WASHINGTON — NFL free agency is winding down with only a handful of impact players left on the market and the Redskins’ shopping all but over unless prices drop dramatically.
Addressing all of their needs in 10 days wasn’t realistic. Washington has added pieces on defense and special teams, re-signed one of their own top free agents (tight end Vernon Davis) and filled a critical hole (wide receiver Terrelle Pryor).
Barring a late signing like defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins – still asking for too much money in a market that has dried up for defensive tackles – the Redskins have a basic idea of what issues they still must fix in the upcoming NFL draft. Here are five clear areas of need:
Chris Baker was allowed to depart via free agency and Ricky Jean Francois was cut. Washington signed Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain. Neither was a splashy move. The Redskins are betting two players heading into their late 20s have good football ahead of them at a reasonable cost. But youth is the buzzword on this unit. Anthony Lanier is an intriguing prospect who made an impact in preseason games last year. They’ll see how he develops under new defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Matt Ioannidis was a fifth-round pick who didn’t make the opening day roster before eventually returning. He’ll get another chance to prove he belongs. But more investment is needed here in the early rounds. Washington chose not to take a defensive lineman until Ioannidis last year in the fifth. It’s time to focus on draft-and-develop here and limit the practice of free-agent signings to mask the problems.
Yes, they signed Pryor, but the Redskins simply kicked a can down the road here. Pryor is on a one-year deal to prove last season with Cleveland was no fluke. He should flourish in this offense. The problem then becomes: Can you re-sign him? A long-term plan for replacing the departed Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson isn’t there yet. Washington drafted Josh Doctson at No. 22 overall last year and will pray he’s beyond his Achilles tendon issues. Jamison Crowder has been fantastic as a slot receiver and the Redskins believe he can do more. But they are well positioned to grab a high-end wide receiver in the draft. Corey Davis (Western Michigan), John Ross (Washington) and Mike Williams (Clemson) are all consensus top-20 picks and at least one of them should be available at 17. Fans don’t want to hear that. But this has become a position of need. Pryor is not guaranteed to be here any more than Garcon and Jackson were at this time last season.
Who knows how the Kirk Cousins saga will end. If the Redskins believe a long-term deal is impossible then they need to get what they can for Cousins via trade this spring. If they think there’s still a chance and want to push for a long-term contract then do it. But understand the risk if Cousins simply decides he’s too close to the open market. Allowing someone to play on the franchise tag could be awkward with some quarterbacks. Cousins isn’t wired that way. He’ll handle that situation as well as a pro can. But until he’s signed long term this is an area of need. If Cousins goes, Colt McCoy almost certainly will be the starter in 2017. Nate Sudfeld is in house as a developmental quarterback. Washington needs another one. Pitt’s Nate Peterman is a player who draws favorable comparisons to a younger Cousins and he looked strong at the Senior Bowl. He should be available in the third or fourth round.
No one wants to pay for this position. That means getting a game-changing back happens in the draft or not at all. That doesn’t have to be early in the draft, of course. But if Florida State’s Dalvin Cook is available at No. 17, Washington could strike. He’s a legitimate three-down back with the ability to be a factor in the pass game. Matt Jones was put on ice by the coaches last year. It’s unclear if he even makes the 53-man roster. Rob Kelley was a nice surprise, but might be better suited as a No. 2 back. Chris Thompson has been tendered a contract as an RFA and should return. He’s an excellent option as a third-down back. The Redskins can’t fix everything in the draft, but this is an obvious need. If the top college talents aren’t available at 17, though, they’d be better suited using one of their two fourth-round picks on a running back. It’s a deep group this year.
Youth at inside linebacker is a need. The Redskins feel like they’re stable with Will Compton and Mason Foster there and those guys aren’t old at all. Martrell Spaight, a 2015 fifth-round pick, may get a shot at more playing time this season, but it’d be nice to have a year or two to develop another future starter at this position. It’s another spot no team really wants to break the bank on and teams can probably find solid options in the second or third round at inside linebacker. Expect a focus on athleticism and sideline-to-sideline speed. An added bonus is a team usually gets immediate special teams help if they add an inside linebacker in the draft.
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