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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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Need to Know: The best Redskins late-round picks of the last 10 years

Need to Know: The best Redskins late-round picks of the last 10 years

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 29, 25 days before the Redskins start OTAs on May 24.

Timeline

At Redskins Park—Fourth through seventh rounds of the NFL draft; conference calls with players selected; Gruden will speak to media shortly after Redskins’ final pick.

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 13
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 25
—Training camp starts (7/27) 89
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 134

The Redskins’ best late-round picks since of the last 10 years

While no aspect of drafting in the NFL is easy, it is much harder to find key contributors on the last day of the draft than it is in the first three rounds. The Redskins will have seven picks in this afternoon's draft to try to find one or two of them. 

Since the 2007 draft the Redskins have taken 56 players from the fourth round on. Of those, 45 played in at least one NFL game but only 12 of them were the Redskins’ primary starter at their positions for at least one season. Here are the five best of those players.

QB Kirk Cousins (round 4, 2012)—He was probably the most controversial pick on this list since the Redskins had just drafted Robert Griffin III a couple of days earlier. History proved Mike Shanahan right.

RB Alfred Morris (6, 2012)—This pick came a few hours after and with much less noise than the Cousins pick did. Many believed that the Redskins were set a running back with Roy Helu and Evan Royster. Morris not only surprised many by making the team but he lined up as the Week 1 starter. He went on to break the team’s single-season rushing record by piling up 1,613 yards rushing.

LB Perry Riley (4, 2010)—He didn’t get into the lineup until midway through his second season. Riley was always solid for four-plus seasons as the starter but never spectacular. The team let him go last year in training camp and he played well for the Raiders after they picked him up.

CB Bashaud Breeland (4, 2014)—Breeland started 15 games as a rookie. At first he was in the slot but after DeAngelo Hall was injured in Week 3, Breeland moved to the outside and he has stayed there ever since. He has seven career interceptions and seven forced fumbles.

WR Jamison Crowder (4, 2015)—At 5-9, many teams thought Crowder was undersized and he didn’t run a great 40 at the combine. But he was big enough and fast enough to break the Redskins rookie record for receptions in a season and then to lead the team in touchdowns with eight last year.

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.

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Jay Gruden squashes perception that Alabama defenders don't produce in NFL

Jay Gruden squashes perception that Alabama defenders don't produce in NFL

Alabama dominates college football in a way few teams ever have. In the last two seasons, the Crimson Tide has lost just two games, winning one national title and narrowly missing a second.

The strength of 'Bama, year after year, is their defense. Nick Saban coaches it, Nick Saban knows it, and Nick Saban demands the best from his players. 

Oddly, however, a few recent Alabama defenders drafted to the NFL have not produced. Or at least their production did not match their draft status. 

It's not too hard to pick names that fit that perception. Rolando McClain. Terrance Cody. Dre Kirkpatrick. And at running back, Trent Richardson didn't help.

Still, the Redskins invested heavily in the Tide during the 2017 draft. Their top two picks played for Saban's defense last year, and Washington coach Jay Gruden does not buy any part of the perception that 'Bama products regress in the NFL.

"I don’t see any negative whatsoever with them going to Alabama," Gruden said late Friday night.

The 'Skins selected Jonathan Allen in the first round and Ryan Anderson in the second. Both guys started on the Tide's front seven, and both players dominated.

"They come there and they are well coached. Anytime you watch college football, and you watch other defenses, no disrespect, and then you flip on an Alabama game, it’s different," Gruden said. "The speed is different. They are well-coached, they are in their gaps, they play hard, they play physical, and that’s from Week 1 until the end. That has to appeal to you as a coach. They are using their hands, they are physical, they are chasing the ball, they are running to the ball."

The perception, right or wrong, has two main positions. The first is that the Alabama defense looks so good because it is full of five-star recruits. When everyone is good, or great, on the college level, it's hard to truly judge any singular player's game tape. The second is that Saban is so exhausting, so demanding of his players, they arrive to the NFL with too many reps.

For those around the NFL, both theories are laughable. Pro scouts know game tape. How else can they judge a future first rounder when he matches up against a walk-on? And for every alleged 'Bama bust, think about Haha Clinton-Dox or Landon Collins or C.J. Mosley or Dont'a Hightower. 

Might some Tide players get overdrafted because of their success and high profile? That's a different conversation. What's certain is the Redskins are quite confident in both of their Alabama draft picks.

"We know they are both highly intelligent guys. They understand football, understand X’s and O’s and they both play very hard with a high motor and they are well-coached."

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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