Allen Off To Good Start As The Decider
There’s no arguing that the Redskins haven’t been winners during the first week of free agency. When your only losses are little-used outside linebacker Darryl Tapp and centers Will Montgomery — deemed expendable because of his declining play and rising contract — and J.D. Walton, who never wore a Washington jersey, those are hardly defeats.
Retaining top pass rusher Brian Orakpo with the franchise tag, fellow starting linebacker Perry Riley Jr. with a reasonable, three-year, $12 million contract, former starting receiver Santana Moss with a one-year deal that cost just $620,000 because he has played more than nine seasons, and mercurial safety Brandon Meriweather with a one-year, apparent $1 million agreement easily outweighs the departures of Montgomery and Tapp.
But Bruce Allen didn’t just keep his own guys after the franchise-worst plunge from NFC East champions in 2012 to 3-13 last year. Freed from former coach Mike Shanahan’s death grip on personnel, the general manager began by signing Andre Roberts from Arizona to be the complement to No. 1 receiver Pierre Garcon that 2012 failed free agent pickup Josh Morgan never really was. As a bonus, Roberts – like Moss – can return kicks, another area in which Morgan came up short. Roberts counts just $2.25 million this year under his four-year, $16 million deal.
With end Stephen Bowen’s future in doubt after microfracture knee surgery, Allen signed another former Cowboy defensive lineman Jason Hatcher, whose 11 sacks in 2013 made him the only player to lead Dallas in that statistic other than DeMarcus Ware during the past nine seasons. Hatcher’s four-year, $27.5 million contract looks hefty for a player who’ll be 32 this summer, but all $10.5 million of the guaranteed money is due in 2014 and 2015 when he’s still likely to be a contributor.
Clifton Geathers bounced from Dallas to Miami back to Dallas to Indianapolis and to Philadelphia the past four years, but fellow defensive end Chris Baker got into just two games during his first three seasons with Denver, Miami and Washington before becoming a valuable reserve in 2012 and a starter by the end of last season in Bowen’s spot. So the Redskins hope that new addition Geathers can follow that pattern and become a contributor on a line where 2011 second-round draft choice Jarvis Jenkins has been a disappointment and former starter Kedric Golston turns 31 in May.
There have been conflicting opinions about the value of guard Shawn Lauvao, who left Cleveland for a four-year, $17 million contract with Washington that counts $3 million against this year’s cap. But there’s no doubt that the offensive line needed a shakeup after last season. Plugging the 26-year-old Lauvao in at left guard and moving Kory Lichtensteiger from there to center is a start in that direction.
Young backups Josh LeRibeus, Tom Compton, Adam Gettis and Mo Hurt should realize that this offseason is their time to make a move for a starting spot since every job other than that of Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams should be up for grabs. Montgomery’s release should be a wakeup call for Lichtensteiger, right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Tyler Polumbus. The latter dodged one challenge when Bruce Campbell failed his physical after being signed from Oakland, but Donald Penn of Tampa Bay is also on Washington’s dance card.
Darryl Sharpton, who started 19 games for Houston the past four years, and Adam Hayward, a special-teamer during his seven years with the Buccaneers, could be candidates for playing time if 2012 fourth-rounder Keenan Robinson – who hasn’t played since November of his rookie year because of two torn pecs – isn’t ready to fill the inside linebacker spot vacancy created by London Fletcher’s retirement.
The only signing that seems questionable when it comes to the money is that of cornerback Tracy Porter. A starter for New Orleans’ Super Bowl champions in 2009, Porter was a backup with Denver in 2012 and a bust – a la Redskins free agent corner Josh Wilson — as a Raiders regular in 2013. Porter’s two-year contract actually counts more against the cap this season than that of No. 1 corner DeAngelo Hall, but Allen, who spent nine years working in Oakland, knows that leaving the Raiders for the Redskins rejuvenated Hall’s career and is looking for a repeat from Porter, who’s still just 27 and will compete with 2013 second-rounder David Amerson for Wilson’s old job.
Bringing back Meriweather is also risky, but it’s just a one-year deal. The king of illegal hits at least provides some insurance if 2013 rookies Phillip Thomas (who missed his debut season with a foot injury) and Baccari Rambo, who spent much of the year in Shanahan’s doghouse, aren’t ready to start at Washington’s long-problematic safety spots.
Perhaps Ryan Clark will agree to return to the Redskins to provide some wisdom and fire on the back end after eight seasons in Pittsburgh. The less talented but equally savvy Reed Doughty could be re-signed as an alternative and to continue his leadership on special teams.
In any case, new coach Jay Gruden certainly can’t feel that there aren’t still holes to fill on his roster. The Redskins don’t have the feel of a contender and they don’t have a first-round pick in May’s draft, but they are certainly a better team today than they were a week ago which is how things should be after a week of free agency with a relatively full cap.
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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