Although the fan and media conversation about the NFL draft focuses on needs for the coming season, the draft is more about the long-term future than the short-term outlook. Between now and the draft we’re looking at how the Redskins are set up for the long haul at each position on the field. Today, we look at the offensive line.
Over the past several years, the Redskins’ offensive line has gone from being a major area of weakness to being an effective unit. Only left tackle Trent Williams received Pro Bowl consideration but the whole was better than the sum of its parts. Not many teams would jump at the chance to take Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Chris Chester, and Tyler Polumbus if any of them became available. But they paved the way for Alfred Morris to set a team rushing record with 1613 yards and as a team the Redskins led the NFL in rushing and yards per offensive play.
Certainly, the infusion of talent at the quarterback position with the addition of Robert Griffin III had a lot to do with the Redskins’ offensive revival but he would not have set rookie records for passer rating and fewest interceptions without good play from his offensive line.
The line is pretty well set up going forward. A few weeks ago I went into the situation on the interior line in some details. To summarize, all of the guards and centers on, starters and primary backups, the team are under contract at least through 2015. But if the team wants to move on from any of them, the dead cap hit from a release would be quite manageable. They can keep the unit together if they want and they can move on from any or all of them if that suits them.
It’s a little different at tackle. Williams is a separate case and we will deal with him in a minute. But most of the rest of the tackles are either short-term propositions or unproven commodities.
Tony Pashos and Jeremy Trueblood are on one-year contracts for the veteran minimum. Trueblood got a $25,000 signing bonus, an amount that would not be an impediment if the Redskins decide to release him. Pashos got no guaranteed money.
Tyler Polumbus, who started 15 games last year, came back on a two-year deal that contained a $200,000 signing bonus. That probably guarantees his spot on the roster this year but not next. Maurice Hurt, who started the one game that Polumbus missed, has two years left on his rookie contract and Tom Compton has three.
Out of those five players will come the starting right tackle, a swing tackle who can fill in on the right or left side, and possibly one other reserve. If they don’t like the mix they could start over again next year. The Redskins could decide to draft a tackle to develop this year in hopes of having him ready in 2014.
Williams is signed through 2015. He has cap numbers of $7.895 million this year, $10.895 next season and $14.235 million in 2015. Those are fair cap numbers assuming that Williams stays on the track that got him to the Pro Bowl last year.
Many have asked why the Redskins don’t negotiate a contract extension with Williams in order to lower his cap number this year and to lock him up for longer. This is unlikely to happen for a few reasons:
—With three years left on his deal with reasonable cap numbers, the Redskins do not have much incentive to extend Williams. Even in 2015, when the cap is likely to spike up some due to the lucrative new TV contract, the $14.235 cap number is quite reasonable and manageable. Giving Williams an extension now would mean giving him a raise. Why spend the extra money for three years if you don’t have to?
—Williams was suspended for the last four games of the 2011 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. While it appears that he has gotten his act together, the Redskins may be waiting until we are further removed from that episode. Another violation will result in a one-year suspension and while that would be without pay, any signing bonus or other guaranteed money the Redskins might give to Williams prior to any issue coming up would be gone down the drain. The CBA protects that money and the Redskins would not be able to go after it.
—There really isn’t any incentive for Williams to want to tear up a deal that pays him $26 million in new money over the next three years. He might want to wait and see what the cap looks like in a couple of years and what his value will be if he makes.
—If the goal is 2013 cap relief, an extension really won’t help much. The most a normally structured extension would drop his cap number would be $2 to $3 million. That would be a significant amount for the cap-strapped Redskins but even given that it might not be worthwhile considering the other factors listed above.
They might not wait until Williams’ contract has expired to strike a new deal with him but it seems more likely that they will wait for another year or, more likely, two.
In any case, they are set at left tackle for at least the next three seasons. And the interior of the line is in good shape. If they go for a tackle relatively early in the draft, they will be looking for someone to become the starter at right tackle. If they get one later, they will have someone they want to compete for a backup role.