WASHINGTON — The Redskins opened free agency with a splash, albeit a highly unconventional one, by firing GM Scot McCloughan.
They proceeded to sign a pair of defensive linemen (Terrell McClain, Stacy McGee), a safety (D.J. Swearinger), a linebacker (Chris Carter) and their biggest catch (no pun intended) thus far, a receiver (Terrelle Pryor). They also re-signed three of their own players (tight end Vernon Davis, defensive lineman Ziggy Hood, offensive tackle Vinston Painter, allowed their three top free agents (defensive lineman Chris Baker, receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson) to find new teams and cut defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois.
As of Monday morning, about a week and a half into free agency, that’s where the Redskins stand.
The defensive line, which was not good a year ago, has lost its two best players from 2016, but it’s gained a pair of possibly useful players in McClain and McGee. More help is still needed on that unit, especially on the ends.
Washington would love to improve an unimposing inside linebacker unit that currently features a wealth of players but not nearly as much talent.
The addition of Swearinger should help the secondary somewhat, and if second-year hybrid player Su’a Cravens emerges as a reliable safety, Washington at least has its starting safeties in place. Predicting the contributions of Bashaud Breeland in 2017 is no easy task, and it’s probably unwise to expect any production out of DeAngelo Hall given his age and injury history. Second-year corner Kendall Fuller flashed some potential as a rookie, but he remains unproven.
In other words, the secondary is a giant question mark. The upside is evident, as Breeland, Fuller and Cravens have room to grow, and Swearinger could very well step in and play his part admirably. But there are so many ifs, and Washington should be kicking the tires on any remaining free agents.
On offense, the line could stand upgrades at left guard and center, another receiver wouldn’t hurt, and another running back would be a big help.
After many of the top players from our initial Best Remaining Free Agents list signed elsewhere, here’s what the free agency pool looks like at positions of need for the Redskins:
The Redskins showed interest in safety Jairus Byrd when he entered free agency in 2014, coming off three Pro Bowl seasons in five years with the Buffalo Bills. Washington was outbid by the New Orleans Saints, who never got to experience the full talent of Byrd thanks to a devastating knee injury his first season with the team, and the safety never fully recovered.
After playing just 17 games over his first two seasons in New Orleans, Byrd managed to stay on the field for all 16 games in 2016. He intercepted two passes and defended three passes, and his 82 total tackles were the most he’s had since 2011, suggesting he might finally be regaining a former spark.
Byrd, 30, is nowhere near the player he used to be, but he might be worth bringing aboard on a short contract, though it’s unlikely he’d sign anywhere without the promise of a starting role. Even if Byrd can’t regain his previous luster, having a former Pro Bowler at the position to help mentor Cravens couldn’t hurt, as long as Washington is OK with Cravens playing behind Byrd.
Former Los Angeles Rams safety T.J. McDonald is just 26 and has room to grow, but he has a frustrating LaRon Landry-esque tendency to give up the big play that might drive Redskins fans crazy. He can lay receivers out with big hits, but he also tends toward doing precisely that instead of making the sure tackle far too often, making him a true boom-or-bust safety.
That said, he’s coming off a season of 64 tackles and six pass breakups while playing all 16 games, and he added two interceptions and a sack. McDonald could play for several years without his athleticism falling off, and he would surely provide an upgrade to the safety play Washington’s had recently, but like Byrd, he’d expect to start, and that’s not a guarantee in Washington.
Other available safeties include Kendrick Lewis, Bradley McDougald, Lardarius Webb and Aaron Williams. (Update: Bradley McDougald signed with the Seattle Seahawks.)
The Redskins would love to add another cornerback, especially after the New York Giants (Brandon Marshall) and Philadelphia Eagles (Torrey Smith, Alshon Jeffery) each bolstered their receiving corps in the first two days of Free Agency, but the options are very limited. Darrelle Revis is still available, and it would certainly be interesting to see secondary featuring both Revis and Josh Norman, but Revis is more of a name than a talent at this stage.
Brandon Flowers, Shareece Wright, Patrick Robinson and Sterling Moore are all available, and the Redskins could surely find room for any of those four in their secondary. Unfortunately, none of those players is listed at even six feet tall, and height is a considerable need at this point.
Washington’s inside linebackers leave plenty to be desired, and it might be the position group most in need of an upgrade.
The best remaining free agent is Zach Brown, a freak athlete who once ran a 4.50 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Brown, who hails from Maryland, made the Pro Bowl in 2016, his first season with the Buffalo Bills. He recorded 149 tackles while adding on 4.0 sacks, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and an interception. He is versatile and could play inside or outside linebacker, but he turns 28 in October and figures to have several years of high-level football left in him.
Gerald Hodges is one of the only other inside linebackers available. He’s made 26 starts over four seasons, including 12 in 2016, and he recorded 3.0 sacks last season after totaling just 0.5 in his first three seasons. He also picked off two passes after managing just one over his first three years, and his arrow is certainly pointing up.
Several big-name running backs were available early on in Free Agency, but the list of proven starters is down to Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, LeGarrette Blount and DeAngelo Williams. Christine Michael and Khiry Robinson have each had brief flashes of success during their NFL careers, but neither is expected to be a difference-maker. It’s hard to see any of those players coming to Washington, though Blount and Williams are perhaps the most likely candidates.
Washington might look into adding another receiver, but there isn’t much talent left. Jamison Crowder, Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson have incredible potential as a trio, but Pryor has only been a receiver for one season, and Doctson hasn’t yet proven anything. Adding a fourth receiver would significantly improve the depth, but aside from Michael Floyd, who has had troubles with the law recently, there aren’t many options to be found.
Most of the top offensive line prospects have been snatched up, but 33-year-old center Nick Mangold is an interesting candidate for Washington. He has played each of his 11 seasons with the New York Jets, making the Pro Bowl seven times while starting at least 14 games in each season except 2016. Mangold wouldn’t be a long-term solution, but he could come in and provide an immediate upgrade for the Redskins while also bringing a valuable veteran presence to a young offensive line.
Brian Schwenke has played both guard and center, and he has some potential, but he wouldn’t be expected to be an immediate starter. Veteran tackles Ryan Clady and Sebastian Vollmer are probably overqualified to be depth additions for Washington, but perhaps they could be persuaded to sign as mentors.
There’s always a chance Washington could do some huge blockbuster trade for Kirk Cousins, and that would in theory open the team up to one of the quarterbacks on the market. Among the top free agents are Colin Kaepernick, Jay Cutler and Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Tony Romo is still semi-available. There are also plenty of players the Redskins could cut to save some money, which would open them up to more needs.
Most of the top players have found new teams, and it’s unlikely the Redskins will pick up any of the remaining free agents with the expectation of adding a Week 1 starter. They’ll more likely to continue picking up low-level players off the scrap heap in hopes that one or two can break out in Washington, then return to the dwindling group of free agents after the draft.