NFC East: chris baker

ASHBURN, Va. -- Jason Hatcher should be ready for training camp and the Washington Redskins say there’s no reason to worry. His knee issues will be corrected. But anytime a soon-to-be 32-year-old is coming off any type of surgery, there’s always a level of concern.

And when that player is a pivotal part of the defensive strategy, a finger needs to be crossed that he’ll remain healthy.

Hatcher
Hatcher
One part of the Redskins’ offseason that I didn’t like was the inability to get much younger defensively. You can’t fix everything in one offseason, but my concern for months has been the age of the defense and the changes it might need to undergo. The Washington Post’s Jason Reid wrote about it here.

Washington’s defensive front could have quality depth, giving the Redskins more flexibility than in recent seasons. Or it could have some broken-down parts that struggle to get through the season. The Skins will potentially have five defensive linemen who are at least 30 years old. Stephen Bowen is coming off microfracture knee surgery. Nose tackle Barry Cofield, who had a hernia operation in the offseason, saw his production wane in the second half of last season. Both are in the 30-and-over category.

For the Redskins’ pass rush to improve, they need a healthy Hatcher to provide an inside threat to the outside combination of Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. If Hatcher is healthy, teams can’t just focus on the perimeter, as they’ve been able do the past two years. If he’s not ...

The Skins need Cofield to give them consistent quality play (the depth will give him more rest; in the first half of last season, he was good). They need Chris Baker, whom they’re high on, to also help in their nickel packages in his most expansive role. They need Jarvis Jenkins to become a threat in the pass game, something he has not yet been.

The Redskins’ front has potential. It also has concerns. The defense depends on those concerns being alleviated.

Analyzing the Redskins' salary cap

June, 16, 2014
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Not a lot going on, so it's a good time to catch up on some salary-cap numbers and scenarios. All numbers are from ESPN Stats & Information:

Cap space available: The Redskins have $2,551,306 left against the salary cap. Only three teams have less room against the cap (Detroit, New Orleans and San Diego). The Giants have $6.9 million available, but both Dallas ($10.2 million) and Philadelphia ($20.2 million) are in strong shape. Don’t forget, teams can carry cap space into next season. Also, as of now only the top 51 players count against the cap in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeStephen Bowen
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins would save $5.5 million against the cap if they cut Stephen Bowen after this season.
Cap savings: If the Redskins really wanted to save a few extra dollars, they could always look at right guard Chris Chester. If they cut him, it would save $2.7 million against the cap. But, again, someone has to beat him out. If they felt that confident about someone else they likely would have made a move by now. But they do have some young options here between rookie Spencer Long and third-year players Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis. However, while Long obviously has never played, the other two have limited experience. Tyler Polumbus' release would save $1.5 million, but that means that either rookie Morgan Moses or third-year Tom Compton is ready to start. It’s hard to imagine Moses being at that point and Compton was not there at the end of last season.

Another place that will be interesting is the defensive line. The Redskins kept six at this spot each of the past three seasons. If they only keep that many this year, it means a veteran could be in trouble. They clearly aren’t going to cut Barry Cofield, Jason Hatcher or Chris Baker. Also, as long as Stephen Bowen is healthy he’ll stick around.

Yes, the Redskins could have re-worked his deal (which counts $7.02 million against the cap) but they have wisely been reluctant to spread money into the future for players who may only be around another year or so. That’s the case with Bowen. He has one year left on his contract and is coming off microfracture surgery. I don’t care how optimistic you are about him, can you trust he’ll be around and playing at a solid level in two years? No. The way they’ve done things in the past they could ask him to take a pay cut, but they typically did that before this point. Just so you know: Bowen would save $5.5 million against the cap if cut after this season.

So if Bowen sticks, that gives the Redskins four. If they keep six again, that means they’d have room for two among Jarvis Jenkins, Kedric Golston and Clifton Geathers. Here’s the savings for each player: Geathers ($600,000), Golston ($1,005,000), Jenkins ($1,027,184). Nose tackle Chris Neild also would be in trouble. His savings would be $645,000.

Highest paid: Brian Orakpo ($11,455,000) followed by Trent Williams ($10,980,393). By the way, both players will count more against the cap than all the players at five other positions: safeties ($5.1 million), tight ends ($4 million), running backs $5.6 million), quarterback ($7.1 million) and cornerback ($8.6 million).

Lowest-paid starters: Running back Alfred Morris will count $600,775 against the salary cap. Next up: safety Ryan Clark ($635,000) and tight end Jordan Reed ($642,778). Clark’s base salary is $955,000, but he counts less because of the veteran minimum cap benefit.
They wanted more versatility, giving them the ability to fool the quarterback or at least make him wonder. And that would give the rush an extra second, they hope, to make a difference.

"As you know, great quarterbacks," Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden said last week, "if you're vanilla, they will kill you. So we have to be exotic a little bit here and there. But also sound in what we do."

[+] EnlargeWashington's Brian Orakpo
AP Photo/Michael PerezCan Brian Orakpo & Co. give coordinator Jim Haslett a bevy of options to work with in the coming season?
The latter part has been an issue for a while. The ability to be exotic will help coordinator Jim Haslett, but it won't cure all. Still, is the Redskins' defense more versatile?

Let's take a look:

The Redskins do have some versatility up front. Chris Baker can line up at either end or nose tackle and can play in the nickel. Barry Cofield plays nose, but can rush in nickel. Jason Hatcher can play end and serve as a legitimate interior rusher.

Stephen Bowen's effectiveness as a rusher decreased the past two years and he's now coming off an injury. So it's tough to include him with the others for now. Jarvis Jenkins can play either end, but has yet to prove he's a quality pass-rusher.

Still, they do have more versatility along the front with an improved Baker and the addition of Hatcher. Is it enough?

They also have it at outside linebacker where they now have three players who can line up in a variety of ways to rush the passer with Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and now Trent Murphy. All three are fine rushing with their hand down or standing up; from both sides or even through the middle. Now, whether Murphy will be effective in doing so, it's impossible to say without having seen him in a game. But, in theory, it provides options for Haslett and the ability to use different looks and a better variety of blitzes.

But what that group offers is not just the ability to move around, but to provide different looks for a tackle (or even a guard). After blocking Orakpo much of the game, a left tackle might not be prepared for, say, Murphy's spin move. They can throw a curve at a player just by sending someone different at the right time. At least that's what the Redskins hope. Everything always sounds good at this time of the year.

I'm not sold yet that Brandon Jenkins is at this point; need to see more proof of his versatility. Rob Jackson can help, but he's not as versatile as the others.

They do have some versatility at corner with a couple players having the ability to line up at safety. Both DeAngelo Hall and E.J. Biggers have done so in the past, though there's a difference between lining up there and being effective in this role. Neither is really a great option back there to defend the run, but in providing a different look in coverage? Sure. It's also about being able to play different coverages and they'll have to prove they can; too many teams picked them apart last season and it wasn't just because of the rush.

Also, one reason they wanted to draft corner David Amerson was his ability to perhaps do the same thing. He did not do this as a rookie. He has the skills to be more versatile, but I'd worry about the eye discipline among other things needed to handle this role. But it's a next logical step for him. Rookie Bashaud Breeland could develop here, but he needs to learn corner first -- and how to play it without being too grabby.

However, they don't have the versatility at safety. They lack a starting player who can cover man to man (we have no idea yet what Tanard Jackson still has left, let alone if he'll even start or can handle such a role). Brandon Meriweather did enable them to sometimes run different coverages because he had the speed others did not to get to vacated areas -- like when they want to blitz a corner from the outside, not just the slot. But he's far removed from his Pro Bowl days, so mistakes are made and tackles are missed.

Ryan Clark's strength was always in being in the right place at the right time, dissuading the quarterback from challenging his area. He's lasted this long because he's smart. If he does that again, the Redskins would be happy. But occasionally covering man-to-man? That's different. And if the Redskins want to grow the defense the next step is finding someone who can. The more versatile the secondary is, the more you can throw off a quarterback with various looks.
 

Thoughts and observations from the Redskins OTA session Thursday (taking a look at big picture things here rather than practice plays made in the spring):

  1. Robert Griffin III worked on being more consistent with his mechanics in the offseason and there was a difference. The past two years his base was wider as the Redskins wanted to shorten the stride. He also got into a habit of holding the ball lower, leading to a longer windup when he threw.
  2. But in practice Thursday, Griffin held the ball higher – at the top of the numbers. He also threw with a more narrow base. He likes doing this because he feels more free, giving him the ability to bounce the pocket a little better. Not every quarterback throws with the same base, much like not every hitter uses the same stance at the plate.
  3. [+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
    AP Photo/Richard LipskiRobert Griffin III showed off his new throwing mechanics during practice on Thursday.
    Griffin also was throwing more over the top; less windup. So the ball came out a little quicker. He was not always accurate, but he was not off as much as he was, say, last summer when coming back in training camp. And keep in mind that even as a rookie in practice Griffin would have off days throwing the ball.
  4. Regardless, Griffin’s fundamentals were more consistent than they were during the season. The key will be transferring it to the season when it gets chaotic in the pocket.
  5. His weight transfer was different as well; much more quiet but a definite transfer. Saw it on a deep ball to receiver DeSean Jackson.
  6. Griffin escaped the pocket on one play and looked like he was going to tuck and run. But he pulled up before he crossed the line and hit Pierre Garcon along the sidelines.
  7. Keenan Robinson lined up next to Perry Riley with the No. 1 defense. It’s only May, but it’s still telling when considering that he missed all of last season and part of his rookie year. They also signed Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan, who worked with the second team. Adam Hayward also worked some with the second team at inside linebacker.
  8. The linebackers’ versatility will be a huge part of the defense this season, as you would expect. The key is that they now have three outside linebackers – Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy -- who are comfortable with their hands in the dirt, rushing from a two-point stance or dropping into coverage.
  9. Murphy beat Tom Compton during 11-on-11 work with a quick spin move to the inside. For a tall guy, Murphy does a nice job staying low on his spin.
  10. Second-year linebacker Brandon Jenkins was mostly limited to rushing the passer last season, but saw him in coverage some Thursday.
  11. Here are the players I saw returning kicks Thursday: Lache Seastrunk, Chris Thompson, Nick Williams, Andre Roberts and Rashad Ross.
  12. Chris Baker lined up at left end with the starting defense (keep in mind Stephen Bowen can’t work). Chris Neild was in the middle with Barry Cofield sidelined (hernia surgery) and Jason Hatcher was on the right side.
  13. Rookie corner Bashaud Breeland still needs to be less grabby. Saw him tugging Santana Moss’ jersey downfield before the veteran caught the ball. Saw Breeland tugging other jerseys as they broke on a route (after the allotted five yards of contact). Not sure all the receivers quite appreciated his hands.
  14. Breeland was beaten on a double move by receiver Pierre Garcon. One thing Breeland said he needed to do was to keep his eyes on his man. He lost him this time, peeking too long into the backfield and awaiting a throw that wasn’t coming. Instead, it turned into an easy deep completion.
  15. Maurice Hurt worked at right tackle with the third unit. Josh LeRibeus worked at left guard with the second unit.
  16. Jackson’s speed was evident, especially on an end around. He was in traffic as he ran around the end, on the side opposite the media so it was hard to tell who it was at first. But he was moving at a different speed, which was the first clue as to who it was.
  17. Corner Chase Minnifield will get into a lot of tussles this camp – a safe prediction. He nearly got into one with tight end Niles Paul Thursday. Minnifield is physical and feisty and that will never please those running routes in practice. This time, Minnifield was grabbing Paul on the entire route and at the end Paul shoved him. Minnifield bounced up and shoved him back. It didn’t escalate.
  18. Minnifield did pick off a Kirk Cousins pass in zone coverage. Minnifield sank deep on the route and grabbed a pass that was intended for Williams.
  19. It was tough to see running back Chris Thompson’s speed last season, whether in spring, summer or before he was shut down during the season. He was coming off a knee injury. But he’s a year removed from that injury and the speed was more evident. Still worry about his durability, but he looked fast after running with a pass in the open field (during a spring practice).
  20. Safety Tanard Jackson ran with the third defense.
  21. Corner David Amerson looks more comfortable in press coverage and is using his long arms to his advantage when jamming receivers. Saw him do this a couple times, showing good technique and not getting beat in this look. It’s something he needed to work on as a rookie and I’m sure the learning curve will continue. But with his length and speed it’s a necessary tactic for him to learn.

 

Redskins' offseason scorecard

March, 11, 2014
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A look at what the Washington Redskins have done already this offseason -- and what they are waiting to do once free agency hits at 4 p.m. Tuesday. There are differing reports about salary-cap space. ESPN's Stats & information had the Redskins with about $23 million in cap space before the Perry Riley deal Tuesday. But NFLPA records showed them at a little over $20 million. NFL.com had them at just under $19 million, but it was unclear if that included the Rule of 51 (only the top 51 players count toward the cap; the Redskins now have 58 players under contract after Riley's deal).

Done Deals

CB DeAngelo Hall

Hall
Signed a four-year deal worth $17 million, with $4.25 million guaranteed. His cap number is only $2.1 million this season, but jumps to $4.8 million in 2015 and $5.1 in 2016. Those are hefty sums for a 30-plus cornerback. If Hall regresses this season, the Redskins could always cut him next year and save $2.4 million of cap space. They would be wise to find another good young cornerback to groom just to be ready. Hall could always move to safety in a couple of years, but the safety position is a problem they must solve this year. If it’s still an issue in, say, two years? That’s a failure.

DL Chris Baker

Signed a three-year, $12-million deal with $4 million guaranteed. That sounds like starter-type money (albeit not a high level one), but it’s certainly not guaranteed starter money. He has $1 million in incentives that are not likely to be earned each of the three years -- based on play time, sack totals and Pro Bowl appearances -- and his cap number is only $2 million this year and tops out at $4 million in the final year of the contract. The deal averages $3 million per season. It allows the Redskins to keep a young, improving lineman who can help them at multiple spots: end, nose tackle and nickel rusher. Even if he doesn’t start he will play a lot.

LB Perry Riley

Riley signed a three-year deal worth $13 million. I don’t yet have the breakdown or the cap hits, but this comes across as a fair deal for Riley, a starter since midway through the 2011 season. The Redskins did not want to be in a position where they needed two inside linebackers in free agency. Riley had a stronger year in 2012, but the coaches know him and he knows the system. He’s not a leader, so he won’t replace London Fletcher, but he does know the defense well, which will help anyone who comes in next to him. Riley is better in man coverage than zone, but the latter gives him fits.

Likely back

LB Brian Orakpo

Orakpo
The Redskins placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on him last week for a price of $11.45 million next season, unless they work out a long-term deal. Orakpo still had not signed the tender, but he does count against the salary cap. Another team could sign him, but it would need to then surrender two first-round picks. It’s highly doubtful anyone would pay big money and give up two picks. Orakpo’s sack totals have been consistent since he entered the NFL in 2010, always between 8.5 and 11. But if he has a bigger season, while playing under the franchise tag, he could really cash in a year from now. The offseason message is that he and Ryan Kerrigan will be turned loose more. If that really results in more sacks, it’ll be interesting to see what happens next offseason.

Waiting word

WR Andre Roberts

Despite reports that he has agreed to terms, an NFL source says that this situation remains a work in progress and said he was not a lock. That doesn’t mean the Redskins won’ t sign a contract with him once free agency hits at 4 p.m. At this point, I would expect him to sign the four-year offer. But what if another team comes along and makes a stronger offer? That is what happened with Eddie Royal a couple years ago. Roberts would help. He’s a tough receiver with good hands who can play in the slot. He was Arizona’s No. 3 receiver this past season.

Offseason needs: Defensive line

March, 6, 2014
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The Redskins need to get more of a pass rush and that's not just from the outside linebackers. In the past two years the front three have produced little in this area. That's not their primary responsibility. In their 3-4 system, the ends must stop the run first and foremost. But a little help in the pass game would be nice. Here's a stat for you: The line combined for 5.5 sacks in 2013. You can't expect the linebackers to provide all the pressure.

Why it's a need: The Redskins need to generate more push out of their nickel pass rush, which means finding a lineman who likely can play end and then shift inside in passing situations. The Redskins need more depth here, with Adam Carriker cut and Stephen Bowen uncertain after microfracture surgery. It's hard to imagine Bowen sticking around at his current cap number ($7.02 million). Even if one or both come back later (Carriker said he'll have a shot in June to prove if he's healthy), the Redskins need more help.

[+] EnlargeLinval Joseph and Matt Barkley
Chris Faytok/The Star-Ledger/USA Today SportsThe Giants' Linval Joseph could be an enticing option for the Redskins in free agency.
In-house options: Chris Baker just re-signed, but his contract does not guarantee that he'll start. (It averages $3 million per year; a good sum, but also reflective of his versatility.) Baker will be in the rotation regardless. Kedric Golston is a run-stopper; they need someone who can push the pocket more. Doug Worthington is better against the run.

Free agency: There are some good options available and my hunch is that the Redskins will sign someone up front. The New York Giants' Linval Joseph is a candidate and could make the switch from a 4-3 tackle to a 3-4 end. He often left the field in rush situations, but that's partly because the Giants liked to add speed in the middle and would drop their ends inside. But Joseph has a good reputation in New York as a hard worker and likable kid. The Giants feel they have some depth up front so might be willing to let him walk. I've liked him for a couple of years. If the Redskins just wanted to find someone to help in nickel situations, they could pursue Houston's Antonio Smith. He's small for a 3-4 defensive end, but he can help as a rusher. He's a good locker room presence, too. But he's also 32 and should only be signed to a small deal. Here's what ESPN scout Matt Williamson told our Titans reporter, Paul Kuharsky, about Smith: "Smith is a penetrating 3-4 end that is one of the better interior pass-rushers in the league. However, he is up in age and his best football might be behind him."

Baltimore's Arthur Jones plays with power, using good leverage and long arms to be effective. He can play end in a base package and inside in a nickel. He's played both end spots -- he also had a sack last season against Cincinnati. Jones has a combined 8.5 sacks the past two years, but pass rushing is not his strength. Seattle's Red Bryant could probably play a 3-4 end, but he's a run-stuffer so if they want a pass-rusher, he's not the one.

The draft: I don’t like this for the Redskins. Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt could go somewhere in the 20s or fall to the early part of the second round, so he might be available at 34. That's tough to see. Minnesota’s Ra'Shede Hageman is another who could go late in the first round. South Carolina’s Kelcy Quarles is a possibility in the third round. There are a couple other options in that third to fourth round range, but I really think free agency is the option this offseason.

Redskins free-agent scorecard

February, 28, 2014
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The free-agent period won’t begin until March 11, but the reality is that it’s already underway. At least when it comes to signing your own free agents, or looking at players cut from other teams. The Redskins have expressed interest in free-agent linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, but had yet to line up a visit with him as of late Thursday night, a team source said. The Browns released Jackson Wednesday (but the move was not submitted to the league until Thursday) and he already has visits lined up with Tennessee and Denver.

Other players will be released before March 11. Until more are free, the focus is on your own. Here’s a look at the Redskins' free agents, both those who are re-signed and still available.

They’re done:

CB DeAngelo Hall

Signed a four-year deal worth $17 million, with $4.25 million guaranteed. His cap number is only $2.1 million this season, but jumps to $4.8 million in 2015 and $5.1 in 2016. Those are hefty sums for a 30-plus cornerback. If Hall regresses this season the Redskins could always cut him next year and save $2.4 million of cap space. They’d be wise to find another good young corner to groom just to be ready. Hall could always move to safety in a couple of years as well, but the safety position is a problem they must solve this year. If it’s still an issue in, say, two years? That’s a failure.

DL Chris Baker
Signed a three-year, $12-million deal with $4 million guaranteed. That sounds like starter-type money (albeit not a high level one), but it’s certainly not guaranteed starter money. He has $1 million in incentives that are not likely to be earned -- based on play time, sack totals and Pro Bowl appearances -- each of the three years and his cap number is only $2 million this year and tops out at $4 million in the final year of the contract. The deal averages $3 million per season. It allows the Redskins to keep a young, improving lineman who can help them at multiple spots: end, nose tackle and nickel rusher. Even if he doesn’t start he will play a lot.


Still waiting:

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins are interested in bringing Brian Orakpo back, but he could test the market first.
LB Brian Orakpo
The Redskins want to re-sign him and Orakpo would like to come back. But he’s more than comfortable testing the market in order to get the sort of contract he wants. The Redskins could place the franchise tag on him (the deadline is Monday). That would leave him with a salary of approximately $11 million this year, but no long-term security if he gets injured. The Redskins could sign him to a back-loaded five-year contract that has a much lower cap figure for the first two years of the deal. But at some point he’ll count a great deal against the cap and not be cuttable, at least for a year. (For example, Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley, in Year 3 of his deal, counts more against the cap if he’s released.)

LB Perry Riley
The Redskins don’t want to create another hole at inside linebacker with London Fletcher already retiring. But if Riley wants a big contract he’ll have to go elsewhere. They’d prefer to keep him; they know they can upgrade if necessary. A word of warning: It's not a deep group at inside linebacker so it could be tough to fill one spot let alone two.

S Brandon Meriweather
Haven’t heard a whole lot in regards to Meriweather. It’s hard to imagine they’d bring him back on anything other than a one-year deal, while hoping that Phillip Thomas eventually becomes the starter. The Redskins need to solve this position and Meriweather’s play did not warrant him being a strong solution.

CB Josh Wilson
He did a good job against the run while in the slot, which isn’t always easy. But his coverage skills aren’t what the Redskins need. Plus David Amerson, entering his second season, should be elevated to a starter. The Redskins will need more corners, however. But they also need more size at this position.

S Reed Doughty
Doughty is a capable backup who too often was pressed into a starting role. He’s a good special-teamer as well.

CB E.J. Biggers
He was their fourth corner and played some safety, though it’s doubtful he’d have played that spot for any team other than the safety-starved Redskins. But he adds depth and there’s a chance he’ll return.

LB Rob Jackson
The Redskins have yet to talk contract with Jackson. Obviously they have Orakpo to worry about and if he signs it’s tough to imagine Jackson returning as well. He’ll want to go somewhere he has a chance to start.

LB Darryl Tapp
Very strong against the run. Not bad to keep around at all.

LB Nick Barnett
He’s not a starting candidate and they need to find backups who are much better on special teams.

WR Josh Morgan
He failed to produce considering the contract he received. The Redskins need to upgrade.

WR Santana Moss
They can always use Leonard Hankerson in the slot, but he might not be healthy until the middle of August. They still think Moss can play. If they upgrade other receiver spots they don’t need to spend a lot for a dynamic slot receiver.

QB Rex Grossman
New coach Jay Gruden has typically kept two quarterbacks, which would leave no room for Grossman. Perhaps Kyle Shanahan will want him in Cleveland to help the other quarterbacks learn his offense.

TE Fred Davis
Davis has bigger issues to worry about.

C J.D. Walton
Signed late in the season. The former third-round pick was a starter in Denver until a bad ankle injury in 2012. The Broncos cut him in December. Washington could upgrade at center.

LB Bryan Kehl
A good special-teams player, but coming off a torn ACL in October.

WR Dez Briscoe
Spent the year on injured reserve; worked with current receivers coach Ike Hilliard two years ago. Has size, but you need more than just size. The Redskins have little depth at this position.

Redskins re-sign Chris Baker

February, 27, 2014
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Late in the season Washington's Chris Baker had clearly started to play well. But when this was pointed out to him, Baker said nothing had changed. The defensive lineman was only getting more time to show what he could do.

Baker
Looks like he’ll start to get even more time now that he’s returned. Baker signed a three-year contract worth $12 million and $4 million guaranteed Thursday. Baker does more than give the Redskins insurance; there’s a chance he’ll end up opening 2014 as a starter at right end with questions surrounding both Stephen Bowen (knee) and Adam Carriker (quadriceps). If nothing else Baker will be a prime contender for that job.

Baker’s a good example of developing and then taking care of your own. Though he did not come into the league with Washington, he had appeared in only two NFL games before arriving in 2011. By helping him develop, the Redskins won’t be forced to spend big money at this position. If Bowen and Carriker can’t play, or are released and not re-signed, then the Redskins still would need more depth.

But Baker gives them a potential starter along with Jarvis Jenkins. Veteran Kedric Golston adds veteran depth. Baker also helps because he can rush in nickel and play nose if necessary.

“I’ve been waiting for my chance ever since I signed as an undrafted free agent in Denver,” Baker said. “Sometimes you have to remain patient and wait your turn. I remained patient and kept grinding. I finally got my chance and took advantage.”

He started the last three games, recording 12 tackles, including six solo stops in the season finale at New York. Baker did a good job of playing with leverage, using his lower body strength and penetrating. He’s agile as well.

But he did have to learn that, in a 3-4 defense, sometimes getting upfield too fast was not a good thing as gaps can be created for the offense.

“I had an opportunity to gain the coaches' trust and I did the best I can,” Baker said. “I showed them if I’m given the opportunity to be out there consistently I can make plays, whether it’s in the run game or if it’s against the pass and pushing the pocket. I’ll prove to the coaches that they can trust me at any time on the field.”

Baker said there wasn’t a strong desire to wait until March 11 and test the market.

“I always felt if I could get a deal done with the Redskins, then I didn’t want to leave,” he said. “I’m comfortable with our defense. I like our staff and they like me. They helped me become the player I am today. I really didn’t want to leave.”

Redskins wise to retain DeAngelo Hall

February, 18, 2014
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The Redskins released corner DeAngelo Hall a year ago, taking a chance that they'd lose him to another team. The reality is that he wasn't close to going anywhere else; no team showed a strong enough interest. And when he returned, the defensive coaches were rather happy. They knew what he added and wanted to keep him around.

Hall rewarded them by playing one of his best seasons, arguably the best since joining the Redskins because of his consistency. He competed against the top receivers and fared well: Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant. The Redskins rewarded him with a new four-year deal, which is worth $4.25 million per year, according to NBC Washington. Would another team have paid him that much? Tough to say and I really don't know.

Of course, the key always is guaranteed money. Last year's top corner signing in free agency, Sean Smith, signed a three-year, $18-million deal with Kansas City. Aqib Talib signed a one-year, $5-million deal to stay in New England last offseason. Most other corners settled for prices far below that figure.

The Redskins could have opted to throw big money at another corner: Talib could hit the open market; Tennessee's Alterraun Verner is a potential free agent as well. Yes, it would be good to have another young corner to pair with second-year cornerback David Amerson, to have two players who could grow together. But that's not always possible -- there's no guarantee they'd come here or even be free by that point -- and the Redskins have plenty of other needs on defense.

[+] EnlargeDeAngelo Hall
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsDeAngelo Hall had 78, four interceptions and three forced fumbles for the Redskins last season.
Had they opted for one of the top corners on the market, the Redskins would have needed to pay more than what they'll be giving Hall. That would limit their ability to fix other areas. They had a strong option in Hall, who can still play at a solid level. He knows the defense; he's become a leader in the secondary. Perhaps if they didn't have so many needs it would make sense to spend bigger at this spot. But they do have those needs and they had a ready solution at corner. They don't have that at, say, inside linebacker or safety. They HAVE to sign players there (or draft one).

The Redskins still would like to retain linebackers Brian Orakpo and Perry Riley and defensive lineman Chris Baker. For a defense that struggled last year, that's a lot of players to bring back. But, aside from Riley, the other players had strong years so it makes sense. And Riley played well in 2012.

The question I have: How much longer can Hall play well? There's no reason to believe he's on the verge of a major decline in 2014. His play late in the season suggests that's not the case. But how many more years can he be that sort of player?

At some point, though, Hall could always move to safety (if there's still a need). Yes, his skillset can translate: He'd have excellent range and, despite the perception of him, he's done a good job as a corner against the run. But it's far different when you're trying to make those plays from the middle of the field than on the side. He'd also have to learn the defense from a new perspective; as a safety you need to know everyone's job, for example. It's a tough transition, but one that Hall, who is a smart player, could make in a few years if need be.

The Redskins still need to fill some holes at corner. Josh Wilson, a starter last year, will be free next month. But Amerson and Hall need to be their starters. Wilson was good against the run from the slot, but the Redskins can upgrade. They have Richard Crawford coming off a knee injury; I liked his progress last summer in slot coverage. He was more patient and mirrored the receiver's movements well. But it's tough to rely on him for this role without seeing him after his knee surgery.

They also might re-sign E.J. Biggers, but he's still best used as a fourth corner who can provide some versatility. He lined up at safety last season, but that was as much a result of what the Redskins didn't have in the secondary. He needs to stick at corner, but would provide good depth.

Hall developed a reputation as a me-first guy many years ago. For some fans he'll always be that guy. That's fine; but in watching him, I would disagree. There are plenty of corners I've covered who are more me-first than Hall. Yes, he draws some foolish penalties at times but he also plays with passion. It's a fine line.

Overall, Hall still adds value to the Redskins. The defense had many problems in 2013; he was not one of them.

The next big thing: Redskins

January, 23, 2014
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The first priority for the Redskins is finalizing Jay Gruden's coaching staff and putting together their playbook. After that, here is what they need to do in the next few months:
  1. Figure out who they want to keep. They have a number of free agents, especially on defense. They need to find a way to keep linebacker Brian Orakpo, a pivotal player because he can rush the passer and has become a solid run defender. He'll always flirt with double-digit sack totals and twice has gotten there. The team can always use the franchise tag to keep him around, but he is a priority. They also will want to re-sign inside linebacker Perry Riley. Then there's cornerback DeAngelo Hall, coming off a good season, and backup D-lineman Chris Baker, who contributed late. He showed enough to warrant interest elsewhere.
  2. Who fits up front? With a new offensive system, the Redskins must decide how much they want to reshape the line. The O-line is a smaller group, built for Mike Shanahan's outside zone and stretch zone system. Gruden will still use zone blocking, but he also featured bigger guards at Cincinnati. Kory Lichtensteiger will need to bulk up to stay at guard; perhaps he could move to center. It's tough to make a lot of changes -- at least in the first year of a new regime -- but the Redskins likely will make some.
  3. Spend. The salary-cap penalty is gone. And that means the Redskins will be able to spend -- money has never helped them win a title, but it will enable them to rebuild their defense. They'll have approximately $30 million in salary-cap space; of course, they'll need to spend a decent amount to fill out their defense since six players who started at least seven games are free agents. But the Redskins can be active. Considering they have no first-round pick, that's important. They need to fix their secondary, even if they re-sign Hall. They need to replace retired linebacker London Fletcher and re-sign Orakpo and Riley. They also could use another receiver, especially if Leonard Hankerson's recovery from ACL surgery takes a long time. The good news for Washington is that this draft is deep, especially with bigger cornerbacks.

  • Orakpo
    The three Redskins in Hawaii won’t be split up for Sunday’s Pro Bowl game. Running back Alfred Morris, left tackle Trent Williams, and linebacker Brian Orakpo all were drafted by Team Prime, coached by Deion Sanders. Can’t say I’m a big fan of this format; what would happen if Orakpo had a chance to level Morris? Would he really do that to a teammate? It might have been fun to watch Williams and Orakpo go one-on-one; it’s the matchup we get to see daily in training camp. But this game hasn’t been fun to watch in a while.
  • It makes sense if former Redskins quarterback Doug Williams joins Washington’s front office. This was actually first mentioned a few years ago when general manager Bruce Allen joined the organization. Several months later Williams was out of a job and said he had talked to the Redskins, but that the timing was off. It’s no longer off. He soon became the general manager of the Virginia Destroyers in the United Football League.
  • Keep in mind that Williams worked in Tampa Bay with both Allen and new head coach Jay Gruden as a personnel executive. After both were fired by the Bucs, Williams became the coordinator of pro scouting for two years.
  • I would expect a decision on who will coach the running backs Thursday or Friday, based on a conversation I had with a team source early in the week. Yes, Earnest Byner remains in the running, but last week two team sources said they had planned to interview more candidates.
  • For those who missed it, Sean McVay said he will coach the quarterbacks.
  • Hall
    Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett spoke with reporters at the Senior Bowl and had a couple of interesting comments. He called re-signing linebackers Orakpo and Perry Riley priorities, and also mentioned lineman Chris Baker and corner DeAngelo Hall as players they would like back.
  • Haslett also told reporters about Jay Gruden: "He’s going to spend his time with the offense, and I think he’ll trust the guys we have on defense to do what we have to do. Obviously, we’ll play as a team, from defense to special teams. I think we’ve got to get back to playing. I think we’re closer to the 10-win season than the three-win season that we had. We’re much closer to the 10-win season as a football team than the three-win season."
  • That word trust will be said a lot. Obviously, Mike Shanahan was involved quite a bit in the defense. One player said having another strong voice involved in the defense sometimes led to confusion in assignments and over who was really calling the shots. How much did it hurt? Tough to say. But it couldn't have helped.
  • Haslett also said, "We played much better, I thought, that last 13 games. We played extremely well from the standpoint that we didn’t give up a ton of points, we didn’t give up a ton of yards. We played Peyton Manning about as good as you can get. And, I think that’s something to build off of. We played good after those first four games. Can we get better? Yeah. We were middle of the pack. But we were fourth in the league on third-down efficiency. So, all that stuff is something you can build on."
  • According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Redskins ranked ninth in total yards from weeks 4-17, allowing 323.2 yards per game; they were last in the NFL for the first three games, allowing 488.0 total yards per game. They allowed 32.7 points per game in the first three weeks (31st in the NFL) and 29.2 thereafter (29th).
  • The Redskins ranked 18th in the NFL by allowing 88 points off turnovers. Considering how many they had (34), that’s not a bad number. The league average was 82 points allowed. There were eight teams that had at least 30 turnovers; the Redskins, with 34, were tied for second most. But they were second best in the points allowed per turnover.
  • So let’s say the Redskins had repeated 2012 when they were fourth in this area at 51 points allowed. And let’s say they only allowed three returns for a touchdown (on special teams and offense) instead of seven. That would deduct 65 points from their total, leaving them with 413 allowed for the season. And that would have left them 24th in the NFL at 25.81 points per game allowed.
  • Only two teams in the bottom 15 of points allowed finished with a winning record. One happened to be Denver (24.9 ppg); Green Bay (26.8) was the other. So the Redskins' performance in this area was unacceptable, and I don't think Haslett would disagree. But his overall point was finding positives upon which to build.

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

January, 18, 2014
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In Part 2 of the Redskins mailbag, the topics include free agency, how many Bengals might follow Jay Gruden to Washington, Jim Haslett's return and more.
 
ASHBURN, Va. -- The rain didn’t help the conditions, but for the Washington Redskins, the conditions on the field didn’t seem all that different.

“It’s been bad all year,” receiver Pierre Garcon said.

Garcon
Garcon
The Redskins did not lose 24-23 to the Dallas Cowboys because of soggy turf. What Garcon said about the turf could be applied to the performance of the team. And it also must be noted when it comes to the turf that both teams play on it – and other teams have not had many problems winning at the Redskins’ home field. Washington finished 2-6 at home.

On Dallas’ winning drive, the Redskins suffered three slips on the turf. Corner Josh Wilson slipped and fell after Terrance Williams turned upfield to catch a 51-yard pass. End Chris Baker slipped as he rushed on the final play, allowing a gap for quarterback Tony Romo to run through and hit running back DeMarco Murray for a 10-yard touchdown. Corner DeAngelo Hall slipped as he tried to plant and run at Murray.

Dallas did not have as many problems with the turf, which was resodded last month.

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said he has always preferred a natural grass playing surface. But he said it was not his call whether to stick with grass or have another surface installed.

“I like grass,” Shanahan said. “But I wouldn’t make that decision. [Owner Dan] Snyder would make that decision.”

Shanahan said if he returns he would talk to Snyder about other possibilities.

“With some new turf, you always entertain the possibility,” Shanahan said. “Two or three years in a row you see how bad that field is. It’s something you would definitely look at.”

Lack of pressure hurts Redskins again

December, 23, 2013
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The Washington Redskins failed to apply enough pressure on Tony Romo throughout the game Sunday, but especially on the final drive. In the past they have taken more chances against him by blitzing in late-game situations. It failed in a loss at Dallas two years ago. It worked in forcing an interception in last season's regular-season finale.

But there were no blitzes on the final drive. And the Redskins’ four-man rush failed, once again, to produce. Romo was never even hit on the final series. Is that Jim Haslett’s fault? Don’t know; I do know that in the past coach Mike Shanahan will make defensive calls -- or at least say what he wants run.

Anyway, here’s a look at Dallas’ winning drive and how much time Romo had to throw.

  • [+] EnlargeTony Romo
    Greg Fiume/Getty ImagesTony Romo's ability to extend plays hurt the Redskins on Dallas' game-winning touchdown drive.
    First-and-10, Dallas 13-yard line. The Redskins rush four, with linebacker Darryl Tapp, aligned on the left outside Ryan Kerrigan, stunting to the middle. Romo unloaded a pass to receiver Terrance Williams in 2.4 seconds. Romo was not close to being hit.
  • Second-and-10, Dallas 13: Tapp lined up on the right side, this time with Kerrigan still on the left. Both looped inside through the interior. Both actually had decent push, too, but the ends -- Barry Cofield and Chris Baker -- failed to generate any push, so the pocket remained clean enough. After 3.8 seconds, Romo connected with Williams, facing man coverage from corner David Amerson, for 15 yards.
  • First-and-10, Dallas 28: Tapp again was on the right side. He tried a spin move against left tackle Tyron Smith, but it did nothing. There was little pressure. But after 3.3 seconds, Romo threw incomplete to Dez Bryant as cornerback DeAngelo Hall tipped the ball away.
  • Second-and-10, Dallas 28: This was the killer, but it shows why extending a play is so vital. The Redskins showed seven at the line, as they had done a couple times throughout the game. They had run various plays off this look, which resulted in pressures or at least some confusion by the Dallas front. Not this time. Tapp aligned over the right guard and about a half yard deeper than the others along the front and just inside Kerrigan. Safety Brandon Meriweather was outside Kerrigan. But they only rushed four, with Kerrigan and Tapp running a little stunt. Kerrigan moved to the inside, but Tapp did not get too wide nor did he generate any push. With no contain rush on the outside, Romo could escape to his right and, after 5.1 seconds, unleash a 51-yard pass to Williams. It did not help that cornerback Josh Wilson slipped and fell on the play.
  • First-and-10, Redskins’ 21: Tough one to defend with any amount of rushers as Romo threw a smoke route to Bryant on the right side (in 0.9 seconds). Hall missed the tackle and Bryant gained 17 yards.
  • Fourth-and-goal, Redskins’ 10: This was a basic four-man rush, with all four running straight up field. There was no real pressure, but Romo did not have any open targets, either. Baker started to drive the right guard back for the start of a solid rush. But Baker lost his footing and a gap was created for Romo to run through. Kerrigan was lined up wide left and was chipped by the running back. He then rushed contain. Meanwhile, after Baker fell, Romo ran through the opening and hit DeMarco Murray for the winning touchdown. Romo extended the play for 5.0 seconds.

Redskins UFAs face possible Fed Ex finale

December, 19, 2013
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We know Sunday will be London Fletcher’s last home game. The Washington Redskins have 15 other players who could be appearing in their last home game as well because of their pending free agency. If there’s a new coach, there could be a mass exodus. But for now I’ll stick with the pending unrestricted free agents currently on the active roster.

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsBrian Orakpo will be the most expensive player to re-sign of the Redskins' soon-to-be unrestricted free agents.
Linebacker Brian Orakpo: He views himself as an elite linebacker, which means he’ll want to get paid like one. Last year’s top free agent at outside linebacker was Paul Kruger, who received $8.2 million per year with $20 million guaranteed and signing bonuses totaling $12.85 million. Orakpo is better. Whether or not you think he’s elite, in a passing league it’s tough to let good pass-rushers walk, especially if you plan to stick with a 3-4.

Tight end Fred Davis: Hard to see why he’d want to return, especially if the head coach remains. Yes, he’d be good insurance given questions about Jordan Reed’s durability but that’s not what Davis wants. He wants to start. I can't imagine him getting a big deal after the past couple of years of suspension, injuries and now questions about his work ethic.

Linebacker Perry Riley: If you’re staying in a 3-4, you keep him around. You’re already going to have a transition at the other spot; it’s good to have someone who knows the defense. He’s flawed, but steady and won’t cost too much.

Defensive lineman Chris Baker: He’s talented, but inconsistent. He makes plays because of his penetration, but sometimes misses plays because he’s so intent on getting upfield. A nice backup.

Linebacker Darryl Tapp: Looked good this summer, but hasn’t played a whole lot this season. Not a great pass-rusher from this spot, but strong. Not an all-around linebacker. A good backup, but the Redskins would do well to find younger backup linebackers who can excel on special teams.

Linebacker Rob Jackson: If they lose Orakpo, could Jackson be a good alternative? He certainly won’t cost as much, but he’s also not as good. He’s worth keeping as a primary backup, but Jackson should first look for a starting job elsewhere based on his 2012 film.

Quarterback Rex Grossman: All depends on the coaching staff and what happens with Kirk Cousins. If Grossman is your third quarterback, you’re in good shape. But it wouldn’t stun me if the Redskins start looking for another No. 3, perhaps a younger player they can groom into a solid No. 2 for 2015 when it’s hard to imagine both Cousins and Robert Griffin III still being on the roster.

Corner E.J. Biggers: Offers versatility and would be cheap. Just a backup.

Receiver Santana Moss: He’s been an excellent Redskin and a personal favorite because he’s always available after games and during the week, win or lose, since joining the team in 2005. But his productivity has waned; at 35 (in June) that will continue. Tough to see him returning. If this staff stays in place, next year’s slot could be Leonard Hankerson, but because of his injury they’ll need some insurance in case he’s not ready. Perhaps that’s how Moss returns, but with a new staff? Don’t see it. He deserves kudos from the crowd Sunday for a career well done in Washington.

Receiver Josh Morgan: There’s little reason to bring him back; he hasn’t been productive and his blocking has been inconsistent.

Safety Reed Doughty: If there’s a new staff, sometimes guys like Doughty -- valuable special-teamers and role players -- get lost in the shuffle. But he’s worth keeping around because of what he does.

Corner Josh Wilson: He’s been fine in the slot, doing a nice job against the run from this position. That’s important. But he’s 28 and descending. Not everyone likes small corners, so a new staff could go in a different direction. I have a tough time seeing him return, especially as a starter.

Corner DeAngelo Hall: He made big plays in the first half of the season, though he’s been quiet lately. When playing off man or zone he’s not as effective. He’s also 30. If the Redskins keep only one of Hall or Wilson, then the former is more productive. They have so many areas to address that they might not be able to find all the answers in free agency or the draft. I don’t know if David Amerson will be a quality starter, but a second-round pick in Year 2 should be one of your top two. I’d pair him with a younger veteran via free agency who is still ascending and can be the lead guy.

Linebacker Nick Barnett: Not a good alternative to Fletcher because of his coverage skills. A good guy in the locker room and a pro, but he turns 33 in May. And if you’re not going to start, you’d better do well on special teams. Not his strength.

Center J.D. Walton: They just claimed him off waivers. He’s a former starter worth checking out; the Redskins need stronger center play.

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