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Redskins draft countdown: Would the Redskins spend a first on LB Zach Cunningham?

Redskins draft countdown: Would the Redskins spend a first on LB Zach Cunningham?

Redskins draft countdown

The NFL draft is 44 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.

Zach Cunningham

Inside linebacker

Height: 6-3
Weight: 234
40-yard dash: 4.67

Projected draft round: 1

What they’re saying

Cunningham sports a long-levered frame with broad shoulders, a tapered middle and plenty of room for additional muscle mass without significantly impacting his impressive quickness, agility and speed. He attacks oncoming blockers with an aggressive and powerful initial punch, quickly disengaging on his way to the ball. Unlike most linebackers with his length, Cunningham shows good recognition and body control to slip cut blocks, as well, sprawling to maintain his balance and rarely losing sight of the ball. 

Rob Rang,

How he fits the Redskins: The Redskins start a pair of inside linebackers who are smart players and great teammates but Will Compton and Mason Foster are limited athletically. If the Redskins want to upgrade here, Cunningham would be a good place to start. He is a playmaking machine, fast and aggressive.

He led the SEC in tackling, although some are concerned that his tackling technique needs some work. His pad level tends to be too high but that is something that can be corrected by coaches.  

Potential issues: He is tall and angular and he has issues fighting off blockers, especially if they go low in him. Having a good defensive line in front of him will help mitigate that and, as of now, that is not an asset that the Redskins possess at the moment.

Although he played on the inside at Vanderbilt, many draft analysts think that he would be better suited to playing a weakside linebacker in a 4-3. But the Redskins are in 4-3 often enough that he could play inside in base and then go outside when the OLBs put their hands in the dirt on passing downs. Still, a first-round linebacker has to be a three-down player and the Redskins would have to be convinced that he can play inside in base defense.

Cunningham is a much better value later in the first round and he could be a reach at No. 17. It seems like they are always open to trading back so perhaps they could do that and snag him somewhere in the twenties.

Bottom line: The Redskins have never use major assets for the inside or middle linebacker positions. Since the merger, they have not spent a first- or second-round draft pick on the position. The only major free agent acquisition there was London Fletcher and the contract he signed with Washington in 2007 was not a blockbuster. Their primary philosophy has been to draft in the middle rounds (Perry Riley) or not draft at all (Compton) and develop.

So, will the Redskins change a philosophy that stretches back for decades? You never know but it would be a surprise if they take a player like Cunningham in the first even though he could provide an instant boost to the offense.

In his own words:

When asked for a self-scouting report:

I have a great work ethic. Passion for the game. Passion for what I do. A hard player. A team player. Always putting the team first. But is going to sell himself out for his teammates as much as my teammates would see themselves out for me.

Previously in Redskins draft countdown:

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Good news Redskins fans: Jason Pierre-Paul shipped out of NFC East


Good news Redskins fans: Jason Pierre-Paul shipped out of NFC East

The Giants shipped out Jason Pierre-Paul for life as a Buccaneer, and in turn, Tampa will send a third and fourth round draft pick to New York.

Moving Pierre-Paul comes at a curious time for the Giants. The team will eat $15 million of dead money in the move, and New York also sent a fourth-round pick to Tampa as part of the transaction. 

What it definitely signals is that Big Blue looks to be moving from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4 look. Additionally, with the second overall pick in the NFL Draft in April, maybe the Giants will seriously look at NC State defensive lineman Bradley Chubb. 


For the Redskins, seeing Pierre-Paul leave the NFC East is welcome news. He has 12.5 career sacks against Washington QBs, the same amount he has against the Eagles and Cowboys combined. 

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Looking at the details of Zach Brown's contract with the Redskins

Looking at the details of Zach Brown's contract with the Redskins

The Redskins and linebacker Zach Brown agreed to a three-year contract that will require Brown to continue to play at a high level if he is going to collect all of the $21 million the deal contains.

Brown’s camp reportedly was shopping for a contract that had some $20 million in guaranteed money. The actual deal fell well short of that.

Brown, who was leading the league in tackles before an assortment of injuries forced him to sit out the last three games, got a total of $5.5 million in fully guaranteed money. He got a $4.5 million signing bonus and his $1 million salary for 2018 is fully guaranteed.


After that, the remaining two seasons essentially are team options. In 2019 he has a $6.75 million salary and $4.5 million of that is guaranteed for injury. His 2020 salary is $7.5 million with no guarantees of any kind.

The contract also has per-game roster bonuses available at a rate of $15,625 for each game he is on the 46-man game day roster in 2018 (total of $250,000 for the year) and $31,250 per game in 2019 and 2020 ($500,000 total).

The salary cap hits per year are as follows:

2018: $2.75 million
2019: $8.75 million
2020: $9.5 million

The average annual value of $7 million ranks ninth among inside linebackers.

Brown will need to continue to play well to collect on the contract. The team will be able to save $5.75 million on the 2019 cap if they terminate the deal after one season and $8 million if they do it in 2020.


Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.