The Redskins went 20 years between taking defensive linemen in the first round of the draft. Now, after following up last year’s pick of Jonathan Allen in the first with yesterday’s selection of Da’Ron Payne, the Redskins have turned what was a weakness into a potential strength.
Over the past several years, the Redskins have tried to go the free agent route on the defensive line, plugging holes with free agents like Jason Hatcher, Stephen Paea, Terrance Knighton, Ricky Jean Francois, and Kendall Reyes. Paea and Reyes were costly busts, Hatcher contributed some, but his contract exceeded his production and Knighton and Francois had their moments but were short-term stopgaps.
For their money, the Redskins have gotten very poor rushing defense. They have not ranked better than 24th against the run since 2014 and they were dead last in 2017.
The Redskins believe they have improved that situation. Now, the Redskins can line up a defensive front with all homegrown talent in Allen, Payne, and Matt Ioannidis, a fifth-round pick in 2016. When they want some pass rush off of the bench they can bring in Anthony Lanier, signed by the Redskins as an undrafted free agent in 2016.
Jay Gruden said that they will line Payne up at nose tackle. That will allow Ziggy Hood, who has been plugged in at that position the last two season because of a lack of better options, to play a rotational end position, which better suits his ability, along with Stacy McGee.
Allen, Payne, Ioannidis, Lanier, Hood, and McGee would be the top six options on the defensive line. That leaves a group that includes Terrell McClain, Phil Taylor, and A.J. Francis competing for the seventh spot if they do even decide to keep seven. They kept six when they made the cut to 53 last September.
The Redskins gave themselves some roster flexibility last month when then renegotiated McClain’s contract. His $3.25 million salary for this year was going to become fully guaranteed on March 18. They got McClain to agree to change that to an injury-only guarantee.
Under the old contract, if the team had kept McClain past March 18 there would have been a net cap charge of about $2 million if they decided to move on from him. As it stands now, if they let him go in the final cut down they would save $3.4 million in 2018 but face a dead cap hit of $2.4 million next year. That’s still not ideal but much better than if the salary had remained fully guaranteed. So now, he will compete with the others on relatively equal financial footing.
- Redskins hope Payne will be able to solidify a porous run defense
- The Redskins drafted for need, and made a safe play