WASHINGTON — The Redskins can contact representatives for unrestricted free agents at noon on Tuesday as the NFL’s official negotiating period begins with a legal tampering window.
Washington has plenty of holes to fill after an 8-7-1 season. The defensive line is in obvious need of an upgrade. There are issues at safety, and cornerback depth should be addressed. That doesn’t even count the gaping holes that could open up at wide receiver if Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson leave.
The Kirk Cousins negotiations deserve their own post. The quarterback has yet to sign his franchise tag — which could simply be a procedural issue. The entire front office (except for GM Scot McCloughan) was in Indianapolis last week for the NFL Combine.
But even after including Cousins’ franchise tag ($23.9 million), the Redskins still have about $36 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.com. That includes only their most expensive 51 contracts for now and ranks right in the middle of the NFL at 16th overall.
With 10 picks in next month’s NFL draft, Washington needs to save about $7.5 million to sign those players. That leaves around $28 million to add free agents — or give raises to their own players. Free agents from other teams can’t be signed until Thursday at 4 p.m. But for now, here is where things stand as of Tuesday morning with the Redskins’ own top-tier unrestricted players:
The door isn’t closed here, but Jackson has long said he wanted to go through the process of negotiating with other teams and will likely make a quick decision. He was dumped onto the open market by Philadelphia weeks into free agency in 2014. Jackson is 30 now and speed is the essence of his game. That will make some teams hesitant. That unique skillset, though, remains in place.
Jackson tracks deep balls as well as any receiver in the league and he’s not simply a one-dimensional player. He can run routes. He is a touchdown machine. Yes, coaches can get frustrated when Jackson blows off offseason work, but he keeps himself in good shape. Can be injury-prone, but he’s 10 years into his career now and never suffered a serious injury.
Tampa Bay is reported to be a formidable suitor and the Buccaneers do have a promising young quarterback in Jameis Winston, and he needs weapons. Unclear if the Los Angeles Rams have interest, but obviously new coach Sean McVay knows Jackson well — and it’s the wide receiver’s hometown. That has to have some appeal. Jackson’s former team, the Eagles, will make a push, too.
Prediction: Jackson gets an offer too good for the Redskins to match and leaves for Los Angeles to re-join McVay.
For weeks, Washington held off contacting Garcon’s representatives until that finally happened on Monday. It probably didn’t sit well with such a proud player. Garcon signed here in 2012, a product of Peyton Manning’s Colts, where he learned how to be a professional. He’s started a business in the area. He’s grown as a player.
But Garcon is a fierce competitor and isn’t always easy to coach. He doesn’t suffer fools easily. Do your job, because he will do his. Whatever you do, don’t call him a possession receiver or a really good No. 2. He wants no part of that. Garcon did ask for a trade in mid-season last year, as 106.7 The Fan’s Chad Dukes reported on Monday, so clearly something was amiss between himself and the coaching staff. Yet the team still reached out and Garcon himself has never ruled out a return. It just seems unlikely.
Prediction: Garcon decides a fresh start is for the best. A top-tier quarterback isn’t his only criteria and San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan was Garcon’s offensive coordinator here when he had a 113-catch season in 2013.
It still makes sense to retain Davis (33). He was perfect Jordan Reed insurance last year and you never know when the star tight end will get hurt. Davis isn’t the player he once was, but he still had 583 yards and 44 catches in his first year back in his hometown. Maybe after re-establishing himself, Davis jumps to a team where he’ll get more snaps without a star like Reed taking up most of the oxygen. It’s a better bet the two sides reach a reasonable agreement and he continues his career with the Redskins.
Prediction: Davis stays and gets a modest raise.
Interesting to see how high Washington goes to keep Baker. He’s popular with fans and teammates alike, but that only goes so far. Baker’s production declined in 2016 from six sacks to 3.5. But he is also their best lineman. Can the Redskins really afford to let him go? This is already a limited group with no dominant presence up front. It also doesn’t send the best message to the rest of the locker room when homegrown players who fight their way off the practice squad aren’t taken care of. But Baker is 29 and in line for a big raise.
Prediction: Washington caves because there just isn’t enough on the defensive line right now and Swaggy stays in town.
The list of true impact free agents is low. If Jackson and Garcon leave, the Redskins could always jump into the Alshon Jeffery talks to add a wide receiver. He is not expected to re-sign with Chicago. But Jeffery will also cost more than they will and was suspended four games last season for violating the NFL’s drug policy. His recent injury track record isn’t great, either.
What about Cleveland’s Terrelle Pryor? He is younger (27) and made a huge leap forward in his first full year at the position. Washington saw that firsthand in a game at FedEx Field in October when Pryor gave Josh Norman fits in the first half.
Kenny Britt (28) had a nice season with the Rams last year, but he isn’t anywhere near as good as Jeffery or Pryor.
San Francisco released deep threat Torrey Smith (28) on Monday and the New York Jets did the same to veteran Brandon Marshall (32) last week. Smith grew up in Virginia and went to Maryland. His speed would be an asset if Jackson departs.
Team sources say the coaching staff is comfortable pushing slot receiver Jamison Crowder outside and second-year pro Josh Doctson (left Achilles) is moving closer to 100 percent after an injury-marred rookie year. They also still like Ryan Grant and Maurice Harris, who showed flashes as an undrafted rookie free agent. But there needs to be a veteran in that group.
Expect the Redskins to make a push for Arizona defensive end Calais Campbell (30), according to multiple league sources. Again, they saw what a force he could be first hand in a Dec. 4 loss to the Cardinals. At 6-foot-8, 300 pounds, Campbell offers the size necessary to help stop the run, but can slide up and down the line. He’s a good player — though Washington has swung and missed on over-30 defensive linemen before.
If that doesn’t work, New York’s Johnathan Hankins is young (25), proven (41 career starts) and his team isn’t working with much money under the salary cap after the Giants’ spending-spree last season. Philadelphia’s Bennie Logan (27) is an option, too, according to multiple NFL sources. The Eagles also don’t have a ton of money to spend and they already paid defensive tackle Fletcher Cox handsomely last offseason.
Baltimore’s Brandon Williams (28) is excellent at defensive tackle, too. Remember, the Redskins couldn’t run the ball at all against the Ravens last season. Multiple NFL sources said they don’t believe Washington will go after Kansas City’s Dontari Poe (26). It’s tough for a 6-foot-3, 350-pounder to stay on the field for more than two downs.
Safety is an issue also, but the Redskins plan to move second-year pro Su’a Cravens there next season. They have veterans under contract (DeAngelo Hall, Will Blackmon) and could always use the draft to plug that spot. Pushing for a player like Arizona’s Tony Jefferson (25) makes sense, but he’s easily the top safety on the market and will be expensive.
Where would it be a surprise for Washington to add?
Offensive line isn’t really a need. Still, head coach Jay Gruden knows Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler (27) well from their time together in Cincinnati. He’s a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Add him to that offensive line and you’d have probably the best in the game this side of Dallas with Trent Williams (28) and Brandon Scherff (25) already Pro Bowlers to go with right tackle Morgan Moses (26) and center Spencer Long (26). And all would be under 30.
Is this likely? Probably not. That’s a lot of money to invest at guard and Scherff and Moses will need new deals soon. But cut left guard Shawn Lauvao, save $4 million and clear a spot?
Running back probably should be a priority. You can’t just rely on Robert Kelley and Matt Jones again. But it’s hard to see Washington spending big dollars for players like Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles. Even a younger back like Oakland’s Latavius Murray (27) is hard to justify when there are so many available in the draft.
Tight end certainly isn’t a priority — unless Davis leaves. Then the Redskins would need someone to step in next to Reed. There just doesn’t seem to be a good free-agent fit at inside linebacker, either. Drafting youth to eventually replace Mason Foster and Will Compton is the best bet there.
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