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Need to Know: Free agency begins with Redskins relatively tight on cap space

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Need to Know: Free agency begins with Redskins relatively tight on cap space

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, March 9, the day NFL free agency starts.

Redskins fans should tamp down their expectations

It used to be that the day that free agency started was like Christmas Day for Redskins fans. There would be all sorts of presents under the tree—a safety here, a guard there, maybe a running back and a big defensive lineman. And all paid for out of Dan Snyder’s checkbook (and before that they were courtesy of Jack Kent Cook or his foundation).

On closer examination, however, everyone found out that the new toys were not all shiny and new. That safety had lost a step from when he was in Toys R Us and he had a slightly damaged shoulder. The running back who used to be able to break long runs with regularity was getting caught from behind after just a few steps. The D-lineman just didn’t move like he used to.

By midseason the fans had lost interest in the new toys because, well, they weren’t really new and they weren’t much fun. The talk turned to their wish list for the following Christmas, assuming that the team could somehow work its budget to make it happen.

I think that this point most fans are wise to the false hope that that the NFL sells at this time every year. And even if the Redskins were still interested in buying those beat-up toys that are on the market their team really doesn’t have the means to do so.

Right now they are sitting on about $20 million in salary cap space. That sounds like a lot but it’s not. There are 16 teams that have more to spend than they do. Of those, 14 have $30 million or more to spend. It will be easy for many teams to outbid them for players.

And that money will go fast. It will cost about $3 million to bring back Mason Foster, probably another $4 million for Junior Galette. The will need a starting nose tackle, which will run about $4 million and a mid-range strong safety, which will run about $3 million. Oh, and don’t forget that Kirk Cousins is the only QB on the roster. Colt McCoy or another veteran backup will cost at least $3 million.

So that totals $17 million. So you’ve got $3 million left to pay players on injured reserve and injury settlements and pay your practice squad. That could get tight.

Sure, they can create more room by letting go of players like Perry Riley and Andre Roberts. But instead of buying more false hope in the form of free agents with that money, how about taking care of Jordan Reed and locking him up for next several years rather than having him hit free agency in 2017?

There will not be many new toys under the tree this year. That’s not how Scot McCloughan likes to build. Christmas will have to wait until April 28 when the NFL Draft gets underway.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 59 days ago. It will be about 186 days until they play another one.

Days until: Redskins offseason workouts start 40; 2016 NFL draft 50

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True or false: The Redskins will carry four tight ends on the roster

True or false: The Redskins will carry four tight ends on the roster

True or false: The Redskins will carry four tight ends on their roster this year.

Rich Tandler: True

The Redskins added a tight end to a roster that had four experienced players at the position already on it. But, make no mistake, fifth-round selection Jeremy Sprinkle was not a “luxury” pick.

Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis are both stone cold locks to make the roster. They are the pass catchers who are expected to combine for perhaps 1,500 yards and at least a dozen touchdowns.

The third tight end could be Niles Paul, a veteran who has battled injuries the last two years. He appears to be healthy and if he stays that way he can play tight end, be the fullback on the six or eight snaps per game the Redskins use one, and be a strong contributor on special teams.

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Sprinkle can fill a role that those three can’t—blocking tight end. Jay Gruden had to put tackle Ty Nsekhe on the field when they needed a three-tight end set. That made the job of the defense easier with essentially four eligible receivers to deal with.

With a well-defined role for each player, it would make perfect sense for the Redskins to carry four tight ends on the 53-man roster rather than the customary three. Of course, if they carry four at tight end they have to go with one fewer player elsewhere. They will find a spot.

Running back seems to be the logical place to go for that spot. If they keep, say, Mack Brown as the fourth running back, you then have a player without a defined role. He’s the backup to the backup to the backup. Sure, he can do special teams, but not as well as Paul.

Perhaps if you want to keep Brown you let go of Paul with his recent injury history and his $2.2 million cap number in mind. Or you can let Sprinkle get some seasoning on the practice squad.

But I think that the Redskins drafted Sprinkle with the plan to keep four tight ends. If they are going to go with their best, most versatile 53 that is what they will do.

JP Finlay: False

Man, this is tough. If you asked me this in May, I thought Niles Paul would be caught in a roster crunch. After watching the guys on the field through OTAs and minicamp, this decision becomes much harder. 

Paul played well in those sessions, showed no rust from the injuries and impressed regardless what quarterback he was paired up with. Sprinkle looked like a rookie with a lot to learn, and while he's really big, he still seemed like his upper body could fill out in the NFL. 

In a vacuum it's easy to say the Redskins should keep four tight ends. Like Tandler laid out above, Reed and Davis are roster locks. Paul can help in a ton of spots, and Sprinkle should evolve into the blocking tight end for the jumbo set. 

But NFL rosters aren't made in vacuums. To keep a fourth tight end, the Redskins will have to make a cut, and Tandler suggested Mack Brown could be the guy. I don't see that happening. Jay Gruden and Randy Jordan speak glowingly about Brown. 

This will be a fun roster spot to watch, but in June, before any injuries or the competition of training camp, I think the Redskins keep Reed, Davis and Paul. Then they really, really hope they can sneak the rookie Sprinkle to their practice squad.

Washington has not kept three healthy tight ends on their roster in the last few seasons, and if that trend continues, Sprinkle would make the NFL roster before the end of the year. Keeping four tight ends just isn't a luxury the Redskins have, especially keeping three quarterbacks like they're expected to do. 

Tandler-Finlay True or False series: Leading rusher | Leading receiver

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Standouts and scrubs: Looking at Bruce Allen's track record with quarterbacks

Standouts and scrubs: Looking at Bruce Allen's track record with quarterbacks

Much can be learned looking to the past, at least that's what thousands of college students hear every fall when they sit down for History 101. Assuming the premise is true, perhaps something can be learned from looking back at Bruce Allen's tenure across the NFL and the quarterbacks that started for those teams. 

A refresher: Allen worked with the Raiders and Bucs before coming to the Redskins. Allen started with the Raiders in 1995, and worked his way up through the front office, earning the NFL's Executive of the Year award in 2002. He left the Raiders to work with Jon Gruden in Tampa in 2004, after the pair experienced much success together with the Raiders. Tampa fired Allen in 2008, and he came to work with the Redskins in 2010. 

His tenure with the Raiders showcased the best QB find in his file: Rich Gannon. Before coming to Oakland, Gannon earned the journeyman title, starting 58 games over 11 seasons for the Chiefs, Vikings and, yes, the Redskins.

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back

Once Gannon and Gruden worked together, everything clicked. The Raiders started winning games and Gannon started to pile up impressive offensive stats. He was the quarterback when Oakland lost the infamous 'Tuck Rule' playoff game against New England, and won an NFL MVP award in 2002 while guiding the Raiders to the Super Bowl (which they lost to a Jon Gruden coached Tampa team). 

Gannon was a find, undoubtedly. Beyond that, Allen's resume on quarterbacks gets pretty ugly.

In fact, Kirk Cousins would probably rank as the second best QB of all Bruce Allen teams. In Tampa, the quarterback position was a revolving door, and included luminaries (sarcasm font) like Chris Simms, Brian Griese and Bruce Gradkowski. The Bucs added Jeff Garcia in 2007, and he had some success, but was 37 years old at that point. 

Once he got to Washington, the Redskins trotted out a collection of subpar passers like a past-his-prime Donovan McNabb, a-never-actually-good John Beck and Rex Grossman. Rex needs no introduction. 

In 2012, the Redskins quarterback fortunes changed. The team made a very aggressive trade to draft Robert Griffin III. RG3 was supposed to be the franchise savior, and for much of his rookie season, that plan seemed to be working. 

Injuries and infighting ruined Griffin's time with the Redskins, and opened the door for 2012 fourth-round pick Kirk Cousins to emerge. 

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Now, in 2017, Cousins has twice broken the Redskins single season passing yards record and cemented himself as a quality NFL starter. His long-term future with the organization remains uncertain, as Cousins will play this season on a one-year contract and the prospect of a multi-year contract seems slim. 

It's hard to draw too many conclusions looking the quarterbacks throughout Allen's tenure. Before Gannon in Oakland, the Raiders tried a variety of other journeyman QBs (Jeff Hostetler, Jeff George). One could argue they got lucky with Gannon, or that the organization brought out his best tools. Either way it's a positive grade.

In Tampa, the results look much worse. On paper, it seemed the Bucs tried to get cheap, available quarterbacks and make them work, believing strongly in their offensive system. It didn't work. 

In Washington, particularly during the Grossman/Beck season, it seemed the Redskins tried a similar approach. That ended in 2012 with the trade for RG3. The Redskins paid up big time, in the form of draft picks. 

Now it's arguable that a deal with Cousins can even be reached, but if that does happen, it will be because the Redskins pay up. Recent history doesn't suggest it, but this situation has never presented itself either. Cousins is a fourth-round pick that emerged after a few volatile seasons to establish himself as a Top 15 NFL starter.

There's no lesson for that in the history books. 

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