Reporting Grant Paulsen
The Redskins have lost double-digit games in each of the past three seasons, posting a 15-33 record while being out-scored by 224 points. It goes without saying that Washington – having not had a winning season since 2007 – has a plethora of draft needs.
When you struggle the way the Redskins have recently, you’re not just a player away.
Mike Shanahan and his staff did a tremendous job addressing the Redskins’ two biggest needs over the past couple of months. Washington traded up to the No. 2 pick in the first round to guarantee itself a quarterback of the future (most likely Baylor’s Robert Griffin III).
The Redskins then signed a pair of wide receivers who should be able to help the team’s rookie quarterback this coming fall, inking Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan on the opening day of the NFL’s free agency period.
Garcon, 25, is coming off a career year that saw him catch 70 passes and score six touchdowns. The fifth-year veteran has seen his receptions and yardage totals increase in each of his NFL seasons. Having scored touchdowns of 87, 57 and 66 yards over the past three seasons, Garcon will give the Redskins a chance to make the plays post-catch that the team has lacked over the past few seasons.
But even with those two needs having been addressed – and time will tell how effectively – Washington still has several areas it needs to upgrade, in either free agency or via the draft.
Over the course of the week, I’ll be looking at many of the Redskins’ biggest remaining needs; taking into consideration what the team has already done this offseason.
The team’s remaining to-do list starts with right tackle.
This is a position where Washington already has a projected starter under contract. When the Redskins traded for Jammal Brown the team hoped that he was going to return to full health and play like the All-Pro he once was in New Orleans. That didn’t happen in his first season with Washington back in 2010.
Then he was re-signed before the start of the 2011 season (to a five-year, $27.5 million contract), and again the hope was that he was on the verge of encountering a break-through with his health. But he didn’t. His hip still affected him and various other ailments resulted in Brown missing more games last season (four) than his first year with the Redskins (one).
The bigger problem than Brown having only started 26 of the 32 games during his time in burgundy and gold is that his play has become extremely inconsistent. I don’t think it would be inappropriate to assume that head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan would be uncomfortable with a rookie quarterback being asked to take the types of shots Washington has allowed from off the right edge over the past couple of seasons. The production from that position just hasn’t been good enough.
Washington allowed 108 quarterback hits in 2011, third-most in the NFL. That number has to come down, and one way for the Redskins to dramatically improve the chances of keeping their quarterback upright is by upgrading the right tackle position.
Most of the top available free-agent tackles have signed elsewhere in free agency. Jared Gaither (Chargers), Eric Winston (Chiefs), Levi Brown (Cardinals), Demetrius Bell (Eagles) and Anthony Collins (Bengals) are among the tackles who have inked new deals this offseason.
Former San Diego Chargers stud-lineman Marcus McNeil may be the best remaining offensive tackle on the market. The problem is that he comes with a worse injury history than Brown did.
McNeil, a 28-year-old former second-round draft pick, is a two-time pro bowler. But McNeil suffered a neck injury last November that ended his season. He’s reportedly had neck surgery in the past (back in 2008) and was diagnosed with Spinal Stenosis (the narrowing of the spinal column) prior to being the 50th pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
Longtime New York Giants offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie could be a plug-and-play option as well. He hasn’t missed a game since 2009 and he’s missed just five games since 2005. But like most of the players still available, there’s one major flaw with McKenzie. He’s 32, which is older than the age Washington has targeted in free agency the past two offseasons.
McKenzie is entering his 12th NFL season. The 6-foot-6, 330-pound lineman may very well be able to serve as an upgrade in the short-term, but the Redskins have spent the past couple of free agency periods looking for long-term contributors and solutions.
The team’s best bet to find a long-term starting right tackle is the draft. But with no second round pick (Washington packaged it with a pair of future first round selections to move up to No. 2); the Redskins’ currently aren’t slotted to make a second pick until the third round.
There will be a handful of quality tackles available in the third round, and a couple of them might even be good enough to start in the NFL come September. It should be noted as well that in Mike Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme, he values linemen differently than most of the league’s executives.
A third-rounder in the eyes of most teams might get a second-round grade from Shanahan. It’s this type of evaluating that has allowed Kory Lichtensteiger to go from out of the league to a quality run-blocking left guard and Will Montgomery to go from back-of-the-roster long shot to a trusted starting center.
There’s no denying that the Redskins are in desperate need of a safety (they have one safety who was signed to be a starting safety on their roster). The club could benefit from adding another cornerback and depending on London Fletcher’s contract negotiations, may still be in the market for a starting inside-linebacker. But right tackle is the Redskins’ biggest remaining need.
If you’re going to acquire a quarterback of the future on the first day of the draft, you need to have a pair of offensive tackles who you know are going to be healthy and able to keep your kid-passer’s jersey clean.
If the Redskins weren’t going to be drafting a quarterback with the No. 2 pick, I may prioritize safety ahead of right tackle. But either Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck is going to be wearing a Redskins’ uniform come September. The only way to give them a chance to flourish is to provide them with the type of protection that rookie second-rounder Andy Dalton got in Cincinnati last season.
Dalton was hit 60 times in 2011. Only three quarterbacks were contacted less, and one of them threw for 5,000 yards.
Adding a quality right tackle who will protect Washington’s new signal-calling investment would be a major step toward giving Griffin (or Luck) a chance to meet the lofty expectations that will be placed in front of them as they begin their NFL careers.