If the current members of the Washington Redskins were in some kind of audition mode since their elimination from the postseason chase, one would largely think they passed. There is one game remaining, one with zero big picture implications outside of injury. However, there is one crucial question on the table: Are the Redskins good enough to compete for the NFC title next season?
Numerous factors go into that answer, most notably whether the organization makes a change at head coach and quarterback. There are also several other players not named Kirk Cousins headed into free agency. There will be new guys added, either veterans from other teams or kids entering the league. For now, let us ponder the “good enough to compete” question by examining those under contract in 2018, free agents and upcoming needs.
Outside linebacker: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Ryan Anderson, Pete Robertson, Otha Peters
Free agents: Junior Galette, Trent Murphy, Chris Carter
Notes: One of the few units without in-season injury issues, although losing Murphy during training camp removed a key pass rusher. Galette’s desire for more playing time could eliminate the soon-to-be 30-year-old from the mix, though he was used more in recent weeks. Anderson didn’t wow during his limited opportunities and looks more like a run-stuffer than pass rusher, but the 2017 second-round pick can help. Carter played an important role on special teams.
Needs: Bringing back Galette or Murphy as another edge rusher is ideal. Murphy is younger, but also coming off injury and the stench of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing drugs policy. That combo might knock down his value and have both sides thinking a one-year deal could help all. Drafting an outside pass rusher in early rounds is always a good play, but Redskins should select an OLB somewhere during the seven rounds.
Inside linebacker: Zach Vigil, Martrell Spaight, Josh Harvey-Clemons
Free agents: Zach Brown, Mason Foster, Will Compton
Notes: Washington enters the offseason with its top three ILB options headed into free agency. Keeping at least one for continuity is key. Depending on how the coaching staff evaluates Vigil, Spaight and Harvey-Clemons dictates whether spending big at this spot occurs. Regardless, the perception is that other than Cousins, Brown is the most important of Washington’s nearly two dozen free agents. The speed linebacker entered Week 16 leading the NFL in tackles. Vigil may have thrust himself into the starting mix with a strong close-out stretch.
Needs: Even if the Redskins keep Brown, a force against the run but weak in pass defense, adding a young stud early in the draft works. Georgia’s Roquon Smith and Alabama’s Rashaan Evans are potential round one options.
Cornerback: Josh Norman, Kendall Fuller, Fabian Moreau, Josh Holsey
Free agents: Bashaud Breeland, Quinton Dunbar (Restricted Free Agent)
Notes: Washington spent third-round picks on cornerbacks in back-to-back seasons for depth purposes and with Breeland’s potential and now likely departure in mind. Assuming Dunbar stays, the Redskins have replacements. There’s always an outside chance the organization jettison’s Norman’s massive contract after a good, but not great season. Fuller emerged as one of the top slot cover corners.
Needs: Good bet the free agent market takes Breeland elsewhere. Even if Redskins want to keep, investments in Norman (money) and Fuller/Moreau (draft picks) make that challenging with entire roster makeup in mind. With so much youth beyond Norman, Washington may seek any additional help in free agency as opposed to the draft. Either way, cornerback is not a major issue, but more options the merrier in this pass-happy NFL era.
Safety: D.J. Swearinger, Monte Nicholson, Fish Smithson
Free agents: Deshazor Everett (RFA), DeAngelo Hall
TBD: Su’a Cravens
Notes: With Everett a virtual lock to return, the Redskins might have their top four safeties for next season already on the roster. No, that is not including Cravens, who seems like a long shot to return after his retirement talk led to a path where the Redskins put him on the season-ending reserve/left team list. Same goes for Hall, who appears headed to retirement and perhaps a role within the organization.
Needs: Cravens is the wild card, though probably unless there is a major reconciliation between the two sides. Considering Nicholson missed part of training camp and half the season with injuries, and factoring in Smithson’s limited work, the Redskins may target an experienced hand.
Overall: If Brown stays, the only major question for the back-seven involves the other inside linebacker and perhaps the safety spot next to Swearinger. Considering the many years of uncertainty with these units, that’s not a bad situation. If Smith, Fuller, Moreau and Nicholson make general strides, the Redskins will have an ample of playmakers behind their defensive line.
NEXT: The lines