In two days since the NFL opened up the doors for free agents to negotiate with new teams, the Redskins signed two veteran linebackers in Thomas Davis and Kevin Pierre-Louis. The team also re-signed linebacker Jon Bostic.
Combine those three linebackers with incumbents Cole Holcomb, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Josh Harvey-Clemons, and the Redskins are starting to have a glut at the position.
So what does all of that mean for Reuben Foster?
It's not good.
Foster missed all of the 2019 season after a devastating knee injury during summer OTA work. Late in the 2019 season, a report came out that Foster suffered extensive nerve damage, but the good news was he regained feeling in his foot. "Regained feeling in his foot" and actually playing football seem quite far from one another.
Keep in mind the Redskins are switching to a 4-3 defense, and an early projection would have Cole Holcomb and Thomas Davis as starting outside linebackers with Jon Bostic in the middle of the defense. Harvey-Clemons and Hamilton are two young players who have dealt with injuries during their time in Washington and were drafted under the previous regime. New head coach Ron Rivera just signed Pierre-Louis, which probably puts him ahead of the two younger guys. Washington also signed former Panther Jared Norris earlier this offseason, another linebacker with Rivera ties.
If Foster can get back on the field healthy - and that's a huge if - he should be able to compete with this linebacker group. He has tremendous athleticism and speed and plays physical downhill football. But nobody seems to know his medical future, the team has given no official information, and the Redskins could still add more linebackers in free agency or the NFL Draft in April.
One important note that will likely say a lot about Foster's future: He's in the last year of his rookie contract. He's owed about $1.7 million in salary, none of it guaranteed.
Since he was a first-round pick in 2017, the Redskins hold the right to exercise a fifth-year option on the rookie deal, but that would carry a fully guaranteed one-year salary likely north of $7 million.
There is simply no way the Redskins should exercise that option before the league deadline in May.
Even on a normal timeline Washington probably wouldn't have time to see if Foster came back healthy from the knee injury and subsequent nerve damage. Under the current Coronavirus conditions, it's not even clear when players will return to facilities or see medical staff.
Foster has now collected more than $2 million from the Redskins and never even registered a tackle. The injury was unfortunate, but for many fans that wonder where his spot is going forward, the question is if he even gets on the roster, not if he starts.
It's important to note that signing Foster in the first place was an audacious move by former Redskins team president Bruce Allen, arguably the most controversial move of his tenure in Washington.
Ron Rivera has no ties to Foster, who the Redskins signed off waivers late in the 2018 season after he was released by the 49ers. San Francisco released Foster due to his second domestic violence arrest in less than a year. No other NFL team even put a waiver claim in on Foster, and Washington got torched for the move from a public relations standpoint. The NFL quickly moved Foster to the commissioner's exempt list, ending his 2018 season.
Eventually, Foster was cleared of charges stemming from the November arrest and the NFL decided there weren't grounds for a suspension. For a brief time, the Redskins move to bring in Foster and deal with all the criticism seemed warranted from a football perspective. After all, Foster had the physical tools to be a star linebacker for Washington.
Then, in his first day wearing a Redskins uniform during a meaningless OTA drill, Foster landed wrong and severely injured his knee. He was carted off the practice field, screaming in pain while stunned players, coaches and media watched the scene unfold.
Now, with Allen out of the picture and Rivera focused on rebuilding the Redskins through a strong culture, it seems unlikely Foster is a big part of the long-term plan, especially with his medical questions.
Removing all of the off-field baggage, this scenario could look very similar to Josh Doctson's 2019 season. He was going into the last year of his rookie contract and Washington decided not to exercise the fifth-year rookie option.
That meant for the first time in his Redskins career, Doctson was not being protected by the Redskins front office. With increased competition at the receiver position in training camp, Doctson was released during final cuts.
Foster's case could be accelerated due to the injury, but the trajectory looks similar.
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