All of the offensive starters who powered Washington to the 2012 NFC East title are under contract save unexceptional linemen Kory Lichtensteiger and Tyler Polumbus. The only unsigned defensive starters are faltering free safety Madieu Williams and outside linebacker Rob Jackson, who’ll be a restricted free agent in six days and is supposed to return to a backup role in 2013 if two-time Pro Bowl pick Brian Orakpo is recovered from a torn pectoral muscle.
Coordinators Kyle Shanahan and Jim Haslett will also be back for their fourth seasons in command of the Redskins’ offense and defense, respectively.
However, Washington’s special teams have already lost longtime coordinator Danny Smith to Pittsburgh and could lose Pro Bowl special-teamer Lorenzo Alexander to free agency as the Redskins struggle to get under the salary cap and find the money to pay him and some of their other unrestricted free agents.
“I know they’re trying to get things done with the cap, but that’s not my issue,” said Alexander, who’ll be 30 in May and is aiming for the one big payday of a career that began on the practice squad in 2006. “I’m not worried if we don’t get a deal done before free agency starts. I want to be a Redskin, but I know that some other teams would be excited to have me as well.”
That includes the Steelers.
“I really enjoyed playing for Danny and I know he would love me to play for him again,” said Alexander, who led the NFL with 21 special teams tackles in 2012. “It’s a great time for me to be a free agent, coming off the Pro Bowl and winning the NFC East. I also showed I could help on defense when I had the opportunity to play a little bit.”
That mostly happened when London Fletcher was slowed by an ankle injury down the stretch, but the defensive captain had ankle surgery yesterday and is planning to return this fall at 38.
“I’ve started in this league [for Washington at outside linebacker in 2010] so while it would be nice to start again, it’s not driving my decision,” said Alexander, a co-captain, locker room leader, union rep, and one of just six players left from coach Joe Gibbs’ last Redskins team in 2007. “If the money’s close, I would stay and play behind London than go somewhere else where I might have a chance to start.”
If Alexander followed Smith out the door at Redskin Park, incoming special teams coach Keith Burns would be robbed of his top performer before ever blowing a whistle. With 16 special teams tackles, Reed Doughty was the only other member of Washington’s coverage units with even half as many tackles as Alexander did last season.
Losing special teams captain Alexander would be a blow just when Washington seemingly finally solved its longest-lasting headache in that aspect of the game with last October’s addition of near-deadly neophyte kicker Kai Forbath (17 of 18 field goal accuracy).
“We had a good year on teams,” Alexander said. “If we had done better in the return game, it could have been a great year.”
Indeed. While only Carolina, Chicago, Denver (for whom Burns was the assistant special teams coach) and New England outranked Washington in covering kickoffs and punts, the Redskins were in the middle of the pack on returns.
Brandon Banks, a find as an undrafted rookie return man in 2010, was so mediocre that he was benched in December in favor of rookie Richard Crawford on punt returns and second-year man Niles Paul on kickoff returns. Restricted free agent Banks isn’t likely to be back. Punter Sav Rocca, 39, is unrestricted and might not return after an underwhelming season.
The question is: will Alexander?
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin