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Why the Redskins should (mostly) sit out free agency this year

Why the Redskins should (mostly) sit out free agency this year

When Scot McCloughan met with the media at the Senior Bowl in January, he was asked if he expected the Redskins to be active in free agency this year.

“We're not going to be big players,” he said. “I don't believe in that.”

Redskins fans should hope that McCloughan was not just blowing some of the smoke that is very prominent around the NFL this time of year. The Redskins would be better off being spectators for the next month or two, with a couple of exceptions.

Why? For one thing, they don’t have much cap room. They are currently $6.2 million over the cap. That overage will be reversed as soon as they save $16.1 million by releasing quarterback Robert Griffin III, moving the team to just about $10 million under the cap.

That’s a lot of money in most of the real world but in terms of NFL cap dollars to spend it’s pocket change. Even after they release Griffin, 29 teams will have more salary cap room. Sure, they will be able to create more by releasing some players (WR Andre Roberts) and negotiating some pay cuts (S Dashon Goldson and DE Jason Hatcher are prime candidates). But other teams will make similar moves and the Redskins are likely to remain one of the most cap poor teams in the league.

The top spending priority needs to be to retain their own players. They want Mason Foster to return to play inside linebacker. If they keep pass rusher Junior Galette and he regains his 2014 form the entire defense will be better. Darrel Young won’t take up much space but they need him for occasional blocking duty and for his big special teams contributions. And if they want to keep Colt McCoy around it’s going to cost them considerably more than the $1.5 million they shelled out last year.

They also need to set some money aside to work out an extension for tight end Jordan Reed. If they have some left over at the end of the year, fine. They can roll it over to 2017 and get a head start on paying Kirk Cousins and possibly extending CB Bashaud Breeland and OT Morgan Moses.

The main argument that those who are proponents of an active free agency will make is that the Redskins need to improve in multiple areas. And that’s true; any NFL team needs to aspire to something higher than 9-7 and a one and done playoff appearance. But free agency is not the way to significantly upgrade a team.

You can go back through the history of the team in the free agent era to see that it doesn’t work. Or you can look back at last year. The Redskins did not get a whole lot out of the six free agents that they did sign prior to the start of the season. Only one, nose tackle Terrance Knighton, started more than six games. Galette was injured before he played a snap and two others, DL Stephen Paea and CB Chris Culliver, ended the season on injured reserve.

Free agency frustration is not limited to the Redskins. One Giants beat writer looked at the top 10 free agents signed away from their original teams in each of the past three seasons. Of those 30 signings, only 12 could be considered successful deals for their new teams. Batting .400 is great in baseball but most businesses wouldn’t be around long by hitting on only 40 percent of their multi-million dollar investments.

With all of that said, the Redskins can’t be completely idle when the bidding starts today at noon and the signing starts Wednesday at 4 p.m. If they let Knighton walk after his one-year contract expires they will be in need of a veteran nose tackle. There are a few out there including Ian Williams of the 49ers and B. J. Raji of the Packers, players who can hold down the fort until a draft pick is ready to carry the load in the middle.

The Redskins also need a blocking tight end if they decide to move on from Logan Paulsen, who missed last season with a toe injury. Although he is a little bit older than McCloughan might prefer, the 6-7, 270-pound Scott Chandler (31 in July) would fill the blocking role well and could catch a pass or two.

Beyond that the Redskins should sit on their checkbook and look to the draft to improve depth. If they find themselves with some holes when that’s over there are always some cheap and available free agents looking for work in May when OTAs are cranking up.

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The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

Every NFL training camp is different, but there are a few consistent things you can count on happening at each one each year.

At some point, for example, a star will say that he's "just excited to hit a guy wearing a different colored jersey" after about a week of practicing against his teammates. Also on the list: a coach will tell reporters that his defense plans on being more aggressive and hopes to create more turnovers in the regular season.

One of the more pleasant camp traditions, meanwhile, is that undrafted rookie who goes from stand-in to stand out and makes the team by impressing in drills and preseason contests.

But while there will be plenty of time in the coming weeks for trying to figure out who'll do that for the Redskins in 2017, let's instead look back at a handful of the players who've already accomplished that in the past with Washington. Here are the seven best undrafted free agents the franchise has unearthed since 2010.

MORE: PLAYING OVER/UNDER WITH KEY STATS FOR KIRK COUSINS IN 2017

Logan Paulsen (2010)

No one will ever mistake Logan Paulsen's film for Rob Gronkowski's, but the former UCLA Bruin held down the third tight end spot for the Redskins from 2010-2014.

His two best years came in 2012 and 2013, where he posted 25 and 28 catches respectively, scored four total times and was on the receiving end of this magical fourth-down pass from Robert Griffin III against the Giants, a play that might've just been the peak of Griffin's rookie year. Now 30, Paulsen is reuniting with Kyle Shanahan out in San Francisco, continuing to exceed expectations and extending what's been a fruitful NFL career.

Will Compton (2013)

Will Compton's made a steady climb up Washington's roster since entering the league as a free agent linebacker out of Nebraska.

He was cut in his first season back in 2013 but latched onto the practice squad. He eventually debuted near the end of 2013, though, and made the 53-man squad the next go-round. 2015 was when he first started playing regularly, then last year he started 15 contests while also serving as a captain.

In 2017, he'll have to compete with Zach Brown and Mason Foster for a starting gig, but he figures to play plenty no matter the outcome and he's one of Jay Gruden's most trusted defenders. Not bad for a guy who has admitted he "wasn't confident" as a rookie:

Houston Bates (2015)

Special teams often is the avenue a college free agent has to take to make a roster, and Houston Bates is an example of one who's been there, done that. He's appeared in 24 games for the Redskins in his first two NFL campaigns and will look to recover from a torn ACL he suffered last December so he can add to that total in year three.

Before that injury, he was Washington's most active special teams player with 292 snaps in 14 contests.

Quinton Dunbar (2015)

Quinton Dunbar has not only overcome being an undrafted free agent; the former Florida Gator has also made the successful transition from wide receiver to cornerback, too.

Like his classmate Bates, Dunbar has participated often in 2015 and 2016, and like Paulsen, his biggest moments have come against the Giants. As a first-year pro, he picked off Eli Manning in the end zone to the delight of a raucous FedExField crowd, and as a sophomore, he helped complete a risky fake punt and also notched another (absolutely insane) INT in New York:

Rob Kelley (2016)

This offseason, Jay Gruden joked that Rob Kelley has worked his way up from "ninth-string" to starter. He laughed as he said it, but it may not have been that big of an exaggeration.

Kelley never rushed for more than 420 yards at Tulane, but he ripped off 704 last year for the 'Skins. Now he's the top option in a talented backfield, and while Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson are nipping at his heels for carries, Gruden has repeatedly said how much he loves Kelley. He'll be fed plenty in 2017.

Anthony Lanier (2016)

Anthony Lanier's on this list not for what he's done, but for what he's projected to do. Gruden uses not one but two really's to describe how excited he is about Lanier, and a couple of months of working with assistant Jim Tomsula might be all the lineman needs to make the jump from a project to a problem. 

Maurice Harris (2016)

Last on the list is a receiver who displayed sure hands and a knack for converting third downs in limited action last year. Maurice Harris now looks like he'll be an early option off the bench in Gruden's offense and should see the field far more often than he did in the second half of 2016.

You may not be fully sold on Harris, but it sounds like his teammates are, so don't be surprised if he breaks out and develops into another option for Kirk Cousins:

RELATED: RANKING THE REDSKINS ROSTER FROM BOTTOM TO TOP

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Need to Know: Redskins by the numbers—First-down rushing, forcing fumbles

Need to Know: Redskins by the numbers—First-down rushing, forcing fumbles

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, July 23, four days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 203 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 49 days.

Days until:

—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 18
—Preseason vs. Packers at FedEx Field (8/19) 27
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 41

The Redskins by the numbers

5.01—The average yards per carry against the Redskins on first down last year.

I have noted this before but I took a closer look and it’s even worse. In 2016, four running backs—Isaiah Crowell of the Browns, DeAngelo Williams of the Steelers, Jordan Howard of the Bears, and Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys—gained over 100 yards against Washington on first down alone. It took Elliott two games to get there but the other three made it in one. If the Redskins don’t get this fixed (this is the second year in a row they have been last in the league here) their defense won’t get much better.

3.85—The Redskins average offensive gain per carry on first down.

This is not a very good performance here — the average is 20th in the NFL. But it does represent a significant improvement from 2015, when they were last in the NFL at 3.3 yards per carry. One difference was negative plays. Two years ago, they had 63 first-down plays go for no gain or a loss of yards. Last year they had 48 such plays. Rob Kelley, who was fourth-best in the league as a rookie last year at gaining yardage after being contacted behind the line, can claim a lot of credit.

8—The number of opponents’ fumbles the Redskins recovered this year.

A total of 17 other teams recovered more fumbles than the Redskins did last year and their recoveries were exactly half of what they were in 2015, when they had 16, the most in the league. It wasn’t surprising that their recoveries fell. The numbers crunchers say that fumble recoveries aren’t “sticky,” meaning that there tends to be a lot of variance for each team each year. And that makes sense as a lot of recovering fumbles is the bounce of the ball.

But it should be noted that the Redskins forced just 22 fumbles last year after forcing 36 in 2015. You have to get the ball on the ground to recover it and the Redskins could do a better job of forcing fumbles in 2017

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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