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Need to Know: Will McCloughan boost the Redskins' offense through free agency?

Need to Know: Will McCloughan boost the Redskins' offense through free agency?

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, February 17, 7 days before the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

Will McCloughan boost the offense through free agency?

Last week I looked at how much Scot McCloughan might use free agency to bolster the Redskins’ defense. RWJ here has asked me to take a look at what the free agency plan might be on the offensive side of the ball.

My answer is going to be guided by McCloughan’s statement at the Senior Bowl that the Redskins are not going to be “big players” in free agency and by his past statements about the draft being the “lifeblood of the organization” and on having an aversion to signing players over the age of 30 who may not buy into the Redskins’ way of doing things. I don’t know if he will stick to this philosophy or not but he did adhere to it last year.

Let’s take a look at each position group:

Quarterback—Everyone knows that Robert Griffin III is going to be gone and that Kirk Cousins will be the starter after being retained with either the franchise tag or a long-term deal. If Colt McCoy decides that pastures are greener elsewhere and departs, the Redskins will almost certainly be shopping for a veteran free agent quarterback. In any case, I see one spot going to a project quarterback drafted somewhere from the fifth round on.

Running back—There will almost certainly be a need with Alfred Morris likely headed out of town. I think that McCloughan would rather draft one to either compete with or compliment Matt Jones. I doubt he will go for any back in the early stages of free agency so that leaves out players like Matt Forte and Lamar Miller. If he can’t get a suitable back in the draft I think he’ll look to that free agent market in May to pick up a back like Pierre Thomas to share some time with Jones.

Wide receiver—The Redskins already have two receivers who are sort of like free agents in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. They are getting up there in years (both will be 30 later this year) and they are expensive. They really can’t afford to bring on another big WR contract. With Andre Roberts likely to be cut the Redskins will look for depth—and probably 2017 replacements for Jackson and Garçon—in the draft.

Tight end—The Redskins don’t have any big contracts here yet. But Jordan Reed will get a deal averaging around $10 million per year so they can’t afford to spend too much more here. If they can sign a tight end who is capable of both blocking and providing something of a receiving threat for a million and a half per year they might do that. But such players are getting harder and harder to find.

Offensive line—After taking five offensive linemen in the last two drafts, the Redskins’ most frequent O-line starting combination last year had five players all drafted by the organization. Even though they may want to upgrade from Kory Lichtensteiger I don’t see them all of a sudden going off the rails and getting a free agent center.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 38 days ago. It will be about 207 days until they play another one.

Days until: NFL Combine 7; NFL free agency starts 21; 2016 NFL draft 71

In case you missed it

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How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

Do the Redskins have a draft need at running back? It depends on who you ask.

Jay Gruden seems to be very happy with incumbent running back Rob Kelley. Here is what he had to say last month about the second-year back, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, last month:

“Oh, man, I love Rob Kelley,” Gruden said. “I thought he played great. You throw a rookie free agent into the fire like that and see him play and compete. Not one time did I feel like it was too big for him. Not once. That’s a hell of a thing to say for a kid out of Tulane who only had a couple of carries his senior year. He came right in, he competes on every play.”

Kelley played in 15 games last year and rushed for 704 yards and scored six touchdowns. He started the last nine games and if you project his numbers in this games out over a 16-game season you get about 1,050 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s not Ezekiel Elliott or Le’Veon Bell production but it’s good for a team that is going to rely mostly on the pass.

Gruden also praised third-down back Chris Thompson and backup Mack Brown. In a telling sign, he acknowledged that 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones is still on the roster but he didn’t have much good to say about him.

Why, then, do you see so many draft analysts listing running back as one of the team’s most urgent needs? Mark Maske, who is the Post’s national NFL writer but also a former Redskins beat reporter, has them taking Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in his mock draft. “There certainly are issues on defense for the Redskins,” writes Maske. But there also is a need at running back.”

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said that the Redskins “obviously” need a running back as his rationale for mocking Florida State’s Dalvin Cook to Washington at No. 17.

So, what is it? Is Kelley adequate for the Redskins’ needs considering they call pass plays on over 60 percent of their offensive snaps? Would they run more often if they had a back like McCaffrey or Cook? And if they did run more would the offense improve?

I think that running back is like several positions with the Redskins. If they have to get through the 2016 season with what they have they will be OK. But if there is an upgrade on the board when they are on the clock they won’t hesitate to make the pick if he’s the best player available.

We will see what happens if, say, McCaffrey is still on the board when the Redskins pick at No. 17 and top defensive targets like Rueben Foster and Haason Reddick are off the board. That will be the true test to see how committed Gruden and the rest of the organization are to Kelley, Thompson, and company. 

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When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

A four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ, Aqib Talib has a long and checkered past, which includes multiple arrests and failed PED and drug tests. The problems aren't new either, the talented cornerback was first arrested as a high school student. In college at Kansas, Talib was suspended multiple times and had multiple positive tests for marijuana use. 

Why does this matter for Redskins fans on the eve of the NFL Draft?

Despite all the trouble, Bruce Allen drafted Talib 20th overall in 2008 when the current Redskins general manager was in the same role for Tampa. While Talib's legal troubles and suspensions continued in the NFL, he also proved to be a highly capable cornerback in the pro game. 

The lesson for those trying to determine the Redskins draft board: Allen might be willing to look past red flags if a player presents good value. Talib did in 2008, and there could be opportunities for Washington in 2017.

Reuben Foster jumps to mind, as the talented Alabama linebacker will enter the league in the substance abuse program. While Foster's issues pale in comparison to other allegations about some draft prospects, players like Joe Mixon, Gareon Conley and Caleb Brantley will also present unique circumstances for NFL teams to evaluate. 

GMs are thrust into the unenviable task of determining a player's character, often in short periods of time. As 'Skins director of college scouting Scott Campbell explained, the team grades every player for their football skills first, and only later adds in character information. From Campbell's comments:

When you start to evaluate guys in the beginning, you don’t factor in the character. You don’t grade character, you grade talent. So you don’t throw away somebody early that may have some redeeming quality, or there’s a side to the story you don’t know about. You grade football players as football players first on talent, and then when it comes closer to the draft, you start weeding all that, getting more information, deciding, ‘OK, this guy’s not our kind of guy, this guy’s not a Redskin, this guy could be drafted, but good luck to him.

Thursday night the Redskins will be forced to make a determination on the right player for the team. That decision could include judging a player's character, and that could mean balancing legal or substance abuse troubles with talent and ability.

Talib is only one pick in Allen's long personnel career, but it's one worth noting. 

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