WASHINGTON — Redskins center Kory Lichtensteiger announced his retirement on Friday after nine seasons in the NFL.
Lichtensteiger, 31, played seven years in Washington and was the starting center each of the past three seasons and at left guard the four years before that. But a compressed nerve in his neck cut short most of the 2015 season and a calf injury limited Lichtensteiger to just three games this past year.
“After much thought and consideration, I have decided to retire from the National Football League. I am grateful beyond words to the Washington Redskins organization,” Lichtensteiger said in a statement released by the organization. “I would like to thank the ownership as a whole and specifically Dan Snyder and his family for the opportunity to play the bulk of my career here in Washington.”
Spencer Long replaced Lichtensteiger as the starting center in 2016 after the Week 3 injury against the New York Giants. Lichtensteiger did return from Injured Reserve in a reserve role on Dec. 7, but was active for only one of the final four games and did not play a snap in any of them.
Lichtensteiger carved out a nice career for himself after the Denver Broncos drafted him in the fourth round in 2008. Always undersized at 6-foot-2, 295 pounds, he was effective in former coach Mike Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme.
It became clear the Redskins were looking for an upgrade at center. Long, 24, began taking repetitions at center throughout the offseason. Washington traded for center Bryan Stork near the end of training camp, but he failed a physical (concussion) and the deal was canceled. At age 25, he was another younger option at that position. Washington later added veteran John Sullivan, 31, who was a longtime starter for the Minnesota Vikings. Sullivan remained the primary backup to Long even after Lichtensteiger returned from IR.
Remember, the Redskins forced Lichtensteiger to take a pay cut last year. His base salary dropped from $3.25 million to $2.25 million. That was supposed to go back to $3.25 million in 2017, according to the website Spotrac.com.
Add in a pro-rated signing bonus of $550,000 and a roster bonus of $250,000 and you have Lichtensteiger’s cost for next year. But the base salary wasn’t guaranteed so Washington saves $3.3 million with his retirement. That’s not a small sum for a player who was expected to be a backup even if he made the team.
So where does that leave Washington on the offensive line? There is much stability there. Trent Williams is now a five-time Pro Bowler at left tackle and still in his prime.
Long, 26, started 12 games at center. Brandon Scherff was a Pro Bowl selection in his second year as the starter at right guard. Morgan Moses, 25, started all 16 games at right tackle for the second consecutive year.
The one question here could be left guard Shawn Lauvao. The Redskins have plenty of cap space to work with even before negotiating with quarterback Kirk Cousins, wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon and tight end Vernon Davis. But Lauvao, 29, has a $4 million base salary in 2017, the final year of his contract. Cutting him would save $4 million.
Lauvao missed most of 2015 with torn ankle ligaments and a separate foot surgery. He started 14 games in 2016 and fought through a groin injury late in the year that affected his play.
Behind the starters are some question marks. Tackle Ty Nsekhe filled in nicely for Williams during a four-game suspension, though he is a restricted free agent and might be a trade or offer-sheet target for teams looking for help at that position.
Arie Kouandjio is still a work-in-progress at guard. It remains to be seen if he can ever be a full-time NFL starter. But the fourth-round pick in 2015 was active for five games in his second season and started two, which was an increase on his rookie year (three games, no starts).
Sullivan is a free agent. Recovered from an injury-plagued 2015 with Minnesota, he could look for the chance to compete for a starting job elsewhere. Vinston Painter was a reserve tackle and is an exclusive rights free agent. He will be back at training camp competing for a roster spot if Washington wants him.
But for the first time since 2009 that offensive line group won’t include Lichtensteiger, the Ohio native who played college football at Bowling Green.
“I have had many great coaches and teammates and I owe a great deal to many people for helping me make a career in this league,” Lichtensteiger said in the statement. “For any newcomer or unestablished player to hang around, he has to have people who believe in him. I will forever be grateful to Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden for giving me that trust.”
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