by David Elfin

It might be a very dangerous combination. The Redskins are coming off their worst season in 20 years, meaning they have plenty of holes to fill. At the same time, often-aggressive owner Dan Snyder no longer has a lockout or a salary cap penalty keeping him from going on a spending spree when the NFL free agent marketplace opens today.

When the Redskins won the NFC East in 1999, Snyder’s debut season, he smelled Super Bowl in 2000 and bought aging Hall of Fame locks Deion Sanders and Bruce Smith as well coach-killing quarterback Jeff George and over-the-hill safety Mark Carrier. Washington slipped to 8-8 and Snyder fired coach Norv Turner and interim replacement Terry Robiskie. Smith was the only one of the big names to return in 2001.

After Steve Spurrier went 7-9 in his first season as Washington’s coach, Snyder sent “Redskins One” flying around the country to impress a free agent class that included “Jet-Skins” Laveranues Coles, John Hall, Chad Morton and Randy Thomas. Washington sank to 5-11 in 2003, Spurrier was fired, and only Hall and Thomas lasted even until 2005.

NFL Free Agency Tracker

When the Redskins rose from 6-10 in 2004 to 10-6 plus a playoff victory in 2005, Snyder thought he could win a championship by dishing out huge contracts to free agents Adam Archuleta, Andre Carter, Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El. Washington promptly plunged to 5-11, the worst of Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs’ 16 seasons. Archuleta and Lloyd were lousy on and off the field and were soon gone. Randle El never became the playmaker he was supposed to be. Only Carter really produced and that wasn’t at a Pro Bowl level.

Most infamously, Snyder and his lackey/front office boss, Vinny Cerrato, outbid everyone for Albert Haynesworth in 2009 with $41 million guaranteed. However, the talented defensive tackle only played hard when he was playing for a new contract. His selfishness helped ruin coach Jim Zorn and bedeviled successor Mike Shanahan for a year.

Now Snyder, general manager Bruce Allen and new coach Jay Gruden have already devoted more than $14 million of next year’s cap by slapping their leading pass rusher, Brian Orakpo, with a franchise tag and by re-signing their top defensive back, DeAngelo Hall.

Still, the Redskins have enough money – close to $18 million — to be able to address some of their concerns such as:

  1. safety, where the underwhelming Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty are both unsigned and might wll not return;
  2. inside linebacker where London Fletcher retired and Perry Riley Jr. remains unsigned as the 4 p.m. deadline approaches;
  3. defensive end where Stephen Bowen’s career is in jeopardy because of a serious knee injury and Jarvis Jenkins, Chris Baker and Kedric Golston haven’t been difference-makers;
  4. offensive line where only Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams is a true keeper among the five starters;
  5. receiver where Leonard Hankerson likely won’t be recovered from a torn ACL until training camp and veterans Santana Moss and Josh Morgan are unsigned and not expected back.

If stud cornerback Darrelle Revis is cut by Tampa Bay as reports indicate will happen, Washington would likely pounce. Failing to land Revis, the Redskins could pursue another corner to use in a three-man rotation with Hall and 2013 second-round draft choice Amerson or if Gruden and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett decide to move the 30-year-old Hall from corner to safety.

As much as some would like to see the Redskins sign four starter-quality O-linemen, a corner, two starting safeties, a true No. 2 receiver to play opposite franchise record-setter Pierre Garcon, a formidable defensive end and a solid inside linebacker to play alongside Riley, not even the teams with the most cap space could accomplish all of that.

On the other hand, Riley should be the only priority to re-sign among a group of potential unrestricted free agents that aside from Doughty, Meriweather, Morgan and Moss includes disappointing corners Josh Wilson and E.J. Biggers, reserve linebackers Nick Barnett, Rob Jackson, Bryan Kehl and Darryl Tapp, third-string quarterback Rex Grossman, suspended tight end Fred Davis, and center J.D. Walton, a December pickup who has never suited up for Washington. Those nine players combined to start just 25 games for the 2013 Redskins, 16 by Wilson.

As far as free agents whom Snyder might covet beyond the plethora of available corners, Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd might be the top player available and could form a fine duo with San Francisco’s Donte Whitner. Miami’s Chris Clemons and Cleveland’s T.J. Ward would be a cheaper tandem.

The Redskins would be smart not to overpay for Eric Decker of Denver or Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants and instead find their No. 2 receiver with their second-rounder in May’s draft. Washington could gamble on the less-productive Golden Tate, who also returned punts (a big need) for run-oriented Seattle, or make an offer to restricted free agent Andrew Hawkins, who played for Gruden in Cincinnati.

There aren’t many good 3-4 defensive ends on the market, but Baltimore’s Arthur Jones is worth serious consideration and Dallas’ Jason Hatcher has experience at the position although he’ll be 32 in July. That’s how old Arizona’s Karlos Dansby, the top inside linebacker, is and how old his Ravens counterpart, Daryl Smith, will be on Friday. That should only accentuate the importance of retaining top tackler Riley, who knows how to run Haslett’s defense.

The Jets’ Austin Howard and Anthony Collins, whom Gruden coached with the Bengals, would be the best bets to replace borderline right tackle Tyler Polumbus. Kansas City’s Geoff Schwartz could be a strong option if Gruden isn’t happy with right guard Chris Chester – who previously played for offensive line coach Chris Foerster in Baltimore — while Denver’s Zane Beadles is a possibility if the new coach isn’t a fan of left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, who, like Polumbus, was worth more in Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme. Green Bay’s Evan Dietrich-Smith and New Orleans’ Brian De La Puente are the top candidates if undersized center Will Montgomery is on the outs.

Whatever the Redskins do, expect it to happen fast. That’s Snyder’s style. He doesn’t have the patience to wait for the market to develop.

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.

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