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Redskins make big cuts, create cap space, and send message to the NFL

Redskins make big cuts, create cap space, and send message to the NFL

Ron Rivera took over the Redskins top job less than 50 days ago, but in no short time, he overhauled the team's front office and coaching staff.

On Friday, Rivera went to work on the roster. 

The team released veteran cornerback Josh Norman and wide receiver Paul Richardson. The moves create nearly $15 million in cap space, but also deliver two distinct messages. 

The first came from the Norman release, and it was obvious. Norman's play did not validate his excessive salary, particularly in a bad 2019 season, and it was time for both sides to move on. In four seasons in Washington, Norman was largely misused in man coverage when he excels playing zone, but at this point, none of that mattered. 

It was time for Norman's bloated salary off the books, and Rivera made the move that demanded to be made. 

In Richardson's case, the decision wasn't entirely driven by money. Sure, it's nice for the Redskins to clear $2 million in cap space by cutting the oft-injured wideout, but that's not enough money to cut a player. Richardson got released because he missed 15 games in two years and accounted for only 507 receiving yards despite being paid like a WR1. 

The decision to cut Richardson was about a lack of production, and more importantly, that the new regime does not need to try to fix previous mistakes. 

Jay Gruden and Bruce Allen signed Richardson to a five-year, $40 million deal two years ago. They had to make it work, and when it was clear that it wasn't working, they had to try some more, results be damned. 

Rivera doesn't have to take on any bad contracts or mishandled signings of the Allen era. He gets to start fresh, even when it means taking a $6 million cap hit in the case of Richardson. 

There will be more cuts - Jordan Reed seems likely to be at the top of the list. There is some question on how that will happen due to Reed's medical concerns, and perhaps the team will reach an injury settlement with the tight end. 

Other players bring questions about salaries, and fans would be wise to expect the unexpected when it comes to more changes on the roster.

Rivera is beholden to no one, and as much as Washington owner Dan Snyder has influence, consider that Allen and longtime trainer Larry Hess got fired last month despite strong relationships with Snyder. 

There is another message at play here: Expect the Redskins to be aggressive in free agency. 

The team desperately needs cornerbacks now, and that will be a target. Tight end too. 

When the new NFL year opens in mid-March, Washington could have more than $75 million in cap space. That gives the team options. 

Whatever Washington's reputation was around the NFL under Allen, and it wasn't great, those days are over. By releasing Norman and Richardson now, Rivera did both guys a service by getting a leg up on the free-agent market. That wasn't always the case before. Think back to last season when it was obvious the Redskins were going to release linebacker Zach Brown. Did they help him out and grant an early release? Nope. 

Things are different in Ashburn. Josh Norman is gone, Paul Richardson is gone. Plenty of other guys too. 

It's not personal, it's just business, and Rivera is wasting no time getting to work. 

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For those thinking the Redskins could go with Kyle Allen over Dwayne Haskins, consider this

For those thinking the Redskins could go with Kyle Allen over Dwayne Haskins, consider this

Kyle Allen's acquisition has led some to wonder if Dwayne Haskins is now in a true fight for the Redskins' starting quarterback job. DeAngelo Hall came out with comments saying as much last week, and his opinion is shared by a few other analysts and some fans, too.

That outcome is certainly on the table, sure, and it moves closer to the center of the table the longer Coronavirus keeps teams away from the facility. If the offseason gets cut short or erased entirely, Allen's familiarity with Scott Turner's offense goes from a very useful trait to something that could be enough for him to take the field in Week 1. 

But as long as there is some semblance of normalcy over the coming months, Haskins should be Washington's starter. You can believe that because Ron Rivera indicated that's how he himself is operating, or you can believe that because, like Chris Cooley, you think Haskins is simply the better QB.

If those two reasons aren't enough, though, consider this: Going with Haskins appears to line up with how Rivera has approached his first free agency and first campaign as the franchise's leader.

Like it or not, Rivera has mostly brought in low-cost players this March. Aside from pursuing and losing out on Amari Cooper, he and the front office seem content with just trying to make this roster more well-rounded and more competitive while the coach looks to establish his way of doing things in 2020.

Of course, Rivera, Kyle Smith and others would love to begin this new era of Redskins football by stringing together nine or 10 victories and making it into January. That said, they're all aware that they're assuming control of a 3-13 team and are at the start of a rebuild that may require a few seasons to really take effect.

In other words, this is the perfect time to let a 2019 first-rounder have a full year under center and in shotgun and allow both he and the organization to figure out if he can be a difference maker in the NFL.

If Haskins struggles, the Redskins should let him try to fight through those struggles. And if he continues to struggle, then they can finally turn to Allen. That scenario will in all likelihood lead to another unsightly record and put Washington in a spot to draft a premium signal caller in 2021. 

However — and this is weirdly a result that doesn't get mentioned enough — it could really pay off and set the Redskins up for major success under Rivera.

One of the top shorcuts to relevancy is having a quality passer on a cheap deal (and Haskins' deal has the potential to be really cheap through 2022). If the Redskins give Haskins 2020, he could give them much more in return.

Sure, if Allen entered this September as the guy, his chemistry with Turner and Rivera could make the Burgundy and Gold's record marginally better in the short term. That said, the Redskins' strategy in free agency doesn't indicate that they're too preoccupied with the short term. 

Overall, Allen is no scrub. In fact, he has produced more than Haskins has as a pro up to this point. Yet for Rivera and Co., what happens next matters far more than what's happened already.

If they're being patient with addressing their roster, they need to be patient with Haskins. They may one day be very thankful that they were.

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Redskins Free Agency Report Card: Offense fails to add difference-maker

Redskins Free Agency Report Card: Offense fails to add difference-maker

Ever since Ron Rivera took over as the Redskins head coach in early January, he has preached finding the core players on the roster in order to turn the culture around. But if the first wave of free agency proved one thing, it's that it takes a lot more than just a shakeup in the front office and a new head coach to change a culture. 

Rivera inherited an offense that played multiple rookies a season ago. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin has already established himself as a stud, while both Steven Sims and Kelvin Harmon have shown promise. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins had his growing pains in 2019 but started to finally put things together as the season concluded.

But as a whole, the Redskins offense from a year ago was really bad. They averaged just 16.6 points per game, dead last in the NFL. Only the New York Jets averaged fewer yards per game than the Burgundy and Gold.

The Redskins knew that entering free agency, the team would need to add difference-makers on offense. Someone who could help Haskins grow as a passer, but also change the entire dynamic of the offense. They tried twice, but swung and missed both times, and didn't appear to have much of a backup plan, which is why they earn a D grade on their offensive free agency report card.

On the first day of the legal tampering period, the Redskins attempted to pry away Amari Cooper from their rival Dallas Cowboys. Cooper, the best free agent wideout on the market, would have been an excellent fit in the Redskins offense. He's just 25 years old, an excellent route runner, and a go-to target for a young quarterback to look for. With McLaurin opposite him, the duo would have made a dangerous tandem on the outside.

In their first free agency together, Rivera and Redskins Senior VP of Player Personnel Kyle Smith offered the four-time Pro Bowler a massive contract with even more money than the one Dallas put forward. They were ready to make a franchise-altering investment in Cooper and have him be the crown jewel of their first free agency class. But Cooper decided to stay put and signed a five-year deal with the Cowboys, citing the ability to contend for a championship right away.

After missing on Cooper, the Redskins didn't pursue any of the next tier free agent receivers, such as Emmanuel Sanders or Robby Anderson. Instead, the lone wideout Washington has signed in free agency is Cody Latimer. A former second-round pick, Latimer has never turned in a season with more than 25 catches or 300 yards. Sure, it's a low-risk signing, but nowhere near a game-changer the Redskins desperately need.

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Entering free agency, tight end was the position the Redskins arguably needed to upgrade the most; having a solid player at the position is crucial for a young, developing quarterback like Haskins. Washington released the oft-injured Jordan Reed this offseason and Vernon Davis retired, leaving a gaping hole at the position.

The Redskins were expected to be major players for Austin Hooper, the top tight end available. But the former Falcon agreed to a four-year deal with the Cleveland Browns just minutes after players could start negotiating with teams. A few days after signing with Cleveland, Hooper told SiriusXM that he was between the Browns and the Redskins and felt Cleveland offered a better chance to win.

After missing out on Hooper, the Redskins went shopping at the bargain bin once again, signing tight ends Logan Thomas and Richard Rodgers each to a one-year deal. Over the past four seasons, Rodgers has a total of 43 catches for 438 yards. He's had multiple injuries, too, playing in just eight total games since 2017. Thomas is a converted quarterback-turned-tight-end who had a career-high 16 receptions a season ago.

The team has also added two running backs, J.D. McKissic and Peyton Barber, to compete with Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice and maybe Bryce Love.

Once again, these are all low-risk signings. Not a ton is expected from any of them, and almost any above-average production can be seen as a bonus. But for a team that desperately needed to find another game-changer on offense, none of these players have proven to be that guy yet in the pros.

The Redskins aren't going to contend for a Super Bowl in 2020, and Rivera knows that. Rebuilds take time, and Rivera has more than earned the respect to design Washington's rebuild the way he wants. 

But the head coach has preached finding guys who he believes will be core players for years to come. And after missing out on two of the teams top targets -- Cooper and Hooper -- the Redskins have likely not signed anyone on the offensive side of the ball that fits that category.

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