Over the next few weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2015, break down the current personnel situation and evaluate the unit's outlook for 2016. Today, we’re taking a look at the outside linebackers.
2015 starters: Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy. (Junior Galette, a projected starter, spent the entire season on injured reserve.)
Backups: Preston Smith and Houston Bates.
Free agents: Galette (though the Redskins own first right of refusal.)
Rewind: Last season got off to a really rough start for this group.
Kerrigan had his knee scoped in the offseason and did not play in the preseason. And the team’s biggest offseason acquisition—Galette—ruptured an Achilles’ tendon in training camp.
The Redskins had planned to line up Galette opposite Kerrigan and turn the duo loose. Instead, Galette ended up on injured reserve and Kerrigan had just 3.5 sacks after nine games.
Things, however, turned around for Kerrigan and Co. in the second half.
Kerrigan overcame a broken bone in his hand and amassed six sacks in the final seven regular season contests. He finished with 9.5 sacks, down four from 2014, but he also recorded a whopping 46 quarterback pressures, which ranked behind only Khalil Mack, Tambi Hali, Von Miller and Pernell McPhee, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Rookie Preston Smith, meantime, emerged down the stretch, racking up six sacks in the final four games, including the playoff loss to the Packers. His eight sacks in the regular season led all rookies, while his four forced fumbles led the Redskins.
Trent Murphy finished with 3.5 sacks, up one from his rookie season. But his playing time declined late in the season as Smith's playing time and production increased.
The Redskins’ pass rush ranked 14th overall last season, generating 38 sacks. That total represented a modest gain from 2014 but was still 14 fewer than the league-leading Broncos amassed.
Fast forward: Kerrigan, Smith and Murphy are all under contract. Galette is not, though the team doesn't seem concerned about losing him.
The Redskins own the first right of refusal as they negotiate an extension with Galette. Those negotiations, however, hit a snag after Galette fired his agent—the fourth representative he’s had in six years— last week. The Redskins want a multi-year deal; Galette would prefer a one-year prove-it deal so he can potentially cash in next offseason.
"He’s doing everything he can to get his body right, and now it’s a matter of getting him signed to our football team," Coach Jay Gruden said last week. "I feel good about our chances in doing that, but you never know."
Assuming a deal gets done—and Galette makes a full recovery—he could prove to be a difference maker. On paper, in fact, an outside linebacker lineup that features Kerrigan, Galette, Smith and Murphy looks pretty good. It’s also possible GM Scot McCloughan will bolster that group with the free agent or draft pick in the coming weeks.
From a coaching perspective, the Redskins have already made an investment in the position. In January, the team hired Greg Manusky, the former San Francisco and Indianapolis defensive coordinator, to coach the outside linebackers. Manusky’s hiring marks the first time since 2014 that the team has had an assistant to work specifically with the outside backers.
Previous defensive position outlooks: