Starting this week, Sports on Earth's NFL writers will be providing an offseason assessment of all 32 NFL teams -- identifying the most important problems facing every franchise, and proposing solutions for each. Our series kicked off on Tuesday with the Houston Texans. Today it's the Washington Redskins.
By Russ Lande
Most teams will only have four problems solved in the G.M. for a Day series, but the Redskins are overachievers in the problem department. The Redskins have whole units to upgrade and limited cap space and draft picks to do it with, plus a franchise quarterback who spent a month in Mike Shanahan's gulag and must be reintegrated into society. So let's solve five Redskins problems instead of four. We may have to spend a lot of Dan Snyder's money to do the job, but that won't take much arm-twisting.
Problem: A defense in need of drastic improvement.
Solution: After finishing in the middle of the pack when it comes to yards allowed per game and 21st in sacks with only 36 (both against a pretty easy schedule), the Redskins need to upgrade this unit. It will not be easy. One of their best defensive players is retiring (middle linebacker London Fletcher) and many others are free agents: cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson, safeties Reed Doughty and Brandon Meriweather, linebackers Brian Orakpo and Perry Riley, and nose tackle Chris Baker. And of course, they lack a first round pick.
Look for the Redskins to try their best to re-sign Orakpo, Riley, Hall and Baker. If they don't resign them before the start of free agency on March 11, they could struggle to re-ink all of them, as their price tags will likely rise.
With Snyder's history of free spending and general manager Bruce Allen publicly stating that they will be active in free agency, the Redskins may make a strong move to try and sign one of the top cornerbacks available in free agency, most likely Charles Tillman, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or Vontae Davis. If they can sign one of them and keep Hall, then they will be set at cornerback. If they don't, they could make a move to get safety Jairus Byrd. Either way, don't be surprised if they also bring in veteran safety Chris Crocker, who started 56 games for the Bengals in the last five seasons, and who would bring a stabilizing force to the back end of the Redskins secondary.
As Orakpo is the premier rush-outside linebacker available in free agency, the Redskins must find a way to keep him, because the market does not offer a replacement with as much talent and NFL production. If they are forced to replace him in the draft, they could look to BYU outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, a natural pass rusher and one of the most versatile linebackers in the draft, with their second round pick.
Problem: New head coach Jay Gruden needs to help Robert Griffin to take the next step.
Solution: When studying the Cincinnati offense that Gruden designed, I was often impressed by his ability to get the ball into the hands of his multiple offensive weapons despite not having a premier quarterback. Andy Dalton is a solid starter, but he lacks a "plus arm," which limits what the offense can do. And yet Gruden schemed to get all of their weapons involved and open in spots where Dalton could get them the ball.
Now Gruden comes to Washington, where they do not have as many top-end receiving threats, but where there is at least potential. Between the established Pierre Garcon, young tight end Jordan Reed, emerging receiver Leonard Hankerson and talented running back Alfred Morris, he has some very intriguing weapons.
Gruden was hired to elevate Griffin's game, of course. While many like to say that RGIII is a great athlete and not a great quarterback, it is far too early to make that declaration. He must become more confident standing strong in the pocket and going through his progressions before taking off. Improving his confidence will also help him make quicker decisions and get rid of the ball faster than he did in 2013, and he has shown a quick release when his mechanics are sound . He has a very strong arm to make all the NFL throws, and excellent accuracy when he throws with good footwork and stride into his throws.
Obviously, for RGIII to feel comfortable in the pocket, the Redskins need to improve the consistency of their pass protection and incorporate more quick-hitting passes early in games; It was clear late in the year that he was not throwing with the same confidence he showed before his knee injury. Gruden's Bengals system was loaded with screens and other quick passes, so getting RGIII back on track should come naturally.
Problem: Find a second receiver opposite Garcon.
Solution: With Santana Moss a free agent and unlikely to return, and with no proven receiver opposite Garcon, the need to add a second receiver is vital. It looked as though the light came on for Hankerson in 2013, but then he injured the lateral collateral ligament in his left knee and was lost for the season. He is expected to be 100 percent for training camp, but as he has yet to fully establish himself, the Redskins would be making a big mistake to put all their eggs in his basket.
Washington will likely try to find a receiver in the second or third round, as well as to try to sign one in free agency. Coming off a few disappointing seasons in New York, Hakeem Nicks would be a good fit, since he has the size and strength that Gruden seemed to favor among his outside receivers in Cincinnati. If they do not sign a receiver in free agency, the Redskins should target Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews or Mississippi's Donte Moncrief in the second or third round of the draft.
Additionally, with the way in which Bengals' slot receiver Andrew Hawkins added a spark and big play ability to their offense, Washington could attempt to sign Dexter McCluster or Jacoby Ford, or draft South Carolina's Bruce Ellington in the hope that one could fill that same screen-and-go role for the Redskins.
Problem: Improve everything on their offensive line right of Trent Williams.
Solution: This will be an area that the Redskins must address both in the draft and free agency because they not only need to get better in pass protection, but change philosophies as well. With Shanahan no longer in town, the new coaches will likely move away from the undersized guards and centers that have been a staple of Shahahan's offenses for years.
The Redskins have always been willing to spend money, and free agent center Alex Mack would bring the size and athleticism to the middle of their line that they will need. If they are willing to take the public relations hit (which Snyder seems more than willing to do) the Redskins could likely sign Richie Incognito for less money than a guard with his talent would normally get, thanks to the obvious baggage that comes with him.
Two small school offensive linemen to keep an eye on in the middle rounds that have the size and strength that Gruden prefers are Furman's Dakota Dozier and Tennessee State's Kadeem Edwards. Do not expect the Redskins to use a high pick for an interior lineman because there are a number of quality free agents as well as developmental draft prospects.
Problem: Fix the special teams.
Solution: The Redskins' special teams were terrible in 2013 and while their new coach, Ben Kotwica, should help, a big part of their problem was the players on their roster. Rookies Brandon Jenkins and Bacarri Rambo both struggled greatly on special teams; it left the Redskins having to play veterans who lacked much experience doing so, and it really showed.
Expect the Redskins to pursue a few former Bengals that are free agents, because Gruden is familiar with them and knows they could upgrade the units. Returner Brandon Tate, coverage man and cornerback Brandon Ghee, and safety Taylor Mays are three players that the Redskins will likely consider. Other free agents they could pursue that would upgrade their special teams are safeties Chris Maragos and Darrell Stuckey.
If they choose to address cornerback in the draft because they did not get one of the elite free agents, then two to keep an eye on who would also drastically upgrade special teams are Ohio State's Brandon Roby and Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller. Both could be targets with their second round pick, and both could solve two problems at once. With so many problems and so few draft picks, the Redskins could use a two-for.
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Russ Lande writes about college scouting and the NFL draft for Sports on Earth. He is GM jr. scouting and college scouting director for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes and the Big 10 Network. He is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and former scouting administrator for the St. Louis Rams. You can follow him@RUSSLANDE.