Reporting David Elfin
The free agent signing period that starts tomorrow shouldn’t be that complicated for Washington after left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, who was going to be unrestricted, and outside linebacker Rob Jackson, tight end Logan Paulsen, long snapper Nick Sundberg and fullback Darrel Young, all of whom were going to be restricted, agreed over the weekend to remain with the Redskins.
If coach Mike Shanahan can convince No. 1 cornerback DeAngelo Hall, No. 3 receiver Santana Moss and a few less well-paid veterans to rework their contracts to create a decent amount of salary cap space, the Redskins should have the money to sign a starter at one of their three most problematic positions – free safety, cornerback and right tackle — leaving the others to be addressed with their second- and third-round selections in next month’s draft.
Tight end Fred Davis and right tackle Tyler Polumbus are the major remaining unrestricted free agents on offense. Former starting tackle Jammal Brown is probably done before he turns 32 because of bad hips. Whether backup tackle Jordan Black, 33, returns isn’t a matter of much consequence if Polumbus, who was surprisingly solid in place of the injured Brown in 2012, re-signs.
Disappointing free safety Madieu Williams is the only defensive starter who’s unrestricted and shouldn’t be re-signed. Third cornerback Cedric Griffin, still-suspended safety Tanard Jackson, reserve end Kedric Golston, and backup linebacker Lorenzo Alexander are also unrestricted. Reserve nose tackle Chris Baker is restricted.
Pro Bowl coverage ace Alexander and punter Sav Rocca are the UFAs on special teams. Benched return man Brandon Banks is restricted and shouldn’t be brought back.
While the 27-year-old Davis is the most talented of the UFAs, the Redskins did go 7-3 after he was hurt early in the loss to the Giants. So a case can be made to bid him farewell if he receives lucrative offers in the hope that converted receiver Niles Paul makes a leap forward in his second year at tight end. The Redskins certainly prospered with Paulsen and Paul sharing the position down the stretch in 2012.
Polumbus isn’t nearly as talented as Davis, but the former’s price will be a lot more reasonable than the latter’s. However, Polumbus’ potential replacements on the roster, Maurice Hurt or Tom Compton, have combined to start all of one game at right tackle. And Polumbus son to be 28, was originally brought to the NFL by Shanahan because he was a good fit for the coach’s zone-blocking scheme.
Davis and Polumbus are each more important to keep than Williams, Griffin (depending on whether Hall remains in Washington), Tanard Jackson or even former starter Golston, who’s great in the locker room. That’s also the case for soon-to-be 30-year-old special teams captain Alexander who should be retained, especially since he could wind up succeeding Pro Bowl inside linebacker London Fletcher in 2014 if the captain retires after this season at 38.
Although Chris Neild will return after missing 2012 with a torn ACL, there’s no reason not to bring Baker back to compete with him for playing time behind starting nose tackle Barry Cofield. Whether reserve linebackers Bryan Kehl and Chris Wilson return really only matters if Alexander departs.
Rocca will be 40 this fall, but he punted well for much of last season despite a torn meniscus. He also teamed smoothly as the holder for Kai Forbath, the best kicker Washington has employed in nearly two decades, so Shanahan should think twice before deciding to change punters yet again.
That leaves two names. Hard as it might be to believe considering that one was setting franchise records in 2010 while the other is older and was a major factor in the team’s lousy 2011 season, the Redskins shouldn’t re-sign the former but should keep the latter. Two-time Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley’s career might be over at 30, but former starting quarterback Rex Grossman, 33 in August, should be re-signed as insurance behind the unproven Kirk Cousins if starter Robert Griffin III isn’t ready for the opener as he recovers from knee surgery.
Have at it, resident cap wizard Eric Schaffer.
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