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Need to Know: What is the Redskins' free agency game plan?

Need to Know: What is the Redskins' free agency game plan?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, March 9, one day before the Washington Redskins and the rest of the NFL start free agency.

The free agency game plan

We’re a day away from free agency starting in the NFL. In the past, we would have a pretty good idea of how active the Redskins would be. There were usually a few splashy first-day signings, with some big money dropped in the first week of the spending sprees. With occasional exceptions that was how things usually played out with Charley Casserly, the Vinny Cerrato/Dan Snyder combo, Mike Shanahan, and Bruce Allen.

Now there’s a new sheriff in town and nobody knows quite what to expect early in free agency. Or late. Or anywhere in between.

When Scot McCloughan was hired, he promised to take the team in a different direction with an emphasis on the draft. But unlike his mentor, Packers GM Ted Thompson, who generally sits out free agency, McCloughan said that he sees some value in it.

“I honestly think the draft is the lifeline of your organization, but also you’ve got to understand with free agency that’s a tool that you can use and you can use it in a positive manner,” he said at his introductory news conference in January.

Through the years the Redskins haven’t been able to use free agency in a “positive manner”, at least not positive enough to build a consistently successful team. Sure, they have signed some individual players who have worked out but as a team-building strategy free agency has been a massive failure.

What has McCloughan done in free agency in the past? In his first year in charge of the 49ers, the only place he has been where he was truly in charge of both the draft and free agency, he did next to nothing in free agency. Of the 22 main starters in 2005, 20 were either holdovers or ’05 draft picks of the 49ers. WR Johnny Morton came from the Lions and DE Marques Douglas came from the Ravens. Morton was at the tail end of his career. Douglas’ signing is roughly comparable to the Redskins landing Ricky Jean Francois last week.

That was the extent of the 49ers 2005 free agent activity, at least in terms of players who saw major action on the field. They were 2-14 in 2004 and improved to 4-12 in ’05.

While that’s interesting it’s not necessarily informative about what to expect in 2015. Different teams and different years could well lead to different plans. It’s hard to imagine McCloughan signing an aging wide receiver to go with Jean Francois and calling it a day.

They need two starting caliber safeties and they can’t rely on being able to find them in the draft. Market conditions may force them to stay in house for their starter at right tackle but it appears they would least like to add some veteran depth. Cornerback depth is reliant on the health of DeAngelo Hall and, if he stays around, Tracy Porter. Again, they can’t rely on the draft for a nickel corner. They released two defensive linemen, could lose another to free agency and signed one.

So we will see how McCloughan handles it. My feeling is that they will be relatively quiet the first day and maybe into the weekend. Then they will go into action to scoop up some good fits who will have shorter contracts with less guaranteed money than the guys who signed on Saturday.

This will allow McCloughan to build through the draft and not have positions taken up by free agents who have contracts that make them too big to fail.

But that’s just my working theory. Right now very few know what McCloughan’s free agency game plan looks like. We might get a few hints over the course of the next day and a half leading up to the Tuesday 4 p.m. start to free agency. After that we’ll get some hard facts to discuss.

Timeline

—It’s been 71 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be about 188 days until they play another one.

Days until: Redskins offseason workouts start 42; 2015 NFL Draft 52; Redskins training camp starts 143

If you have any questions about what's going on at Redskins Park, hit me up in the comments. And I'm always on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Jay Gruden wants DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon back, but 'won't blink' if they're gone

Jay Gruden wants DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon back, but 'won't blink' if they're gone

The Redskins face the very real prospect of losing receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon via free agency. Head coach Jay Gruden wants both players back, but is prepared to roll with the guys on the team if Jackson and Garçon depart. 

"Obviously DeSean and Pierre had great years. 1,000 yards each. Those are going to be hard to replace," Gruden said to reporters in Indianapolis. 

It's still possible the Redskins keep both Jackson and Garçon, or keep one of the two, just as both players could leave the organization. In his comments, it seemed like Gruden does not expect one or both guys to be back, and that the team will move on without them. That could mean losing Jackson's 1,005 receiving yards or Garçon's 1,041. 

"Coach the guys that we have. Free agency you’re never going to be able to sign everybody you want as a coach," he said. "I’d like to have Alshon Jeffery, Pierre and DeSean. Heck, give them all to me. I know that's not going to happen."

Gruden tends to joke often speaking with the media, and clearly the prospect of signing Jeffery, a star wideout for the Bears that will hit free agency next week, along with Jackson and Garçon isn't going to happen. The receiver market in free agency will be interesting to watch, as a number of top options will be available. Jeffery, Jackson, Garçon along with Cleveland's Terrelle Pryor and younger prospects like Kenny Stills and Kenny Britt. 

Asked if it was "necessary" to bring at least one of Garçon or Jackson back, Gruden bristled. 

"Would never say necessary. I’d love to have them both back, I'd love to have one back. If we are unfortunate enough to lose them both, I'm not gonna blink."

The coach explained the team has a good crop of young pass catchers already on the roster. 

"I do feel very good about Jamison Crowder, Ryan Grant, Josh Doctson. I love the fact that Mo Harris got a lot of work in, he’s gonna develop."

The coach should feel good about the young receivers, their development is part of his job. Crowder looks like a future star in the slot. Still, Jackson and Garçon accounted for more than 40 percent of Kirk Cousins' passing yards in 2016. That's a lot of yardage to lose. 

Of course, Doctson's development will be a major theme this offseason. A first-round pick in 2016, the Redskins got next to nothing from him as a rookie as he dealt with an Achilles injury. A healthy 6-foot-2 Doctson could offset some of the lost productivity that would come with the departure of Jackson or Garçon.

And then there is always free agency. It's entirely possible Washington could sign another, perhaps cheaper, wideout on the marketplace should they lose two the same way. Gruden said the team has 'other free agents' the team could pursue.

"We have Plan B's and Plan C's ready to go," Gruden said. 

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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The Redskins aren't willing to trade Kirk Cousins unless they are

The Redskins aren't willing to trade Kirk Cousins unless they are

Shortly after Kirk Cousins got the exclusive franchise tag from the Redskins on Saturday, two sort of conflicting reports. One, from Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, was that Cousins “is not going anywhere” and a trade is essentially off the table. Mike Florio of Pro Football talk, quoting “a source familiar with the dynamics of the situation” reported that the Redskins would have to be “blown away” by a trade offer in order to pull the trigger on a deal.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 4.0

On the face of it, the reports conflict. One says that Cousins is available, the other says that he isn’t. But that valuation of them assumes the sources for these reports were intent on putting out the truth. The fact is that Cousins is very much available for the right offer.

A conversation along the lines of this one could well take place in Indianapolis this week:

“How much do you want for your house?”

“It’s not for sale.”

“No, really, how much do you want.”

“Really, it’s not for sale.”

“I’ll give you $50,000 over whatever it gets appraised for.”

“Sold!”

In short, you don’t need to have a “for sale” sign up in front of something to sell it. In fact, sometimes it’s better to act as though you have no intention of selling whatever it is. That can intrigue potential buyers even more.

The analogy falters a bit as it seems that the Redskins are unlikely to get a premium over whatever Cousins’ valuation on the open market might be. The receiving team will have to give the QB a massive contract. In addition, a team that wants Cousins is likely to be able to get him with no compensation in a year, when Cousins is likely to be an unfettered free agent. But you get the idea.

More Redskins: What happens next with Cousins?

The message from the Redskins is, don’t come at us with a couple of mid rounders. There is some point where the compensation for giving up Cousins a year earlier than they might have to isn’t enough. It literally would be better to rent Cousins for one more season than get, say, a third-round pick with a 2018 fifth thrown in.

That being said, they are not going to get the RG3 type haul—three firsts and a second—in exchange for Cousins. The likely would accept something south of that in exchange for Cousins’ rights.

So, he’s not available at any price—unless the price is right.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.