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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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Will Jay Gruden increase his 'big role' in the Redskins' personnel process?

Will Jay Gruden increase his 'big role' in the Redskins' personnel process?

While it hasn’t been the best offseason for the Redskins organization in many respects it has been a good one for coach Jay Gruden. In the midst of turmoil over the status of general manager Scot McCloughan, Gruden got a two-year contract extension.

Although the final agreement on the deal came on March 4 in a steakhouse in Indianapolis during the NFL Combine, team president Bruce Allen said that talk of extending Gruden started much earlier.

“It was after the season, Dan [Snyder], Jay and I got together and we talked about the game plan because we’d made some changes on the coaching staff as well following the season,” Allen told CSN’s JP Finlay at the owners’ meetings in Arizona.

Gruden became the team’s head coach in 2014. His original five-year contract was set to expire after the 2018 season but now he is in the fold through 2020.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 6.0

Gruden’s record in Washington is 21-26-1, not the kind of record that normally has an organization rushing to extend a head coach. But after a 4-12 inaugural season, Gruden has led the Redskins to records of 9-7 and 8-7-1 the last two years. While by many standards that is a modest achievement, it marked the first back-to-back winning seasons in Washington since 1996-1997. The hope is that Gruden will keep them moving in the right direction.

The extension is likely to be popular in the locker room as players have come to like Gruden’s style.  

“His directness, his sarcasm and at the same time he gets his coaching point in but the guys do like his sense of humor as well,” said Allen. 

It’s not known if Gruden’s extension gives him more authority over personnel. His original deal gave him very little, with first Allen and then McCloughan having the final say in personnel selection and control over who makes the 53-man roster. Some NFL head coaches have final say in free agency acquisition and in the draft while many have control over who makes the 53.

MORE REDSKINS: 3 takeaways from talking to Allen

Gruden does have some informal influence when it comes to the draft.

“He’s got a big role,” said Allen. “First of all, he coordinates all the coaches’ reports and when we set the draft board, Jay will be up there. He watches every player who will be on the draft board and he will have an opinion.”

There is a power vacuum at Redskins Park with McCloughan gone. A new general manager won’t get hired until after the draft and the authority of that GM will have will be a matter of negotiation. It would not be surprising to see Gruden ending up with roster control.

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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Need to Know: What is the Redskins' plan for QB Kirk Cousins?

Need to Know: What is the Redskins' plan for QB Kirk Cousins?

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, March 28, 30 days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/17) 20
—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 45
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 57
—Franchise tag contract deadline (7/15) 109
—First Sunday of 2017 season (9/10) 157

Tuesday three and out

1. Maybe Bruce Allen and the Redskins have a master plan for saving the whole Kirk Cousins situation but right now it just looks like they’re stuck without a solution to paying $24 million to a quarterback who likely will be gone in a year. That’s money that could either be rolled over into future seasons if Cousins gets traded or used as a down payment on a long-term Cousins deal. Maybe there’s a master plan there somewhere but right now it looks an awful lot like the organization is just stumbling around in the dark, stubbing its toe while trying to find the light switch.

2. WR Brian Quick will cost the Redskins less against the salary cap than they are paying him. That’s because his contract takes advantage of the minimum salary benefit. He gets the sixth-year minimum salary of $775,000 plus an $85,000 signing bonus, a total of $860,000. Because of the minimum salary and low signing bonus the CBA rules allow the team to essentially discount the cap hit for the contract down to $695,000. The rule is designed so that younger players are necessarily cheaper, at least when it comes to the salary cap.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 6.0

3. Allen hinted that the Redskins won’t necessarily hire a general manager after the draft. While talking to colleague JP Finlay he said, “We’ll talk about what we need after the draft from a staffing standpoint.” Not “we’ll search high and low for the best GM in the business” but that needs will be examined. It’s going to be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

And out—Allen didn’t have much to say when JP asked about the stadium project that was a hot topic a year or so ago, only confirming that talks are ongoing. The fact that he had so little to say, not even some platitudes about the desire to build a great environment for the fans. Reading between the lines, this makes me think that a deal is getting close and the less that is said about it at this point the better. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe will be term limited out of office next January and the feeling is that he will want to leave a Redskins stadium deal as his legacy.

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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