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Redskins’ focus in free agency needs to be on their own players

Redskins’ focus in free agency needs to be on their own players

Two weeks from today, the Redskins and the rest of the NFL will start free agency. We are running a series on CSNwashington.com taking a position-by-position look at which players the Redskins might be interested in signing. It started yesterday with the safety position.

Even though new GM Scot McCloughan is committed to building through the draft, the organization will need to sign some free agents from other teams; there are simply too many holes to fill with draft picks.

But the Redskins should spend a minimal amount of their cap space, which currently stands at around $16.1 million but could grow to well over $20 million with some contract terminations and renegotiations, on free agents from other teams.

Instead, the focus should be on signing their own players, the ones they drafted and developed. If you want to know why the Redskins have struggled for so long, get ready for a sobering fact.

Since 1984, a span of 31 drafts, the Redskins have taken 20 players in the first round. Only two of them, 2000 first-round picks LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels, have signed second contracts with the Redskins. Some, like Brian Orakpo, have stayed on the franchise tag. Carlos Rogers, the team’s top pick in 2005, was kept around another year as a restricted free agent. But for the most part the Redskins’ first rounders have moved on when their rookie contracts were up if not sooner.

How can a team sustain any sort of success if it can’t hold on to its top talent? Or, in some cases, when their first-round picks just aren’t worth keeping?

The team has four first-round picks up for new contracts in the next calendar year. Orakpo will be a free agent on March 10. There is a legitimate case to be made for letting him walk, although the Redskins should at least ask for a chance to examine the best offer that Orakpo gets on the open market before making a final decision.

Next year, Trent Williams, Ryan Kerrigan, and Robert Griffin III all are set to be free agents. The team should work with Williams’ and Kerrigan’s agents to get them locked up for the long term before the 2015 season starts. The little-used term “Redskin for life” needs to be applied to both of them.

Griffin is a different case. The team can decide to activate an option clause in Griffin’s contract that would lock him up for 2016 for a salary of about $16 million. That does not seem likely to happen. The best course of action would be for the Redskins and Griffin’s camp to hammer out a two- or three-year deal with some guaranteed mone and some incentives. Such a deal would give the player some degree of security while giving the team some options to move on if Griffin continues to struggle.

The Redskins’ draft pick retention problem extends beyond the first round. The last second-rounder to sign a second contract was Fred Davis, who came back on a one-year deal after being franchise tagged after his rookie deal ran out. You have to go back to the second-round pick in 2002, backup running back Ladell Betts, to find a second rounder who signed a multi-year extension. The last second-round starter to sign a multi-year extension was 1999 second-round pick Jon Jansen.

How about the third round? Chris Cooley, picked in 2004, is the only player drafted in that round to sign an extension during the free agency era.

Next year is a big year when it comes to free agents. In addition to Williams, Griffin, and Kerrigan, other players slated to be unrestricted free agents are Keenan Robinson, Alfred Morris, and Darrel Young. Instead of shopping for stars from other teams as they have done for so many years, the Redskins need to hone in on targets closer to home.

At some point, a team has to start taking care of its own. For far, far too long the Redskins have either failed to do that or have drafted players that just weren’t worth hanging on to. Both issues need to be corrected if the team is ever going to move forward.

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A Redskin fan's guide to the NFL Draft Combine

A Redskin fan's guide to the NFL Draft Combine

This week in Indianapolis the NFL world will converge at the Scouting Combine to watch college football players work out, sprint and lift weights in anticipation of the upcoming draft. For the Redskins front office, this draft needs to be a win.

The 2016 Draft could still yield strong results for Washington, but overall the class did not play particularly well as rookies. This year, Scot McCloughan has nine picks at his disposal, with the extra picks late in the draft in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds.

It's no secret that the 'Skins need help along the defensive line, a lot of help. That should be a major area of focus for the Redskins scouts and coaches, and that will make next Sunday arguably the most important of the week in Indianapolis. 

The combine divides players into 11 position groups, but Groups 7, 8 and 9 will matter most. Groups 7 and 8 represent defensive linemen and 9 are the linebackers. That group officially arrives on Thursday but won't work out on the field until Sunday. The days in between include interviews, psychological testing and the bench press.

Obviously the Redskins won't spend all nine picks on only defensive linemen. The team will likely invest in the offensive line as well, and that group will arrive earlier in the week and work out on Friday. Cornerbacks and safeties are the last to work out on Monday, March 6. 

With the likely departure of at least one of DeSean Jackson or Pierre Garçon, and the possible departure of both, it would make sense for the 'Skins to bring in another receiver via the draft. They work out on Saturday, and should the Redskins decide to take a quarterback in the draft, the passers will work out that day too. 

Running back could be another spot the 'Skins invest. Jay Gruden said that Robert Kelley is locked into the RB1 role, but still the team might want increased competition at the position. The backs will work out Friday.

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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Why won’t Redskins brass talk to the media at the NFL Combine?

Why won’t Redskins brass talk to the media at the NFL Combine?

The NFL has released the official schedule of when NFL coaches and executives will take the podium and address the media at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. You can find it right here but I’ll save you a click—nobody from the Redskins is scheduled to talk.

NFL teams are not required to have a representative speak at the combine but most do. This year only the Saints and Patriots are joining the Redskins in avoiding the media.

Bill Belichick never talks at the combine and I believe that the Saints have bypassed the opportunity to do so in the past. However, the Redskins head coach traditionally has gone to the podium in the past. Joe Gibbs spoke when he was in his second stint as the head coach. Mike Shanahan, as tight lipped as anyone, met with the press in Indy each of his four years as head coach. Jay Gruden has spoken during each of the three years that he has been head coach.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 3.0

And last year Scot McCloughan held a small media gaggle with local reporters in his hotel in Indianapolis.

This year the Redskins are going somewhat dark. McCloughan did not speak to reporters at the Senior Bowl (Gruden held a brief availability in Mobile), a departure from his first two years with the team. And now no Redskins representatives at the combine.

One of the problems with changing what has been a longstanding practice and going into radio silence is that it leaves people speculating. If the team doesn’t want to put any information out there that is the organization’s option. But if you choose not to fill in the blanks, the fans and media will.

So why aren’t they talking? The best bet is that they are in a delicate stage when it comes to dealing with the future of quarterback Kirk Cousins. He is a pending free agent who is likely to be hit with the franchise tag on Wednesday, the day before the combine starts. At that point, the clock will be ticking on Cousins either signing a long-term contract or getting traded to a team that is willing to meet his asking price. It’s my guess that Jay Gruden does not want to face questions about Cousins’ future.

More Redskins: #RedskinsTalk podcast: Is Kirk too nice for his own good?

Gruden is not a very good liar; his poker face needs a lot of work. Perhaps that is a good quality for a human being but not a very good attribute for someone who would need to go out and talk about Cousins as the long-term quarterback for the team, or at least the QB for the coming season, when his status may be very much in doubt.

This is not to say that there is definitely going to be a trade of Cousins worked out at the combine. But it is very possible that a deal will be discussed with Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers and any number of other quarterback-needy teams. And perhaps there is concern that Gruden will let something slip or, more likely, say a lot on the subject of Cousins by not saying anything.

Again, this is just reading the tea leaves on my part. But by going silent the Redskins are sending an invitation for people to fill in the blanks. I am just taking them up on it.

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.