Here is what you need to know on this Monday, February 13, 24 days before the March 9 start of NFL free agency.
—NFL Franchise tag deadline (3/1) 16
—Redskins offseason workouts start (4/17) 63
—NFL Draft (4/27) 73
—First Sunday of 2017 season (9/10) 209
Free agency not a cure for what ails Redskins
Many fans are looking at the March 9 start of free agency as the day the Redskins will begin to transform themselves into a Super Bowl contender. Armed with about $65 million in cap space, many are expecting a big-time shopping spree to fill all of those holes and add some depth. Others are expecting to at least add a few starters and some solid depth.
The truth is, however, that you should probably cancel any plans you have to celebrate any big haul by the Redskins. It appears that this year’s free agent class will be much more of a bust than a boom for the Redskins.
The reason why is simple—supply and demand. Let’s look at the supply first. Our friends at Rotoworld have a list of pending free agents ranked in order of quality. With the defensive line being an area in need of a serious upgrade, let’s look at who’s available. At the top of the list is Calais Campbell, who will turn 31 before the season starts. Next is Kawaan Short, who is likely to be tagged by the Panthers. A few names down is Chris Baker, perhaps a hint that they should focus on re-signing their own.
You get past Bennie Logan, a possible target for the Redskins who is eighth on the list, and you start to run into a bunch of players who are aging and/or ineffective. Nick Farley was a high draft pick who will be looking for his third team. Alan Branch is 32 and he likely will play for the Patriots or nobody. You’re getting into territory where you might as well re-sign Ziggy Hood.
The pending free agents at safety seems to have a little more youth and ability available. But many teams need safeties and the quality players there will be gone quickly.
OK, you say, there are 10 D-linemen and some safeties there that may be upgrades for the Redskins. They can just pick a few and sign them, right?
Wrong. This is where the demand side comes in. To put it simply, there are a lot of teams out there with a lot of cap space that the CBA says they must spend. A lot of dollars will be getting thrown at a very limited number of quality options. There will be bidding wars and the Redskins don’t like to get involved in those. And even if they do, they will lose far more of them than they win.
Yes, at the moment the Redskins have more cap space than all but four other teams. But in a way, the cap space is an illusion. Many teams with comparable amounts of cap space already either have their 2017 starting quarterbacks under contract or another quarterback who is taking up substantial cap space (think the 49ers and Kaepernick or the Bears and Cutler). The Redskins will have $24 million whacked off the top of their available space if they do that they will have about $40 million in cap space, a number that will put them in the middle of the pack.
Suppose the Redskins do what a certain faction of the fan base thinks they should do and they let Cousins walk. That would save a chunk of cap space. This strategy calls for the organization to spread the money around to upgrade the rest of the team. But, where to they spend it? Should they just sign guys for the sake of signing guys? Look at the Rotoworld list again and identify which players the Redskins can sign that will have the impact that a quality starting quarterback will. Then eliminate all but a handful of them because they are going to be tagged or re-signed by their own teams or sign with other teams. Then subtract most of that pool because other teams will be after them. What do you have left? Not enough to get you more than five or six wins.
The point here is not to make the case that Cousins needs to be brought back. It’s that solutions to what ails the Redskins, with or without Cousins, is not out there waiting to be bought. The Redskins’ best course of action would be to try to get Logan or Johnathan Hankins of the Giants even if they have to overpay a bit and then re-sign their own including Cousins, Baker, Pierre Garçon and/or DeSean Jackson. Then they should work on extensions for Spencer Long and Morgan Moses and maybe for Trent Murphy and Bashaud Breeland.
Free agency is worth paying attention to. The Redskins will add some players and it will be interesting to see who they get. But unless you like huge disappointments don’t set your hopes too high for the Redskins to exit March with the makings of a perennial Super Bowl team in place. Over the years Redskins fans have learned that free agency is fool's gold and this year is no different and given the circumstances probably worse.
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