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Redskins’ focus in free agency needs to be on their own players

Redskins’ focus in free agency needs to be on their own players

Two weeks from today, the Redskins and the rest of the NFL will start free agency. We are running a series on CSNwashington.com taking a position-by-position look at which players the Redskins might be interested in signing. It started yesterday with the safety position.

Even though new GM Scot McCloughan is committed to building through the draft, the organization will need to sign some free agents from other teams; there are simply too many holes to fill with draft picks.

But the Redskins should spend a minimal amount of their cap space, which currently stands at around $16.1 million but could grow to well over $20 million with some contract terminations and renegotiations, on free agents from other teams.

Instead, the focus should be on signing their own players, the ones they drafted and developed. If you want to know why the Redskins have struggled for so long, get ready for a sobering fact.

Since 1984, a span of 31 drafts, the Redskins have taken 20 players in the first round. Only two of them, 2000 first-round picks LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels, have signed second contracts with the Redskins. Some, like Brian Orakpo, have stayed on the franchise tag. Carlos Rogers, the team’s top pick in 2005, was kept around another year as a restricted free agent. But for the most part the Redskins’ first rounders have moved on when their rookie contracts were up if not sooner.

How can a team sustain any sort of success if it can’t hold on to its top talent? Or, in some cases, when their first-round picks just aren’t worth keeping?

The team has four first-round picks up for new contracts in the next calendar year. Orakpo will be a free agent on March 10. There is a legitimate case to be made for letting him walk, although the Redskins should at least ask for a chance to examine the best offer that Orakpo gets on the open market before making a final decision.

Next year, Trent Williams, Ryan Kerrigan, and Robert Griffin III all are set to be free agents. The team should work with Williams’ and Kerrigan’s agents to get them locked up for the long term before the 2015 season starts. The little-used term “Redskin for life” needs to be applied to both of them.

Griffin is a different case. The team can decide to activate an option clause in Griffin’s contract that would lock him up for 2016 for a salary of about $16 million. That does not seem likely to happen. The best course of action would be for the Redskins and Griffin’s camp to hammer out a two- or three-year deal with some guaranteed mone and some incentives. Such a deal would give the player some degree of security while giving the team some options to move on if Griffin continues to struggle.

The Redskins’ draft pick retention problem extends beyond the first round. The last second-rounder to sign a second contract was Fred Davis, who came back on a one-year deal after being franchise tagged after his rookie deal ran out. You have to go back to the second-round pick in 2002, backup running back Ladell Betts, to find a second rounder who signed a multi-year extension. The last second-round starter to sign a multi-year extension was 1999 second-round pick Jon Jansen.

How about the third round? Chris Cooley, picked in 2004, is the only player drafted in that round to sign an extension during the free agency era.

Next year is a big year when it comes to free agents. In addition to Williams, Griffin, and Kerrigan, other players slated to be unrestricted free agents are Keenan Robinson, Alfred Morris, and Darrel Young. Instead of shopping for stars from other teams as they have done for so many years, the Redskins need to hone in on targets closer to home.

At some point, a team has to start taking care of its own. For far, far too long the Redskins have either failed to do that or have drafted players that just weren’t worth hanging on to. Both issues need to be corrected if the team is ever going to move forward.

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There's a competition brewing among the Redskins defensive linemen, per Daron Payne

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Redskins Nation

There's a competition brewing among the Redskins defensive linemen, per Daron Payne

If you find yourself looking for Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, and Matt Ioannidis, you really just need to find one of them. Odds are, if you locate one, the other two will be close by.

The second-year pro, third-year pro, and fourth-year pro have forged quite a bond on the Redskins' defensive line, which is easily the team's most promising unit going into 2019. The three guys share an appreciation for lifting really heavy weights and dropping opposing quarterbacks. 

As it turns out, that latter love is actually part of the inspiration behind a bet Payne, Allen and Ioannidis have queued up for the 2019 campaign. Payne revealed that while with Larry Michael on a recent episode of Redskins Nation.

"Me and Jon and Matt got a little competition right now on sacks and tackles," he said with a smile, but he ultimately didn't shed any light on what the competition's compensation will be.

Whatever the trio is playing for, it should be a close race.

Ryan Kerrigan led the 'Skins in sacks in 2018, but Allen (8), Ioannidis (7.5) and Payne (5) were second, third and fourth respectively. In terms of tackles, meanwhile, it went Allen (61), Payne (56) and then Ioannidis (31). 

Allen and Payne saw a ton of snaps last year while Ioannidis was used more in a rotational role, which limited his tackles. He's an insanely productive pass rusher, though, so he can make up some ground in the sacks/tackles bet by keeping that trend going. Any of them are a solid pick if you're trying to project who'll capture their title.

Payne, for one, expects to generate better numbers in his second go-round in the league.

"Of course," he responded when Michael asked if he left some sacks out there as a rookie. "Definitely did. I want to get a couple more."

In the team's offseason practices, he's already noticed that things are "coming easier," so perhaps he'll be able to record those extra takedowns he's looking for.

As mentioned earlier, you can make an easy case for Payne, Allen or Ioannidis to win their competition, but you won't know who that winner is until late December.

One thing you can already say, however? That the QBs and running backs they'll be chasing down are the losers in this thing. That much is already known.

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Three little-known Redskins who could make things interesting at training camp

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Three little-known Redskins who could make things interesting at training camp

Ah, NFL training camps. They're where every handoff always results in a first down, safe from refs who can ruin things with one piece of yellow cloth and home to roster sleepers.

This story, though, is devoted solely to the third item on that list.

JP Finlay came up with his post-minicamp Redskins roster projection earlier this week and has said he's already extremely confident in roughly 49 of his 53 picks. What can really throw off those kinds of projections, though, is the emergence of little-known players at training camp.

Now, trying to find the next Rob Kelley or Quinton Dunbar or Cam Sims can come off as foolish, considering Washington will bring 90 players to Richmond in late July. However, using observations from offseason practices so far and clues from what coaches are saying can narrow the list of potential preseason difference makers.

So, here are three Redskins who seem like they could seriously shake things up when the Burgundy and Gold reconvene for the summer grind.

Jeremy Reaves

When he's asked to critique a certain position group, Jay Gruden often does this thing where he lists every player in that group, from starter to backup to fringe option. It's hard to discern the times when he's doing that just to be polite from the times when he's doing that because each name truly is relevant.

Jeremy Reaves' name, however, has come up twice at two very different points of the spring and early summer.

Here's Gruden from after the draft, when he was asked about what the Redskins have at safety.

"We still have Montae [Nicholson]. We obviously drafted [Troy] Apke last year, which is a pretty good option. We have [Jeremy] Reaves here in the building. He's doing some good things, did some great things at the end of the year on practice squad. And Deshazor [Everett] and Landon [Collins]. So, we have five pretty good safeties."

Here's Gruden a month and a half later, after the team's last open OTA session, again addressing that secondary spot.

"Apke is doing well. It has been good to see him get a lot of these reps and work. Obviously, last year he did not get a whole lot with his hamstring, so he is progressing nicely. Everett also has picked up the slack. He has done a very good job. Reaves, he made some big plays out there today. So, those guys are taking advantage of their time."

With Collins, Nicholson, Everett and Apke, the defense should be set on the back end. Those four all feel quite locked in.

Yet Nicholson is coming off of an unpredictable second year as a pro, while Apke couldn't get healthy at all in 2018 after a hamstring issue. Perhaps Reaves, who Gruden also called an "upcoming talent" last December, can pick up the slack if either of those DBs drop off.

Sure, the path won't be easy for Reaves, but one thing's for sure: It's better to be brought up by the head coach than not, and he's being brought up relatively frequently.

Craig Reynolds

Craig Reynolds is an undrafted rookie running back who played for the Golden Bears in college.

No, not the California Golden Bears. The Kutztown Golden Bears. Yes, that's a real school, and yes, it's fine if you've never heard of it.

Reynolds could be the longest longshot of the three players on this list, but guys like Kelley, Mack Brown and Marcus Mason have come from a similar level of anonymity to take fall snaps in the 'Skins backfield.

If you look at the RB depth chart, Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice and Chris Thompson are making the 53 barring anything crazy. Bryce Love will probably hit the PUP, but he's in the franchise's plans, too.

That means Reynolds will have to compete with the likes of the quite popular Samaje Perine and Byron Marshall, but he should see plenty of action late in preseason games. He averaged more than 150 total yards per game last year at school — indeed, it was Division II, that's a very fair counterpoint — but it feels like the chances to make impressions on Gruden and Randy Jordan in precious live action will be there. It's not like Peterson or Thompson will be used that much, anyway.

Plus, if Perine starts fumbling again or Marshall gets injured as he did in 2018, Reynolds could see those chances grow. He just has to seize every one that comes his way.

Donald Parham

Tight end feels like another position that should be simple. Jordan Reed is the star, Vernon Davis is still around despite a somewhat heavy contract and Jeremy Sprinkle is entering Year 3. If Davis or Sprinkle face any competition, you'd expect it to come from the likes of Matt Flanagan or JP Holtz.

You shouldn't ignore Daniel Parham, however. In fact, it's pretty much impossible to.

Parham signed with the 'Skins on June 7, and the 6-foot-8(!) pass catcher was on the receiving end of more than a few passes once he got going. Not surprisingly, he made the most plays in red zone situations, giving QBs like Dwayne Haskins a very appealing target to throw to. 

The Stetson product probably won't add much of anything as a blocker. Remember that Gruden doesn't like using one-dimensional tight ends, so that could hurt him. Going off that, some scouting services even think he'd be best served lining up consistently in the slot. 

Regardless, you just don't see many people at his size running downfield routes, and his potential is noticeable. A few preseason highlights on jump balls could help him stick around past August. 

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