WASHINGTON — The Redskins continue to deal with stalled contract talks with Kirk Cousins and veteran wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon.
There hasn’t been much progress made with those top in-house free agents yet and even if they return Washington also needs an immediate impact on defense that it’s unlikely to find right away in the 2017 NFL draft.
New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky needs another Josh Norman-type signing if he wants to see that group make a major leap next season and Jackson and/or Garcon need to be replaced by at least one veteran if they leave. Here are five top-tier names to watch as free agency approaches next month:
Eric Berry, Kansas City, Safety
Only in play because he’s said he won’t play if the Chiefs use the franchise tag on him again. Berry has been the face of that franchise for years and wants a long-term deal. This is a long shot, but the Redskins were ready last season when Norman suddenly became available after Carolina rescinded his franchise tag in April. They did the same when DeSean Jackson was suddenly cut by Philadelphia in 2014. If Berry’s negotiations with Kansas City go sour, a preeminent playmaker at a position of need is suddenly available. Still only 28 and fully recovered from his 2014 cancer scare, Berry instantly changes the secondary.
Calais Campbell, Arizona, Defensive end
Washington can just watch film of its loss to Arizona to see that Campbell is a good fit here with a sack, a forced fumble and a pass defended that afternoon in Glendale. He’s 31 next year so that’s a concern for any deal, but he’s shown no signs of slowing down. A versatile defender, Campbell can play up and down the line and is a fine run stopper at 6-foot-8, 300 pounds. The Redskins certainly need to be better in that area. The Cardinals also might not be able to keep all of their top defensive players. Team officials have publically said linebacker Chandler Jones will get the franchise tag.
Kevin Zeitler, Cincinnati, Right guard
Another guard? Settle down. The Redskins offensive line was very good in 2016, but Zeitler is both entering his prime at age 27 next month and played his first two seasons in the NFL under Washington coach Jay Gruden. He was a Pro Bowler in 2015, would instantly help Washington’s run blocking and you could easily flip Zeitler or Brandon Scherff over to left guard. GM Scot McCloughan has long said he believes in building on both sides of the line. The defensive line is a need. The offensive line is close to being elite. Adding a player like Zeitler and buying out left guard Shawn Lauvao at a cap savings of $4 million would help it get there.
Tony Jefferson, Arizona, Safety
The Cardinals probably can’t sign everybody. That means one of their fine defensive players will hit the open market. Jefferson, 25, also fits as a run stopper at a position of need. He’s an attacking player and that’s what Manusky and Washington’s front office want to see more of in 2017. Jefferson had two sacks last season, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and had two interceptions in 2015 to go with three forced fumbles. The Arizona Republic reported on Thursday that Arizona is in “serious” talks with Jefferson, but free agency will prove too tempting.
Alshon Jeffery, Chicago, Wide receiver
There’s no question the Redskins need to add at wide receiver if DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon leave. Jeffery, 27, is both a top-level receiver and has issues that could cut down his price just enough. He was injured most of 2015 (hamstring, groin, shoulder) and missed four games in 2016 because of a suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy. But he’s a big body at 6-foot-3, 218 pounds who can be a nightmare for opposing defensive backs to match. McCloughan doesn’t love paying for players he doesn’t know well and there are red flags here. But there’s also little doubt Jeffery would put up big numbers in this offense and allow breathing room for second-year wide receiver Josh Doctson to establish himself. That could go a long way toward solving Washington’s red-zone struggles in 2016.
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