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John Legend, Lil Jon and other factors weighing on Redskins' decision with free agent Preston Smith

John Legend, Lil Jon and other factors weighing on Redskins' decision with free agent Preston Smith

Edgy describes Ryan Anderson’s demeanor, playing style and music choices.

The Washington Redskins’ outside linebacker and Preston Smith's primary backup desires “hard (expletive)” rap before games while working up a physical and mental lather. Tracks from Mystikal, Lil Jon and “any Young Jeezy” crank through Anderson’s headphones. R&B crooners need not apply.

During this season, one of Anderson’s position coaches offered a musical example of why the second-year defender must modify his habits for a more harmonious future.

“[The coach] told me at one practice this year to stop trying to do so much (on the field),” Anderson told NBC Sports Washington. “Just be John Legend instead of Mystikal or Lil Jon. When you think about that, it makes sense. Be smooth, calm down, be John Legend.”

If the organization believes an Anderson transformation from supporting cast to starter is possible, call it a rap on Smith’s career with the Redskins.

Smith ranks among Washington’s most prominent free agents. The organization showed little initiative in signing the edge rusher to an extension before or during the 2018 campaign.

“I'd love to have [Preston] back for sure, but obviously free agency is what it is,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said late in the regular season. “He's earned the right to go out and shop himself around, but I'm hopeful that we can get him back."

Slot receiver Jamison Crowder, running back Adrian Peterson and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix also hit open waters once their contracts expire at the end of the current business year.

From the Redskins' perspective, whether any return depends on salary cap scenarios and perception of replacement options.

Washington has $15.5 million in salary cap space available for 2019 according to Spotrac.com, and a lengthy list of roster needs. Letting Crowder and Clinton-Dix escape creates more holes. The Redskins have a backup option at running back with Derrius Guice returning from injury.

The outside linebacker scenario falls somewhere in between, though no direct battle exists between Smith, a second-round in selection in 2015, and Anderson.

Smith, a three-year starter, played in 81 percent of all defensive snaps last season. He has not missed a game in four seasons.

His backup took the field on 16 percent of snaps last season. Injuries sidelined Anderson for five of 32 career games.

Smith’s four sacks in 2019 set a career-low, yet doubles Anderson’s overall total.   

Despite the limited sack total, Pro Football Focus rated Smith eighth among all NFL outside linebackers last season.

“I still think his future is very bright in the National Football League,” Gruden said.  “He is young, he is strong, he is long, he is smart. Obviously, from a production standpoint, he only had four sacks this year and that's low for a guy like that. But, I think he will get more and more the more he plays."

Anderson’s primary advantage is financial.

NFL.com considers the 26-year-old Smith the 17th best free agent this off-season, meaning a sizable pay raise in his future after concluding a four-year, $5.8 rookie contract.

Anderson, whose rookie contract extends through 2020, is on the books for a $1.7 million cap hit next season.

The Redskins do not need exemplary production from the burly 2017 second-round selection. Receiving a steady and forceful effort as a run stuffer and pocket-collapser works.

“Ryan Anderson has been in and out with the injuries, but he's done solid (work) with his assignments,” Gruden said.

An unwillingly participant in media sessions during his rookie season, Anderson turned engaging with reporters in Year 2. Chatting while seated in front of his locker at Redskins Park, he labeled his sophomore season “up and down,” but also recognized growth with his mental game.

“This year [the game] finally started to slow down for me. (Unlike) last year, everything wasn't a blur,” Anderson told NBC Sports Washington.

Washington often uses its outside linebackers to create a perimeter edge, forcing opposing ball carriers inside where teammates await. That is a good use of the powerful 253-pound Anderson.

Whether the Redskins use him as the 2019 starter is beyond his control.

“I’m just trying to get myself together so I’m in the best shape, so there’s no question about the position when I’m playing," the University of Alabama product said. “I don’t want to go out there and get the snaps I’ve been asking for and then I’m not producing.”

Anderson also plans on letting the assistant coach’s Legend-ary advice sink in.

“I’m a guy that doesn't even really listen to that kind of music,' Anderson said of Legend's soulful fare, "but at that the end of the day it makes sense.”

As does going with the flow until the Redskins sort out their off-season strategy at outside linebacker. 

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Pressure Points: Redskins need bounce back from Preston Smith

Pressure Points: Redskins need bounce back from Preston Smith

In the weeks leading up to training camp, Redskins Insider JP Finlay will look at specific people facing increased pressure for the 2017 season. 

Pressure Point: Redskins OLB Preston Smith

Heat is on: Smith impressed as a rookie, finishing the 2015 season with eight sacks and a very strong second half of the season. Throughout 2016 training camp in Richmond, Smith's blend of speed, athleticism and size flashed and he looked poised for a double-digit, breakout sophomore NFL season. 

Only it didn't happen.

At times, Smith showed how great he can be, particularly in a November win over the Vikings. In that game, Smith logged two sacks and made an incredible, leaping interception of Sam Bradford, tipping the ball up to himself before making the grab. After that game, Washington coach Jay Gruden chided Smith saying the team needs that kind of play every week. 

For the season though, Smith mustered just three other sacks, finishing with five on the year. If you watched the Redskins week after week last season, Smith came close on a number of other quarterbacks. For whatever reason, however, he couldn't get guys down.

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Turning forward to the 2017 season, Smith will need to produce more. 

After two mediocre seasons, Trent Murphy burst out for a nine-sack campaign in 2016. Murphy will serve a four-game suspension to start 2017, but then he will be back on the field. 

There will also be increased competition from 2017 second-round pick Ryan Anderson out of Alabama. Last season for the Crimson Tide, Anderson logged 8.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. And before we forget, Junior Galette looks to return to the field for the first time in two seasons. Staying healthy will be a test for Galette, but if he does, the snaps at outside linebacker will grow even more in demand. 

Ryan Kerrigan is a lock to start, play the most snaps, and get double-digit sacks. After his rookie year, it looked like Smith would be the natural complement to Kerrigan. After his second season, that is no certainty. 

Smith has all the ability for a big year in 2017. If he doesn't perform, the Redskins have options. The pressure is on. 

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Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Preston Smith's fed up with almost sacking QBs and wants to finish better in 2017

Preston Smith's fed up with almost sacking QBs and wants to finish better in 2017

In the NFL, pressuring the opposing quarterback is a premium skill. But pressuring, and then also taking down, the opposing quarterback is even more valued.

As a rookie for the Redskins in 2015, Preston Smith did more of the latter on his way to compiling eight sacks, which was a very high number for a first-year pro. That total was almost cut in half in his second year, though, as Smith had just four and a half takedowns in 2016.

Whether or not No. 94 has heard the favorite phrase of crotchety people everywhere about close only counting in horseshoes and hand grenades, he can at least definitely relate to it after a sophomore campaign in which he reached passers plenty, but just couldn't get them to the ground in time. 

And that's something he believes he must address heading into 2017.

"I just feel like I had a lot of opportunities to get more sacks, and just in the moment, didn't capitalize," Smith told Redskins Insider JP Finlay during a #RedskinsTalk podcast conversation. "I missed a lot of sacks. There was a lot of real close ones."

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Smith then reviewed the almost-sacks that pained him the most, including a few against the Bears where Matt Barkley was barely able to get the ball out before his knee hit the ground and one against Ben Roethlisberger where the Steelers legend completed a pass despite having the defender on him.

It was also very evident in the 24-year-old's tone that this was something he really finds difficult about being in the NFL (in fact, he told Finlay earlier in the chat he has given up fried foods this offseason, and his voice was nowhere near as sad then as it was when running through the near-sacks).

"It's like you work hard to get a sack, and sometimes, OK, you get there, and the quarterback's throwing the ball while he's falling or even though you're attached to him," he said. "It's frustrating, and that's pretty much my whole [2016] season, it was a frustrating season. Because I can get there. It wasn't a problem of getting there."

The negative side of getting to his targets a moment too late in his second season is that it led to that glaring difference in his overall stats. But is there a positive side? 

Well, in a way, yes — Smith understands exactly what he needs to do better to bounce back for the Redskins starting in the fall.

"When I get to the quarterback this year, I just know," he said. "I have to have those opportunities, I have to create those moments where he has no chance to get the ball off." 

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!