Washington Redskins Should Spend Big on Defensive Line in Free Agency
The Washington Redskins have plenty of money to spend in 2017 and have major holes on defense. Dontari Poe and others should then be in play.
The biggest offseason question surrounding the Washington Redskins is simply, what happens to quarterback Kirk Cousins? However, there are plenty of other issues facing this team if they want to get back to the playoffs in 2017.
The Redskins must fix a defense that was abysmal in 2016. Head coach Jay Gruden fired defensive coordinator Joe Barry shortly after the season ended. While firing Barry was probably the right move, he alone wasn’t the reason for Washington’s defensive ineptitude in 2016.
Washington’s defensive line was the team’s biggest weakness last season. The Redskins began the season with 33-year-old Kedric Golston at nose tackle. Golston, better known for being a dependable backup and special teams stalwart, played in just two games before his season ended. That left the Redskins with a lot of Ziggy Hood, Cullen Jenkins and Ricky Jean-Francois rotating on the defensive line along with standout end Chris Baker—another free agent.
While Hood, Jean-Francois and Jenkins have each had successful careers—Jenkins in particular—this group is full of rotation players at this point. To make a successful 3-4 defense work you need a true nose tackle. The Redskins, who play more of a hybrid 3-4 scheme, have never featured a true nose tackle since employing the 3-4 as their primary scheme all the way back in 2010.
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Fortunately for the Redskins and new coordinator Greg Manusky, this year’s free-agent period could provide some relief. Among the players who are free agents: Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, Jonathan Hankins, Bennie Logan, Calais Campbell, Alan Branch and Nick Fairley.
It’s no guarantee all of these players even see free agency. The Carolina Panthers will most certainly place the franchise tag on Short. At 28, Short is in the prime of his career and is not only an excellent run-stopper, but a capable pass-rusher, too. It’s why the Panthers plan on keeping him around, per Joe Person of The Charlotte Observer.
Campbell, a fantastic player who’s been in the league since 2008, will be 31 when the season begins. While he could certainly have four or five more highly productive seasons left, general manager Scot McCloughan isn’t likely to invest big money to a lineman over 30. That’s understandable. If you’re one player away, certainly—but not for a team like Washington that still has numerous holes to fill before making a Super Bowl run. Instead, it’s players like Poe, Logan and Hankins that should entice McCloughan.
Poe, is just 26, and a former first-round pick. He had a good run with the Chiefs and he’s young and athletic enough to change the face of a team’s defensive line. Kansas City wants Poe back, and he too could receive the franchise tag.
Hankins is just 24 years old and has played in 52 career games for the New York Giants. A former second-round pick out of Ohio State, Hankins could be too expensive for New York. After signing fellow defensive tackle Damon Harrison last offseason, Hankins will most certainly hit free agency. Hankins is a good run-stopper, but shouldn’t be expected to provide much in terms of a pass rush.
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Logan is similar to Hankins in that he plays next to another expensive standout defensive tackle. While Harrison is the NFL’s premier run-stopper, Logan plays next to Fletcher Cox—arguably the best defensive linemen in the entire league. He’s compensated as such, too. That works in Logan’s favor. Logan is solid in all areas, creating some pass rush on the interior while being excellent versus the run. With Cox already getting elite money, Logan is likely to cash in on the free-agent market. And according to Mark Eckel of NJ.com, the Redskins will make Logan a priority when free agency opens on March 9.
Branch and Fairley are good and realistic options that shouldn’t break the bank. Branch, who just recently turned 32, has been in the league since 2007. He was tremendous in his role as New England’s primary run-stopper the past three seasons. While his age may be a concern, his price tag could tempt McCloughan. Bill Belichick will want Branch back, but a chance at one more long-term deal should see him test the market.
Bill Belichick on finding a guy who has Alan Branch’s size and athleticism: “They don’t grow on trees.”
— Henry McKenna (@McKennAnalysis) January 24, 2017
Fairley has bounced around a little in his short career. A first-round pick of the Detroit Lions back in 2011, played for four seasons in the Motor City. He then played for the Rams in 2015 and the Saints in 2016. It was in New Orleans where Fairley played 16 games for the first time in his career and finally appeared to tap into some of his massive potential. At 29, Fairley may be looking for more than the Redskins would be willing to pay someone with Fairley’s inconsistent track record.
And let’s not forget Baker. He’s proven to be a solid starter over the last few seasons. However, he disappeared in multiple games last fall. In fairness to Baker, he hasn’t had a lot of help. Washington would be wise to bring him back, but he shouldn’t be paid like an elite defensive lineman and he won’t be, at least not from the Redskins, per Mike Jones of The Washington Post.
With plenty of available options, the Redskins cannot afford to stand pat like they did in 2016. McCloughan realizes the need and expect him to be active when the free-agent period begins. The question is, how big will Washington go?