Jason Brown (29)

Outside of right tackle, where the Redskins have been weak for no fewer than five seasons, the Redskins may want to address the only other spot on the current OL that is weak: when teams bull rush the right side A gap (on the defensive left).  They can do that by upgrading either Will Montgomery, or Chris Chester, both of whom are signed through the 2015 season. 

Rachal, who never fufilled his potential in San Francisco, took a step back this year when he played under Jim Harbargh, who prefered the kind of power-blocking ran at Michigan in the 1980s.  Rachal was drafted by an organization that employed current Redskins OL guru Chris Forester.  He’s just 26, and could be coming into his own.  The Redskins have not had any reported interest in him, which could be a damning evaluation of his potential, but they’ve also been slow to act on other players they have connections with, such as Bruce Allen’s Tampa 2008 draft class.

I don’t see how it could be much a surprise if the Redskins made a push for Dan Koppen if he’s unsigned after the NFL draft.  Koppen was the Pats Center in their dynasty, starting as a rookie and second year player on the 2003 and 2004 Super Bowl Champion teams.  His best seasons came between 2006-2008.  And although those years are in the rear view mirror, the Pats were one of the first teams to change from man blocking to exclusively a zone blocking offensive scheme.  Koppen was the centerpiece of that change.

And Brown would make sense in this scheme since the Redskins made it a point to target the OL of the Baltimore Ravens for it’s excess talent one year ago (settling on Chris Chester after chasing Marshal Yanda unsuccessfully).  Jason Brown was the center of that unit in 2008, when it was at its peak as a unit.  He’s still only 29 after an unsuccessful three year stint with the Rams.  I am told his benching in 2010 was not performance related.  Not sure you can say the same about his release.

This is a STRONG class in the draft, so I’d expect the Redskins to try to find their center of the future in the mid-rounds.  This should not exclude the Redskins from making a long-awaited FA play on the offensive line.

Need #9: Tight End/Fullback

Option A: Visante Shiancoe (32)/Owen Schmitt (27)
Option B: Jeremy Shockey (32)/Leonard Weaver (30)
Option C: Leonard Pope (29)/Moran Norris (34)

Welcome to the 2012 Washington Redskins, a team whose needs do not include “starting quarterback” but do include “dual-threat TE.”  A great example of how violently a team’s needs can change in two years.

The Redskins simply need to get better in the middle of the field throwing the ball.  Fred Davis is very close to emerging as one of the premier TEs in the NFL.  From interviews though, Mike Shanahan wants Chris Cooley to return in the role of a blocker and goal line option, because he is the best blocker at the position on the roster (again, a role that’s been reversed with Fred Davis since 2009). 

There’s not a lot left at the position, but guys who can line up on the line next to the tackle are listed here as options A-C.  All have the requisite receiving skills to control the middle of the field from the seam in, freeing up Fred Davis to align elsewhere in the formation (including the backfield when the Redskins are in 12 personnel).  However, there’s probably no room for any of these guys if Cooley sticks with the Redskins in 2012, so then it comes down to a value assessment.

Another option that might make sense for the Redskins if they are actually planning on spreading the field more often in 2012 is Dallas Clark, who played the slot receiver role for the Colts in 2007 and 2008. 

This is not a good tight end market in the draft.  The Redskins can probably do a better job identifying a late round talent at TE than I can for you.  No one really stands out to me.  It’s surely a need though, one created by the busting of Dennis Morris and some not-great film offered by Darrel Young last year means the Redskins are inadequate at fullback right now (as well as it’s alternative, the second TE).  My guess with the current roster is that FB is Cooley’s job to lose, meaning the Redskins No. 2 TE job is wide open.

Need #10: Foundation Running Back

Option A: Joseph Addai (29)
Option B: Tim Hightower (26)
Option C: Jacob Hester (27)

Because this is a Mike Shanahan offense, which never defines it’s foundation back prior to training camp, and because this is Kyle Shanahan’s variant of that offense, which never actually uses a running back as a foundation no matter what personnel he has on the roster, this need ranks a lot lower than it should.  But the Redskins currently have just Roy Helu, Tristan Davis, and Evan Royster under contract.  This is pretty clearly a position of need.

My qualifications to list names above were 1) six or fewer accrued seasons (drafted in 2006 or more recent), and have been at some point in the past a foundation of a team’s rushing attack.  A primary back. 

And then since only two free agents qualified, I had to get creative in listing Jacob Hester. 

This need will likely be solved when Tim Hightower re-ups.  But I think Addai is a far better option if we’re just trying to find a back for the 2012 season.  Which is the goal.

All the foundation backs in the draft will likely be gone by round four, but Isaiah Pead and Bernard Pierce are two guys who could be around later who would push Helu/Royster for the starting job.  Utah State actually has two different prospects who could offer an option at RB: Robert Turbin and Michael Smith.

Need #11: Backup Quarterback

Option A: Vince Young (29)
Option B: Nate Davis (25)
Option C: Hunter Cantwell (27)

To be completely honest, I would rather target a second quarterback in the draft then mess around with what’s left in free agency, but I do think it’s tough to just dismiss Vince Young based on what occured in Philadelphia last year, and if I could get him to ink a two year deal on a backup’s salary, I’d have no issue guaranteeing his money for 2012 in order to get a guy who could physically handle Robert Griffin’s responsibilities in the offense.

Late round prospects at the quarterback position include Kellen Moore, Russell Wilson, B.J. Coleman, Aaron Corp, Dominique Davis, Chandler Harnish, Case Keenum, Alex Tanney, Ryan Lindley, Darron Thomas, and Jacory Harris.  Yes, it is a deep class.