WASHINGTON — Sure, “eligible free agents” isn’t really a category one likes to lead the league in, but at least it means the team has some quality players on the roster.
ESPN’s John Clayton ranked the top 50 NFL free agents heading into the 2017 offseason, and the Redskins are one of just three teams with four players on the list. The other teams are the New England Patriots, who finished with the league’s best record (14-2), and the Arizona Cardinals (7-8-1).
The four Redskins players who made the cut: Kirk Cousins (fifth on the list), Pierre Garcon (No. 18), DeSean Jackson (No. 25) and Chris Baker (No. 48).
It’s long been assumed the Redskins will do whatever it takes to ensure Cousins in on the roster at least for the 2017 season, likely by way of franchise tag, but none of the other three are guaranteed to return to Washington. Of Garcon and Jackson, one of the two is likely gone, possibly both. It’s highly improbable the Redskins will spend the money required to re-sign both receivers, especially with the breakout season Jamison Crowder had and the first-round pick they spent on Josh Doctson a year ago.
Baker is an interesting inclusion on the list, though not completely surprising. He has emerged over the past two seasons as a quality pass-rushing tackle, piling up 9.5 sacks and five forced fumbles over that stretch, and he has played in all but four games in his five seasons in the NFL.
There are two immediate reactions that could come to mind for Redskins fans: Either joy that the team is stocked with top talent, or dread that the team is faced with four top players potentially leaving.
But another key element to this equation is one that should bring Redskins fans considerable happiness: The Redskins might actually get a compensatory pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Redskins haven’t had a compensatory pick since the 2011 draft, when they took Jeremy Jarmon with the second-to-last pick in the seventh round. It is also unlikely they’ll receive one in the 2017 draft, as they didn’t lose any high-end free agents before this season. Washington lost Perry Riley Jr., Robert Griffin III, Dashon Goldson and Chris Culliver, but none of those signed for a significant contract elsewhere.
Cousins is unlikely to go anywhere, but one of Jackson and Garcon is probably going to play in a different town next season, and there’s a chance Baker will depart. That means the Redskins could get a decent compensatory pick in the 2018 draft, possibly in the third or fourth round, based on the contract Jackson or Garcon signs. If both leave, Washington GM Scot McCloughan could suddenly have a pair of extra mid-round picks to work with.
Worse things could certainly happen.