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Need to Know: How much will Redskins' McCloughan dip into free agency in 2016?

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Need to Know: How much will Redskins' McCloughan dip into free agency in 2016?

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, January 20, 35 days before the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

Question of the day

We’re flipping into offseason mode with Need to Know. At least a few days a week I’ll give an in-depth answer to a question submitted by a fan on my Twitter feed, via the Real Redskins Facebook page, or in the comments section here. On Twitter address the questions to me at @Rich_TandlerCSN with the #NTK hashtag. There will be a comment thread set up on the Facebook page and if you’re asking your question here, put “for NTK” at the start of the comment.

Today’s question comes from Twitter

This should be an easy question to answer since McCloughan constantly preaches building through the draft. But last spring he signed five free agents to contracts that totaled $69 million and then shortly after the start of training camp he signed pass rusher Junior Galette. It was not a spree that reminded anyone of the Vinny Cerrato days but the bottom line was over 20 percent of the roster and about a third of the starters were veteran free agents who had joined the team in the last two seasons. That’s not really building through the draft.

Why did McCloughan do that? It’s likely that the believed that the Redskins needed some help in a hurry. All of the signees played defense. Three were on the defensive line, a particular weak spot. Chris Culliver was brought on the shore up the cornerback position and Jeron Johnson was brought after both 2014 starters at safety, Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather, were no re-signed.

If you have an immediate need it is unwise to try to fill it in the draft unless you have a very high pick and you have be very confident that a particular player will be there. Players picked in the second round can’t be relied on to start right away (19 of the 32 second-round picks last year did not start as many as half of their games). And after the second, it’s a crap shoot; if you find a rookie starter in the draft on Saturday you were just plain lucky.

So the question is, where do the Redskins have immediate needs? Certainly they have to upgrade in many areas. But where do they not have a starting caliber NFL player anywhere on the depth chart? That’s not an easy question to answer.

For example, the interior of the offensive line needs to play better but the organization may or may not believe that a veteran free agent should be part of the solution. Do they think that Shawn Lauvao will be back and healthy in time for training camp? Can Arie Kouandjio be plugged in to the left guard spot if there’s no confidence in Lauvao’s recovery? Can Spencer Long move to center? Or do they think that Kory Lichtensteiger can hold down the fort there while a draft pick gets ready?

Such multilayer questions exist at almost every position on the field and the staff is still sorting them out. It’s logical to assume that they answers to some of them will have to be found in free agency. I wouldn’t be surprised if McCloughan brought in four or five free agents, all of them fairly young and relatively cheap, similar to what he did last year. The Redskins have eight draft choices (two seventh rounders) and I anticipate McCloughan moving back to pick up more.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 10 days ago. It will be about 235 days until they play another one.

Days until: NFL Combine 35; NFL free agency starts 50; 2016 NFL draft 99

In case you missed it

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When will Jordan Reed return? Jay Gruden says he 'can't predict it'

When will Jordan Reed return? Jay Gruden says he 'can't predict it'

The Redskins best pass cacther did not play in a loss to the Cardinals, and it appears there is still no clear timeline for Jordan Reed's return to the field. 

"Jordan will be day-to-day," Washington coach Jay Gruden said. "You know, we just have to wait and see."

Gruden issued the same statement on Reed last week, and the tight end proceeded to miss all Redskins practices for the week and was announced out for the Arizona game on Friday. Reed's injury came on Thanksgiving in Dallas when he separated his shoulder diving in the end zone for a Kirk Cousins' pass during the first half.

Incredibly, Reed returned in the second half and caught two touchdowns while playing in immense pain. Gruden and Cousins used words like 'stunned' and 'surprised' talking about Reed's return in the Dallas game, but looking forward to Philadelphia, it's hard to know what to expect from the tight end's shoulder.

"Everybody is different with these types of injuries and hopefully he is a fast healer but we’ll take him day-to-day, get him his treatment and go from there," the coach said. "I can’t predict it."

For the season, Reed has 59 catches for 630 yards and five touchdowns in just nine games. Reed missed two games earlier this year after sustaining a concussion against the Ravens.

Without Reed in the lineup against the Cardinals, the Redskins offense dipped in production. Cousins threw for less than 300 yards for the first time in three games, though backup tight end Vernon Davis had five catches for 47 yards. 

If Reed practices Wednesday, even in a limited role, would be a good sign for the 'Skins tight end. 

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Goal to go situations another problem area for Redskins' defense

Goal to go situations another problem area for Redskins' defense

In the third quarter of the Redskins’ Week 3 game against the Giants, New York drove to a first and goal at the Washington 10. A Trent Murphy sack and two incompletions later, Josh Brown came in and kicked a field goal.

Since then, opponents have had goal to go situations 12 times. They have scored touchdowns on every one of them.

The stop against the Giants was one of just two all year. They had one against the Cowboys in Week 2. Their opponents’ goal to go success rate is 90.5 percent. That’s the second worst in the NFL.

The failures have been costly. On Sunday, the Cardinals recovered a Kirk Cousins fumble and returned it to the Washington 10. The Redskins led 13-10 at the time and coming out of that situation with the game tied would have been large. But on third and goal at the six Carson Palmer hit Michael Floyd with a touchdown pass and the Cardinals had both the lead and the momentum.

Opponents usually haven’t had to work that hard. Teams have run 21 plays in goal to go and they have 10 touchdowns.

On Thanksgiving Day, the Cowboys got to goal to go three times. A stop on any one of them would have been a boost to the Redskins and would have changed the dynamic of the game. But Dallas was three for three.

The goal to go problems are a subset of the Redskins’ problems with red zone defense in general. Opponents have scored touchdowns on 27 of 40 red zone trips, a 67.5 percent success rate that puts the Redskins 30th in the NFL.