Reporting David Elfin
What do London Fletcher, DeAngelo Hall, Brandon Meriweather, Brian Orakpo, Perry Riley and Josh Wilson have in common?
Yes, they’re all starters on Washington’s defense. But they also share another bond. None of those six players have contracts for next season, meaning more than half of coordinator Jim Haslett’s regulars have special motivation this season.
“Any time you go into a contract year, if you have common sense, not only do you want to play well for us, you want to play well for other teams that are out there so you can have the best leverage for contracts,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan acknowledged. “We’ve got a lot of guys on our football team that we would like back. Hopefully [each of them has] the type of year that warrants that type of big contract because we would like to take care of our players.”
And, as Shanahan noted, after two years of swallowing an $18 million salary cap hit because of alleged contract improprieties, Washington will be back at the same level as the rest of the NFL next year while not having the expense of a first-round pick thanks to the 2012 trade with St. Louis that eventually brought quarterback Robert Griffin III to town.
It’s not just three of the four linebackers (Fletcher, Orakpo and Riley), both cornerbacks (Hall and Wilson) and safety Meriweather who are unsigned for next year, of course. So are tight end Fred Davis, receivers Santana Moss and Josh Morgan (the Redskins can void the remaining three years of the deal he signed in March 2012 as is the case with Meriweather), as well as No. 3 safety/special teams captain Reed Doughty and No. 3/4 corner E.J. Biggers. A dozen teammates are also in the final years of their contracts. That’s a hefty 23 players on the 53-man roster.
However, Hall, who took a huge pay cut to return to Washington this season, said that playing on a one-year contract won’t drive him. Wilson seconded that notion. After all, unlike their baseball and basketball counterparts, football players’ contracts are rarely guaranteed for their duration. There are no Alex Rodriguez-type situations in the NFL. That’s why football players try to have so much of their contract paid via the signing bonus – see Haynesworth, Albert.
“This is the NFL so you’re always motivated,” said the 28-year-old Wilson, who was traded to Baltimore in 2010 after three years with Seattle and then signed with Washington the following summer. “You keep playing every year and be glad that you’ve still got a job. As a secondary, we started out slow last year. There were some things I definitely wish I could have back. Late in the year, DHall and I definitely stepped up and made some plays which was a reason why we won seven straight games the division. We were ranked 12th in the league the year before [in pass defense] so being ranked where we were last year [30th] wasn’t a good feeling.”
Nor was Hall feeling good after being cut, albeit for cap reasons, in March. Nor were Orakpo and Davis happy about missing most of Washington’s first division title-winning season of their careers because of injuries that ended their 2012 campaigns in Week 2 and Week 7, respectively. Fletcher, who’ll be 39 next May, and Moss, who’ll be 35 next June, might not want new contracts but they could be writing the final chapters of their illustrious careers. And Orakpo, Riley and Jackson are all seeking their first contracts as unrestricted free agents.
While it’s highly unlikely that the Redskins can re-sign all 23 potential free agents, the team will be operating under a full salary cap in 2014 for the first time in three years and won’t have to pay a first-round draft choice for the second straight year thanks to the 2012 trade that sent three first-rounders to St. Louis for the second overall pick, the one that was destined to become quarterback Robert Griffin III.
As Wilson said, NFL players – with rare Haynesworth-like exceptions – are always motivated. But if you notice the Redskins mentioned in this column playing with a little extra something this year, you’ll know why.
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.