Does the Redskins' free agent strategy signal a change in direction?

Does the Redskins' free agent strategy signal a change in direction?
March 12, 2014, 11:30 am
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Everyone was ready for a Redskins free agent frenzy. The NFL Network had a camera crew and a correspondent at Redskins Park ready to cover breaking news of big-money signings. The Twitterverse was up early, cracking jokes about the first big name the Redskins would overpay.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Washington spending spree. It didn’t happen. They started things off by brining back Perry Riley for a reported $13 million over three years. Then word got out that they had agreed to terms with receiver Andre Roberts for $16 million over four years. Out of the blue, we heard that Santana Moss was back for a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $2 million. A piece was added to the interior line when guard Shawn Lauvao posted the biggest “haul” of the day when he got $17 million over four years. The day was finished off when linebacker and special teams player Adam Hayward got $3 million over three years.

Add up the total value of the contracts and get $51 million. That’s less than Broncos gave Aquib Talib (57 million) and less than Jairus Byrd got from the Saints ($54 million). 

While we can’t rule out the Redskins paying for a big name in the days to come it appears safe to say that their free agency game will be mostly small ball acquisitions and re-signings. That tells me two things about what the Redskins organization thinks about the team:

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—They are reasonably happy with a lot of the players they have. Not all of it, necessarily. But perhaps they view this as being closer to a team capable of going 10-6, as they did in 2012, than the one that went 3-13 last year with many of the same players. Maybe a coaching change and an improved performance from quarterback Robert Griffin III can go a lot further towards getting the team back to respectability than, say, paying Mike Mitchell $5 million per year to play safety can.   

—They are trying to wean themselves off of free agency as their primary method of building the team. The problem with plugging holes with free agents is that it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. You draft a guy you might want to develop but you can’t really work him into the lineup because you have a player you acquired as a free agent playing ahead of him and the former free agent’s paycheck says he has to play. You end up not developing your draft picks and when it’s time to fill the hole you have to go out into the free agent market.

Maybe the Redskins are going small, signing stopgap players to fill the hole for a couple of years, so that there is a place for their draft picks to develop. When it’s time to move some one you drafted into the lineup, the stopgap player can either move to a reserve role or be released without a ton of dead cap hitting.

It may be too early to declare that the free agency era is over in Washington and that Bruce Allen is going to go all Ted Thompson on us, focusing on the draft and signing home-grown talent and eschewing big, or even medium, free agent signings. But after going the value route for the first 18 hours of free agency, the Redskins could be starting to turn the corner.