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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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Go home again? Redskins schedule visit with former RB Tim Hightower, per report

Go home again? Redskins schedule visit with former RB Tim Hightower, per report

The Redskins will host Tim Hightower for a visit on Wednesday, ESPN's Mike Triplett reported. Bringing Hightower in at this point represents an impressive story far beyond a mundane free agent visit.  

If his career ended today, Tim Hightower's story would already be remarkable. Hightower - a DMV native that played his college ball at the University of Richmond - played for the Redskins in the 2011 season. That season, he tore his ACL, and was limited to five games.

While torn ACL's happen frequently in the NFL, what happened next for Hightower was anything but ordinary. He missed the next three seasons with an undiagnosed infection, before incredibly returning to the NFL in 2015 with the Saints. 

His last two years in New Orleans, Hightower has been a solid contributor behind starting RB Mark Ingram. He's rushed for more than 900 yards, gained another 330 yards through the air and hit the end zone nine times in 24 games for the Saints. 

In Washington, Hightower would join a backfield of Robert Kelley, Chris Thompson, Mack Brown and Matt Jones. It will be interesting to see if Washington adds any other backs through the draft in April as well. 

Born in Waldorf, Hightower went to high school in Alexandria before playing college ball at Richmond. Playing with the 'Skins in 2011, Hightower quickly became a fan favorite, especially with his local ties. 

The Redskins run game has not been particularly strong for a few seasons, and questions remain if the current stable of runners will be enough to improve. Hightower doesn't necesarily equal a significant talent boost, but perhaps coaches and front office staff are looking at the group.

Be aware, however, this could be nothing more than a visit. Triplett reported it remains possible Hightower returns to the Saints. He also visited the 49ers last week, and new San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan was running the 'Skins offense in 2011 when the team originally acquired Hightower.

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Redskins draft countdown: WR Isaiah Ford could be a mid-round catch

Redskins draft countdown: WR Isaiah Ford could be a mid-round catch

Redskins draft countdown

The NFL draft is 36 days away and there is plenty of speculation as to what players the Redskins will select to wear the burgundy and gold. Between now and the draft we’ll look at some of the players who might be of interest to the Redskins and discuss how they might fit in Washington.

Isaiah Ford

Wide receiver
Virginia Tech

Height: 6-1
Weight: 194
40-yard dash: 4.61

Projected draft round: 3-4

What they’re saying

Ford looks the part of a speed merchant with a tight-skinned, athletic frame, including long limbs. He glides off the line of scrimmage, accelerating fluidly to force defenders to respect his ability to go deep and shows very good balance to sink his hips, as well as burst out of his breaks to create separation. Ford shows the initial quickness and lateral agility to avoid defenders in press coverage, occasionally mixing in a hesitation move to get opponents off-balance. He is willing to run across the middle and cut back inside on quick screens, showing the toughness to absorb big hits and still hang on to the ball. Ford was asked to play outside as well as in the slot

Rob Rang, CBS Sports

How he fits the Redskins: The top of the Redskins’ depth chart at wide receiver looks good with Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder and Terrelle Pryor. But depth is a concern, especially with Doctson’s durability a question mark. On top of that, Pryor is there on a one-year contract so there must be some succession planning at the position.

Ford was a very productive receiver at Virginia Tech, the first player in school history to surpass 1,000 yards receiving in a season. He has the knack for making the sensational catch and he isn’t afraid to go across the middle.

At 6-1 he has the height that seems to be the trend on the Redskins’ wide receiver corps lately. Ford could be a good mid-round pick for the team to develop in 2017 and be ready to be a full contributor in 2018.

Film review: vs. Tennessee, vs. Pitt

Ford is not afraid to run slants over the middle and is willing to cut back to the center of the field after catching bubble screens.

His run blocking ranged from unimpressive to bad with the caveat that it’s hard to evaluate on the TV camera angles. This is an area that can be improved with NFL coaching. Adding a few pounds to his 194-lb. frame could help, too. It also sometimes appears that he could use more bulk to help him use his height when fighting for a ball.

The good and the bad of Ford was on display in the span of a few minutes during the Pitt game. He made a spectacular catch on a tipped ball that bounced off of both him and the defensive back (view here) while they were on the ground. Ford had the awareness to scoop the ball off the chest of the defender and secure it to make the catch. A little while later he was in a great position to made a catch for a first down but he bobbled the ball as he was falling out of bounds (view here) and the pass was incomplete.

In the games I reviewed Ford showed a good knack to make back shoulder catches, something the Redskins don’t seem to like to try. But the ability is there if they draft him and want to try it.

Potential issues: Ford looks skinny, almost fragile, at 194 pounds. If he does add weight he needs to do so without losing much speed. He ran a 4.61 in the 40 at the combine. Against college defensive backs he looks fast enough but that will be a different story in the NFL.

Bottom line: The Redskins can’t go into the season with a very green Maurice Harris and a very pedestrian Ryan Grant as their backup wide receivers. They need a player who can provide depth in 2017 and be able to step up to have a legitimate shot at starting in 2018.

There will be several prospects in the third- and fourth- round range who could be the guy. If the Redskins think that Ford can add a few pounds without sacrificing speed and brush up on his run blocking a bit, they could take a serious look at him.

In his own words:

On how the coaching change from Frank Beamer to Justin Fuente helped him:

I think it simplified everything for us. It limited the amount of routes that I ran - slants, outs, fades and posts; my first two years, I was running digs, post curls, comebacks, things like that - that was fine. I'm comfortable doing both. The route-running was never a problem for me because I feel that's what I do best. Being able to play primarily 'X' last year, winning those 50-50 balls and running those routes, it helped me.

Previously in Redskins draft countdown:

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.