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Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Redskins free agency: Ten observations

By John Keim

1. Yes, I’m surprised the Washington Redskins did not land one of the top safeties available. I’m not sure, however, that I would have paid Jairus Byrd what New Orleans did (yes, I know his first-year cap hit is only $4 million, but Year 3 will be a whopper of a figure). I wasn’t sold on Malcolm Jenkins as an option, either; certainly not at the price Philadelphia paid. That leaves Mike Mitchell, who signed with the Steelers. Nor would I have given Aqib Talib the deal he got from Denver ($26 million guaranteed). I like Talib; I also know he hasn’t played more than 13 games in a season since 2009, and players don’t become healthier as they age. It’s a shame because he would have helped.

2. Byrd would have helped because of his deep middle skills. But the area that must be fixed is the pass rush. And people I trust who have played this game or coached in it all said the same: They would sign the expensive corner before the safety -- yes, even at a time where it seems the safety position has become a bigger deal. In other words, Talib over Byrd. But both received deals not recommended for a team that needs to fill so many holes.

Carolina's Mike Mitchell
The Redskins showed interest in Mike Mitchell, who landed with the Steelers.
3. Safeties often are a product of their front seven. Carolina had a terrific front. That’s the thing with Mitchell: Was last year the start of something for his career? He’s only 26 after all. Or was he the product of right place, right time? But his deal did not seem outlandish (five years, $25 million, but I have not yet seen the breakdown). This is the one that puzzles me a bit. No, I'm not sure what they will do here yet and, yes, they need to do something -- a few things. Still, the Redskins need to improve their pass rush; you can't rely on two outside linebackers anymore to generate all the heat, especially when they're good but not great 'backers.

4. The problem is, the Redskins didn’t temper expectations at all. We heard they would be active. We knew they made their first call of the legal tampering period to Mitchell. They clearly liked him (while he had a good year, I did hear mixed opinions from a couple people outside the organization when asking about him. Nobody hated his game, but there were some doubts). They also clearly set a price. I’m all for that; not doing so in the past has led to many, many bad deals -- for which they’re being knocked with the same intensity they are now. But they made it seem as if they would be in on these deals, setting up fans for disappointment. Heck, some of their own members of the organization, too.

5. By the way, it’s not that I endorse what the Redskins are doing, it’s that I refuse to get caught up in hysteria over the lack of certain moves. Have been around too long and seen too much to go that route. Have seen too many first-day splashy signings result in “Possible Super Bowl” talk only to lead to buyer’s remorse.

6. History shows that the Redskins and overspending do not mix. Or most teams for that matter. Free agency is a way to complete a team, not build one. The problem is, that means you must draft and develop well, and the Redskins haven’t done that either.

7. I seriously doubt there would be this much angst if this front office had a track record like, say, GM Ozzie Newsome and Baltimore. The Ravens could let players walk last year and even those who were baffled had to come back to this: “Well, Ozzie knows what he’s doing.” The Redskins haven’t done anything to warrant that sentiment. Maybe they will in time; they haven’t yet. With no trust built up, panic ensues when certain moves aren’t made. I get that aspect big time.

8. Is this a new approach they’re trying? Or did they fail to execute their plan? I’ve seen many plans over the past 15 years; all have pretty much failed. But there were some offseasons that stood out for their inactivity, like before Marty Schottenheimer’s first season. They signed nobodies. It was a reversal from the 2000 Deion Sanders-led offseason when they signed big names. Both teams went 8-8. Good coaching did the trick under Schottenheimer, but he obviously was a proven winner. Jay Gruden is just starting out.

9. The real problem is the years of failure that went into trying to build a secondary. It left the Redskins in an absolute state of dire need this offseason. And when the top safeties were signed (aside from Chris Clemons, who remains available), it led to many being up in arms. They also lack depth at linebacker and need someone to help rush the passer from the front (Antonio Smith is visiting Wednesday). This defense was poorly built, for whatever reason, and the Redskins are now paying for it, and the patience that is required will be difficult for some. And if I’m Jim Haslett, I’m thinking, “I’ve seen this movie before.” None of the first three signings went to defense (I’m considering Adam Hayward special teams help, which, as you might recall, is welcomed). Haslett can’t be pleased. But the offseason just started.

10. We were told the Redskins had built depth along the offensive line. If that’s the case, and you want to make a change at guard, then one of the three young guards you have should be ready. All have been around at least two years. Instead: They gave Shawn Lauvao a four-year deal worth $17 million. If you’re doing things right, one of those young players is ready and you fill from within -- and then you use that money for more pressing areas. Instead, the Redskins invested two to three years on backup linemen -- and then signed a player who struggled with his previous team.