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.