Washington Redskins: Washington Redskins

Last week I broke down the Redskins' salary cap by position and how it compared to the rest of the NFL. This is one more extension of that so you can see how the Redskins' top cap hit compares to the five biggest cap hits at each position. For the most part, the Redskins have more bargains offensively in part because they've found younger contributors through the draft or they landed players such as DeSean Jackson after they'd been cut, thereby lowering their price. The Redskins have only one player who will count among the top five at their position in 2014 -- left tackle Trent Williams.

Quarterback

NFL's top five cap hits

Eli Manning, New York Giants, $20,400,000

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh, $18,895,000

Jay Cutler, Chicago, $18,500,000

Drew Brees, New Orleans, $18,400,000

Sam Bradford, St. Louis, $17,610,000

Redskins top cap hit

Griffin
Robert Griffin III $5,759,754 (19th overall)

Summing it up: St. Louis is paying the price for a since-changed system when it comes to rookie contracts -- and the Redskins clearly have benefited. There’s little chance anyone would think Bradford is worth as much as his 2014 cap number. Manning has regressed the past two seasons, for whatever reason, and needed ankle surgery this offseason. Roethlisberger is excellent and Brees remains a top-five quarterback. But Cutler is an example of a guy who is being paid because of the position he plays. He's been a good quarterback, but it's tough to say he's been great. He's definitely not a top-five guy. The Redskins have Griffin at a lower cost the next two seasons and then, if he plays as they hope, his number will skyrocket.

Receiver

NFL's top five cap hits

Mike Wallace, Miami, $17,250,000

Andre Johnson, Houston, $15,644,583

Percy Harvin, Seattle, $13,400,000

Calvin Johnson, Detroit, $13,058,000

Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay, $12,432,000

Redskins top cap hit

Garcon
Garcon
Pierre Garcon $9,700,000 (seventh overall)

Summing it up: The top two at this position certainly didn't outperform Garcon, who led the NFL with 113 catches. Garcon only caught five touchdown passes, but that matches what Wallace and Andre Johnson did as well. Harvin played just 19 snaps all season. Calvin Johnson caught 84 passes, but 12 went for touchdowns and he averaged 17.8 yards per catch. Jackson caught 78 passes, seven for scores, and averaged 15.7 yards per catch. The Redskins received good value from their top earner at this spot. They have even more invested here now after adding DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts. The former will be a major bargain compared to the rest of this group if he puts up numbers similar to last year (82 catches, nine touchdowns, 1,332 yards. But keep in mind in his first five years Jackson averaged 54.8 catches, 4.6 touchdowns and 957 yards per season).

Running back

NFL's top five cap hits

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota, $14,400,000

LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia, $9,700,000

Ray Rice, Baltimore, $8,750,000

Arian Foster, Houston, $8,300,000

Matt Forte, Chicago, $7,900,000

Redskins top cap hit

Helu
Roy Helu $1,548,563 (38th overall)

Summing it up: Peterson and McCoy are two of the most dangerous offensive players in the NFL and are difference-makers. But what's also clear is why teams don't like to shell out huge money for running backs. Washington’s Alfred Morris, who is 93rd on the list of running backs when it comes to 2014 cap figures ($600,775), was as productive running the ball as Peterson. Morris ran for 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards a carry. Peterson rushed for 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 4.5 yards per rush. Rice ran for 660 yards in 15 games, averaging 3.1 yards on 214 carries. Foster only played in eight games. Forte is an excellent all-around back and was productive. But the Redskins are fortunate they won’t have to shell out more money here for two more years.

Offensive line

NFL's top five cap hits

LT Joe Thomas, Cleveland, $12,300,000

LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets, $11,698,666

LT Russell Okung, Seattle, $11,240,000

G Jahri Evans, New Orleans, $11,000,000

LT Trent Williams, Washington, $10,980,393

Redskins top cap hit

Britt
Williams
Williams

Summing it up: Williams is one of the games best tackles so for him to be in this group makes absolute sense. He could be more consistent and avoid the occasional clunker game, but overall Williams has proven himself and earned two Pro Bowl trips. I'd have a hard time paying a guard as much as Evans, but at least he's an elite player with five consecutive All-Pro nods (in addition to five straight Pro Bowl berths). Okung, drafted one spot after Williams in 2010, has missed 19 games in his career and made one Pro Bowl team. Williams has played in every game the past two seasons. Because of his athleticism, the Redskins can use him differently than other teams use their tackles. And he can escape problems because of it as well (and because of his longer arms).

Tight end

NFL's top five cap hits

Jason Witten, Dallas, $8,412,000

Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville, $8,250,000

Greg Olsen, Carolina, $7,800,000

Antonio Gates, San Diego, $7,362,500

Vernon Davis, San Francisco, $7,342,916

Redskins top cap hit

Paulsen
Logan Paulsen $2,236,666 (21st overall)

Summing it up: Yet another position where the Redskins have a bargain for a few more seasons. This isn’t about how Paulsen stacks up, but really about Jordan Reed. If he can stay healthy, this will be the company he keeps statistically. I love watching Davis because of the matchup headaches he causes based on his athleticism. It’s the same with Reed. Marcedes Lewis has had a nice eight-year career and is an excellent blocker, but No. 2 on this list? He has 25 career touchdown catches, but 10 came in one season. The others are proven pass threats. Of course, this list will change once Jimmy Graham's situation is settled with New Orleans.

NFL Nation Buzz: Washington Redskins

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
10:00
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video
Washington Redskins reporter John Keim sizes up the Redskins' vertical passing game and how DeSean Jackson will certainly help in that area.
Day 3 of taking a look at the Redskins' need before free agency and where they stand three weeks before the draft. Today it's receiver after already talking about safety and the pass rush.

What they’ve done: Signed Andre Roberts and DeSean Jackson.

Jackson
Problem solved: Yes. The Redskins needed a dynamic playmaker on offense and they just happened to fall into acquiring Jackson because of his release. Roberts gives them a solid slot receiver capable of getting downfield as well. Those two, paired with Pierre Garcon, certainly provides Washington a potentially dangerous attack. I say potentially because these are the Redskins and things don’t always work out as planned as you might recall. But all three are proven. While Jackson is a slight gamble because of his reported work ethic or attitude, he produced with the same characteristics in Philadelphia and was handsomely rewarded by the organization. His contract with Washington mitigates the risk.

What needs to happen: The Redskins need to be creative in how they use their top three receivers. Or, rather, should be creative. I say that because all three offer versatility in terms of where they can line up and catch the ball. Roberts played inside and outside with Arizona. Jackson was moved all over the place in Philadelphia, catching balls out of the backfield, going in motion to the slot, from split wide and then tight. They should be able to create a mismatch for someone – even more so when you add tight end Jordan Reed to the mix. Jackson excelled at the deep ball, obviously, but also on underneath crossing routes – through traffic. Garcon is better at running after the catch on bubble screens or smoke routes because of his physical nature. The receivers will have to sacrifice their ego just a little bit because you now have more weapons than anticipated. Garcon won’t catch 113 passes – it was a great year, but it didn’t exactly result in a potent offense. Jackson probably won’t catch 82 passes, either; he averaged 54.8 catches per season in his first five. His strength is not in number of catches, but in the fear he strikes and the plays he makes. So if he catches 60 passes, he will still be a big help. And Roberts won’t be the No. 2 guy as hoped (and probably expected). But all can complement one another.

Address in the draft: It’s a deep class of receivers, which would have been a good reason had they opted not to sign Jackson. Then again, this franchise hasn’t developed a quality receiver in quite some time. The Redskins could still use more young depth. Leonard Hankerson’s ACL surgery makes him a question mark. Aldrick Robinson is more than capable as a fourth or fifth receiver on the depth chart. Santana Moss is nearing the end and far from a lock to make the roster. If Hankerson doesn’t return early or takes time to get his game back, the Redskins would lose depth. One reason Washington did not want Andrew Hawkins, one source said, was because of his lack of height. If that’s the case, how many small receivers will Jay Gruden want to keep? (They also have Nick Williams, listed at 5-foot-10.) So adding a bigger receiver later in the draft remains a possibility, even if it’s as a developmental guy.

Last word: Quarterback Robert Griffin III now has a lot of choices, so that will put pressure on him to produce in the pass game. He’s had a terrific start to the offseason and seems himself again in terms of how he’s able to work (which he obviously could not do last year) and lead. Griffin will have to keep some strong-minded receivers happy, which is a lot easier to do while winning. He’ll have to improve his accuracy on intermediate and long throws this season – a full offseason of work should help this area. Also, Jackson made a lot of plays in Philadelphia when he wasn’t the primary target and quarterback Nick Foles would need 3.4 seconds to find him. Touchdowns or big plays would result. (I’ve watched every catch Jackson made in 2013; more on that next week.) That puts pressure on the protection to hold up (and some on Griffin to go through his progressions, but this length of time is a lot more about keeping Griffin upright or him extending plays).
Malcolm Jenkins only echoed what others have said about Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. And the new Philadelphia Eagles safety didn't question Griffin's game, but, rather his ability to stay healthy. At this point, it's a fair topic. Of course, maybe it's not one a player new to the division might want to address. But then again, it was tame compared to his thoughts on the Dallas defense.

Jenkins
When Jenkins appeared on the NFL Network, he discussed the other three teams in the NFC East. He took a shot at Dallas' defense, as well as the New York Giants' ability to protect Eli Manning. Here's what he had to say about Griffin:
"I think the biggest thing we're going to see is [Robert Griffin III] take that next step as far as the cerebral approach to the game. But the biggest concern I have with RG3 is, will he protect himself? And that's a thing he hasn't done early in his career.

"He scrambles, he gets those extra yards, he makes those throws out of the pocket, but takes a lot of unnecessary hits. We've seen the toll that has had on him.

“Last year he really wasn't himself, still trying to recover from that injury. Those kind of hits, when you talk about a QB, it's all about accountability and availability. He's very very accountable, but availability is going to be an issue if he continues to play the style of football that he's used to."

Jenkins isn't the first opponent to wonder about Griffin's durability or his health. In the past year, several players did just that, including Dallas corner Brandon Carr, San Francisco linebacker Ahmad Brooks and New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle among them.

But Jenkins is new to the division and his yapping does two things: endear him to Eagles beat reporters and mark him as a target for other teams. With Griffin, there's only one way to prove Jenkins and many others wrong. He needs to stay healthy; it's not about one game or one throw, it's about a season and then a string of them. And Jenkins didn't knock his game, just questioned his durability.

Dallas' defense might feel a little differently about Jenkins. But when a defense ends the season ranked 32nd in yards allowed and 26th in points allowed, and then loses its best pass-rushers (Jason Hatcher, DeMarcus Ware), well, it leaves little room for anything but criticism. So here's what Jenkins said:
“A couple years ago, their scapegoat was Rob Ryan, and they got rid of him, and he was the cause of all their problems. He went to New Orleans and took the worst defense in NFL history and turned them into a top 5 defense. So he couldn't have been the problem.

“And then you look at this year, I had the best seat in the house when I watched the Saints get 40 first downs in one game. Forty. In one game. So it must be the players.”

And then Eli Manning was the topic. Again, good, honest stuff.
"I think the problem is he was sacked 39 times, a career high last year. If that continues, Eli's best days are behind him. If they can protect him, then maybe, but it doesn't look like it."

When Jenkins played for Ohio State (my alma mater, as you might know), I preferred that he keep quiet. Typically his game spoke volumes. In the NFL, he's been up and down, but there's no doubt he now has a role as a future analyst. As a reporter, I'll never knock a guy for giving an honest opinion. Sort of helps the job, you know?

Redskins ranked low on money list

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
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The Redskins didn’t have the season they wanted. At least they didn’t greatly overspend in order to produce that 3-13 record. Not when compared to the rest of the NFL.

According to ESPN the Magazine/Sportingintelligence Global Salary Survey, the Redskins ranked 24th in the NFL when it came to their average amount spent per player in 2013 – and 158th compared to other sports franchises worldwide. Here's how they calculated their figures.

The Redskins also don’t have anyone on the top 10 list of highest-paid NFL players from last season. But that stemmed in part because they couldn’t give out any big contracts due to the salary cap penalty. Check back in a couple years when quarterback Robert Griffin III’s contract must be renewed. One note: Seven of the 10 players on this list play quarterback, topped by Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews ranked ninth at $22 million because of his signing bonus plus workout bonus and first-year base salary.

Washington spent an average of $1,842,903 per player -- a decrease of 11.6 percent from the previous year. Yeah, the inability to spend in free agency because of the salary cap penalty hurt that figure. I’d imagine they’ll climb this chart after this season. And I’d expect that climb to continue as certain contracts need to be addressed (Griffin, Trent Williams, Ryan Kerrigan, Alfred Morris, etc.).

But does it matter where you rank on this list? Minnesota spent more per player than any team in the NFL and went 5-10-1; maybe those extra dollars saved the Vikings in the win over Washington. Or maybe the Redskins should have won regardless.

However, Seattle ranked second on this list and its season ended slightly better, if holding up the Lombardi Trophy qualifies as the goal, that is.

The Redskins ranked fourth in the NFC East as Philadelphia (ninth), the Giants (12th) and Dallas (23rd) all outspent them.

Did it make a difference as to how much teams spent? A little bit. Six of the top 10 teams on the list made the playoffs (Denver, the other Super Bowl participant, was fourth). Carolina got the most out of its money, posting a 12-4 record and making the postseason despite being ahead of only Jacksonville on this list.

For what it’s worth, the top franchise on this list is Manchester City of the English Premier League ($8,109,912) while the New York Yankes were second. And this is why football players must grab every dollar they can. Their game is more brutal, there are more lasting effects and there’s less money (relatively speaking).
After taking a look at the safety need Monday, it's now time to check out an area that could help everyone on the Washington Redskins' defense: the pass rush.

Orakpo
What they've done: Re-signed Brian Orakpo and Chris Baker; signed Jason Hatcher.

Problem solved: Helped? Absolutely. Solved? Let's see. It helps quite a bit to add an interior rusher to complement Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. The Redskins' coaches have said they're going to let the pass-rushers loose more often. That means not asking to rush contain so much -- when the goal is as much to keep the quarterback in the pocket as it is to sack him. Will this happen or is it just offseason chatter? The players say they're expecting changes based on what the coaches have told them as well.

What needs to happen: The coaches need to follow up on their offseason words and let the rushers attack more. But it's not always that simple. If they're in a base front, they can't just let both outside linebackers rush unless they want to constantly send five at the quarterback. But they do need to figure out a way to let Orakpo do what they need him to do: pressure the passer. And having a dedicated pass-rushing coach in Brian Baker is a positive step. I've never been around him, but do know that this is his area of expertise and that he's worked with excellent pass rushers. It'll help Kerrigan as well, along with Rob Jackson and Brandon Jenkins. The Redskins have not had a coach for this area lately and there's a huge difference between having a guy tell someone what to do on a play and having a guy who says this is how you can win on this play. One helps you do your job; the other helps you improve. Can that take Orakpo from a good pass-rusher to a great one? We'll see. You can't measure everything by sack totals, but the great pass-rushers still record a certain amount of sacks while also setting up others. He wants to be paid like a great pass-rusher.

Hatcher
Hatcher
Address in the draft: Sure. If a pass-rusher they really like is available at No. 34 (keep in mind if teams think guys will be great pass-rushers they get picked higher), then by all means. It's like pitching in baseball: You can never have enough pass-rushers. Baker might become a good rusher in the nickel, but he has a lot to prove. Hatcher should help. But how will Stephen Bowen fare coming off microfracture surgery? Big question mark. And can you count on an improved rush from Jarvis Jenkins? He has two sacks in 28 games. Point is, there's decent reason to think the rush will be improved, but there are an equal amount of question marks. And what if, say, Hatcher gets hurt? The more options you have, the better. Other positions need more help, but this is always an important area to address. Plus their better linemen -- Cofield, Hatcher and Bowen if he's healthy -- all are at least 30 years old.

Last word: Hatcher excelled at winning one-on-one matchups last season inside. The fact he's going back to a 3-4 is not a huge issue because when the Redskins are in nickel, he'll be rushing inside -- just like last season. And Washington played nickel nearly 70 percent of the time last season. In 2011, the Redskins had a good pass rush in part because of how Orakpo and Bowen worked together. They were in sync when running their stunts and it made a difference. Hatcher is a better pass-rusher than Bowen, so if he and Orakpo work well together, his signing will have made an impact. Barry Cofield should notice a difference as well. Teams won't double them both. Heck, they can still slide Kerrigan inside at times and allow him to work against just the right guard. With Hatcher next to him, possibly drawing extra attention. The key this season will be winning more one-on-one battles.
Depending on who you talked to, receiver DeSean Jackson missing the first week of voluntary workouts was either no big deal or the greatest sin committed in some time.

But all is fine now. Jackson showed up for the start of Week 2 of the workouts, with the Redskins tweeting a picture of him in the weight room.


I didn't have a big problem with him missing the first week, mainly because he told the Redskins before he signed about a previously scheduled trip. Yes, there are some who say it would have been a good move for him in terms of public perception had he cancelled his trip and showed up last week. Maybe they're right. One agent said Jackson could have recouped the money he lost from a cancelled trip by working it into this contract.

But I don't think most players will care a whole lot whether or not Jackson missed last week. Most will understand: the trip was scheduled when he played for a team that didn't have to report until April 21. In fact, the agent I spoke with said his Redskins client did not care at all about Jackson's absence.

For the first two weeks of the voluntary sessions, players aren't permitted to do more than just weight training and conditioning. But quarterbacks and receivers can throw (with no defenders). It's a good time for Jackson to start building a rapport with quarterback Robert Griffin III, which is obviously important. So, sure, it would have been nice.

The key for Jackson, though, will be how he handles the workouts going forward. If he takes them seriously and works hard? The players will embrace him. His situation is different because of the circumstances surrounding his release from Philadelphia and more eyes will be focused on him. Maybe he doesn't care. But the eyes he should care about are those of his teammates. And if it matters to him, he'll have a strong spring. If that's the case, they'll be looking forward to the start of training camp -- and not looking back on the first week of voluntary workouts.

Redskins hope for 'double whammy'

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
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It's supposed to provide a boost to themselves and hurt a division rival at the same time. That's the benefit of signing a player from a team in your own division. The Redskins have done so in the past; they did it again this offseason -- twice.

First they landed defensive lineman Jason Hatcher, taking him away from Dallas. Then it was receiver DeSean Jackson from Philadelphia.

Hatcher
Hatcher
Jackson
"It's always great to go to a division rival and take someone from their roster that was big for them and bring it to your own team," Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield said. "That's almost a double whammy on their part."

How much does it really help or hurt? New York adequately replaced Cofield and won a Super Bowl in his first season with Washington. But the Giants' defense did fall in terms of effectiveness after he left, falling from 17th in points allowed his last season there to 25th the following year. Many reasons could explain that tumble and the Giants did rank 12th in points allowed in 2012. They survived the loss of a player to a division rival.

But consider that during Cofield's time in Washington, the Redskins steadily improved against the run while the Giants temporarily declined in this area. The Redskins went from allowing 4.6 yards per carry before Cofield arrived to 4.3 then 4.22 and finally 3.99 this past season. New York took an initial dip going from 4.16 yards per carry in his last season with the Giants to 4.46 and 4.6 in its first two seasons without him before rebounding this past season at 3.84.

Cofield has been a solid player for Washington, but its defense clearly needs more. The Redskins ranked 21st in points allowed the year before his arrival and have gone 21st, 22nd and 31st in points allowed with him. He has not emerged as the NFL's best nose tackle as the Redskins had once predicted.

And I use Cofield as an example more than Stephen Bowen, also signed from a division rival, because he was a full-time starter for all of his five seasons in New York. The most Bowen had started was nine games in 2010 for Dallas.

And the overall point is: They survived the loss of a player to a division rival. But the other point is: Cofield did help the Redskins' defense.

And 20 of his 95 tackles in Washington have occurred in six games against the Giants. That's 21.1 percent of his tackles during his 48 games with the Redskins. Yeah, those games probably meant something more. For Bowen, 11 of his 85 tackles -- or 12.9 percent -- and 1.5 of his seven sacks have come in five games against Dallas.

Cofield said playing your former team twice a season definitely matters.

"There's that chip you carry on your shoulder playing against your old team," Cofield said. "It's like playing against your brother in the backyard. You love them, but you want to beat them worse than anybody for bragging rights. Having guys within the division, having that hatred -- not just my feeling for the Giants, but my feeling against the Cowboys and Eagles built over the years. DeSean has feelings in the division that will be strong I'm sure. Playing against teams twice a year, you can't replicate it. So playing a division rival is a positive in many different ways."

The Redskins did not get the double whammy when they obtained quarterback Donovan McNabb from Philadelphia in 2010. Of course, that's exactly what the Eagles got as McNabb struggled, the Redskins went 6-10 in their one season with McNabb under center and they ended up with two draft picks. Oh, and they went 10-6 and made the postseason (but McNabb did win an ugly game in Philly; so he had that going for him). Then again, McNabb's failure eventually led to the Redskins' aggressive pursuit of quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Dallas and Philadelphia both were fine letting Hatcher and Jackson leave. The Cowboys weren't going to re-sign Hatcher and the Eagles cut Jackson. But having them both remain in the division? The Redskins hope they make their former teams pay.
I'll be taking a look all week at some of the needs the Washington Redskins entered the offseason with, what they've done and if it's still a need. First up: Safety.

Meriweather
What they’ve done: Re-signed Brandon Meriweather; added Ryan Clark; signed Akeem Davis. Reed Doughty remains unsigned. From what I’ve heard, opinions are split as to whether they want him back. Hence, still unsigned. Davis is a former undrafted free agent who has yet to play in an NFL game.

Projected starters: Clark at free safety; Meriweather at strong safety. Obviously both must be able to play the other spot, and the Redskins safeties have to be interchangeable as well.

Clark
Problem solved?: No. Meriweather did not have a strong season in 2013, missing too many tackles and not making many plays. He played a lot more at free safety out of necessity, so perhaps playing more in the box will make a difference. The Steelers considered Clark done and opted for free agent Mike Mitchell (whom the Redskins targeted as well). It’s fair to wonder what he has left. But if Clark consistently makes tackles and provides leadership, then he’ll be an upgrade, albeit a short-term one. The Redskins have put a band-aid on this position.

What needs to happen: The young players need to develop and that’s where Clark can be a real bonus, helping them on the practice field and in the classroom. When you want to draft and develop players, you absolutely need veterans such as Clark around. Based on where he started, Clark has had an improbable run in the NFL -- an undersized guy who wasn’t a blazer yet started on two Super Bowl winning teams. He’ll be the best leader on the defense. And not only is he a good leader, he’s well-schooled in this defense because of his Pittsburgh ties. Between Clark and secondary coach Raheem Morris, the young players have what they need at their disposal. If they don’t develop, it’s absolutely on the player. The fear: Are these young guys worth developing? Bacarri Rambo has a heck of a lot to prove and would be wise to show a lot more on special teams. The problem is, the concerns people had on him coming out of Georgia showed up during his rookie year. His lack of impact on special teams is troubling. Young safeties must help in this area (tough to do so immediately, but it should have clicked by season’s end here). And Phillip Thomas not only needs to overcome a tricky Lis Franc injury -- by all accounts he’s recovering fine, but the key will be showing explosive reactions -- but then prove he can start in the NFL. He doesn’t need to do it immediately, thanks to the two veteran starters.

Address in the draft: Yes. I’d select another safety, if possible (in other words: don’t reach). Rambo has ability, but I’d challenge the heck out of him and see how he responds; you do that with competititon. I’m a fan of Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward, but 34 might be too high for him and the third round likely too late.

Last word: The Redskins opted not to spend big on safety and I don’t think it’s a bad strategy, despite the growing importance of the position thanks to spread offenses. I always felt the pass rush was a bigger need because of the impact it can have. I was surprised they showed a lot of interest in Mitchell in the legal tampering period and just as free agency started only to lose him. But it showed their mindset; the players they truly wanted they were more aggressive with (Jason Hatcher, DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts). If the pass rush improves, then the secondary will benefit. It won’t solve everything, however. But if you were going to fix one area this offseason, it had to be the pass rush. The key is adding more young players and hoping one or two can develop into starters for 2015.

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

April, 12, 2014
Apr 12
10:00
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Back to a hodgepodge, or mish mash if you prefer, of questions for the second part of the Redskins mailbag. A little bit on the offensive line, some tight end and Chris Thompson and, of course, wide receiver talk with the addition of DeSean Jackson. Enjoy.

Quick takes: Redskins receivers

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
3:19
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video
  • The Washington Redskins had little depth at receiver last season, and lacked a dynamic playmaker among their starters. Pierre Garcon caught a lot of passes, but for his 113 catches he only averaged 11.9 yards per catch and caught just five touchdown passes. So they signed Andre Roberts and then DeSean Jackson, the latter solving the playmaker problem in a big way.
  • Jackson
    But they still need depth. Leonard Hankerson might not be ready until mid to late August and he’s had durability issues in the NFL. Aldrick Robinson is a fine backup and Santana Moss would be as well. However, the Redskins needed more than just this group.
  • That’s why they’re looking at signing more receivers and that’s why they had Anthony Armstrong and Austin Collie in for workouts. Neither had signed as of Friday afternoon. But if you’re looking for depth, you’re not just going to look to the draft or undrafted free agents. Far from guarantees.
  • Which is why they brought in Armstrong and Collie. They’ve combined for 10 catches the past two seasons. They’re players you bring in because you need to fill out your 90-man roster and you want legitimate competition. You can’t just bring in a bunch of undrafted guys and perhaps one draft pick.
  • But, also, boosting special teams play has been a big focal point this offseason. The Redskins received little help on special teams from receiver last season (or a number of other positions for that matter). A guy like Armstrong would help special teams (if he's even signed and then, of course, makes the roster).
  • Let’s stick with receivers for a minute. Roberts told me last month he was frustrated with his role in Arizona last year as a No. 3 receiver (his targets dropped by 41 from the previous year) and he signed here because he’d serve as a No. 2. With Jackson and Garcon ahead of him, that’s no longer the case. I don't blame him for now wondering what his role will be. If I went to a new company thinking I'd be filling one role and then later find out they're bringing in someone more expensive to fill a similar role, I'd wonder, too. So would anybody.
  • Four receivers were targeted at least 70 times by Cincinnati, where Jay Gruden coached last season. And in 2012, three receivers received at least 80 attempts. There was a rather big disparity, however, between how many passes A.J. Green got compared to the others (70 more than anyone else in 2012; 98 more last season). There is not the same dropoff in quality from 1-3 in Washington this year as there was in Cincinnati the past two years.
  • The problem, a nice one to have, is that Washington also has an excellent tight end in Jordan Reed. How can they keep everyone happy (and that includes running back Alfred Morris)? By winning. This is a business, but players will sacrifice numbers if they know it results in winning. And with Jackson on board, everyone will have to give up something. Garcon won’t catch 113 passes again; it wasn’t healthy for the offense, anyway. But with Jackson he can be more productive on his catches and won’t always have to be the guy on smoke routes or receiver screens.
  • And I don’t worry about Garcon. He’s an emotional player, but the guy always plays hard and will still be their best all-around receiver. He’s their most physical wideout for sure and will break more tackles after the catch. Garcon is tough to bring down. I've heard good things about Roberts, too. But this will be interesting to watch how it unfolds.
  • The guy who must handle it all is quarterback Robert Griffin III. If guys are getting enough chances and the team is winning, then all is good. It helps that none of the top receivers’ contracts are up in the next two years. There’s no immediate contract they’re trying to secure; all have been paid. But Griffin will have to hit more on his downfield throws than last year. It’s not just about improved protection in the pocket, either. The better he gets from the pocket, the more passes they can complete downfield.
  • Jackson will help open things up, but so too will not falling behind as much or as fast. So, too, will the run game as play-action passes with these weapons would be difficult to defend. There are enough ways they can improve their downfield passing game; adding Jackson helps but it's not the only thing that will make a difference.

Redskins mailbag: Part 1

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
12:45
PM ET
This is a good time of the year for questions: some about the draft; some about new additions and a lot about a variety of topics. Makes for a well-rounded mailbag. Look for Part 2 Saturday morning. Enjoy:

 
Shortly after he signed with Washington, receiver Andre Roberts recalled his frustration from the past season. He was Arizona’s second receiver in 2012; he was their third in 2013. His numbers suffered.

Roberts didn’t complain, but it did bother him.

“It was definitely frustrating,” he said by phone last month. “I felt great coming into [2013] and I was hoping I could better my stats and help the offense more. But I wasn’t able to do that. Being a competitor and a receiver who wants the ball every play -- you obviously can’t get the ball every play -- but I have that mentality. Whenever there’s a pass play I want the ball in my hands and I think I can do something special with it. When you don’t get the opportunity, it was definitely really frustrating for me.”

[+] EnlargeAndre Roberts
Jeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsEx-Cardinal Andre Roberts could be a valuable weapon for the Redskins as the team's No. 3 wide receiver.
Which leads us to now. When he signed with Washington, Roberts envisioned a role in which he’d play inside and outside, being a second option after Pierre Garcon. Of course, that was before the Redskins signed receiver DeSean Jackson.

“Well, I envisioned one thing and then we signed DeSean Jackson,” Roberts said on ESPN 980's "Inside the Locker Room" Thursday. “So I haven’t really thought too much.”

Roberts got paid -- he received a four-year, $16 million contract with $8 million guaranteed. But now that he has the money, he’d also like to have a lot of chances. Jackson’s arrival can help make everyone better, just because defenses will have to focus on taking him away. They can only double so many receivers and, if the Redskins use a lot of three-receiver sets, that means Roberts could be put in numerous one-on-one situations. Roberts likely will play in the slot, but he can play outside as well. Last season, Arizona used him outside in many of its three-receiver sets with Larry Fitzgerald inside.

But the Redskins didn’t bring Jackson here just to be a decoy. And there’s also tight end Jordan Reed to consider when it comes to targets. It’s a good problem for any team to have; that’s a potentially explosive offense. Which is why the Redskins coaches and players, quarterback Robert Griffin III in particular, are thrilled.

It also means players will have to realize they may not get as many targets as they desire. That’s what Roberts dealt with in 2013. His snaps went from 837 in 2012 to 605. His targets dropped from 114 to 73.

“That’s how the league is, that’s how the league works,” Roberts said. “Going into my situation, I wanted to be the No. 2 receiver. But I still don’t how it’s going to work out. Obviously, when you look at how much money is being made each guy, you’d think that’s going to be [the] No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3.”

Not only by the money, but by the reputation. Garcon and Jackson will be the primary targets at receiver. The former is coming off a 113-catch season; the latter had 1,333 yards receiving.

Regardless, if Roberts just plays the slot he’ll get opportunities with perhaps more of them coming down field. There’s a reason Washington targeted him so fast in free agency. He also told ESPN 980 that he thinks he’ll be doing a lot of returning. Jackson did that in Philadelphia, but not as much in recent years -- and in his last 32 punt returns combined the past three years he averaged only 5.7 yards. Besides, the Redskins would be wise not to have Jackson return a lot to limit the wear and tear on his body.

“I think I’ll be returning,” Roberts said. “What I want to do is punt return and kick return, if I have that choice. Anytime I feel like I can get my hands on the ball, I want to do it. … If I can get back there and returns some kicks and return some punts for this team, I’m going to be pretty happy.”
When you take a look at the Redskins’ salary-cap breakdown defensively, it becomes clear – if it wasn’t already. They’re spending a lot more on their front seven, compared to the NFL average, than the back four. That means they’d best hope that an improved pass rush compensates for what they couldn’t add in the secondary.

For the record, Washington has approximately $2.8 million of salary-cap space remaining, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Anyway, here’s a defensive breakdown by position (and click here for the offensive breakdown) with numbers courtesy of the ESPN Stats & Information gang:

Defensive line

Number on roster: 11
Total percentage of cap space: 20.57
Total cap value: $26,516,642
NFL average: $21,632,204
Biggest cap hit: Barry Cofield ($7,667,500).
Underpaid: Tough to say anyone is here, though if Jason Hatcher produces, then his $3.75 million cap hit will be a huge bargain. Jarvis Jenkins has a $1.5 million cap hit, which is below average for an NFL defensive lineman. Chris Baker will have a higher cap figure this season ($2 million). But I wrestle with calling Jenkins underpaid; I’d like to see more plays.
Looking to the future: Jenkins and Chris Neild are free agents after this season. But if Baker and/or Clifton Geathers show they can be more than part-time players then it gives the Redskins option should they let Jenkins walk. Stephen Bowen has a $7.02 million cap hit this season and it jumps by another million in 2015. I can’t imagine he plays at those numbers, not coming off microfracture surgery. But if he does play at that figure this season, the Redskins – if they want – could release him next offseason and get a $5.5 million cap savings. Multiple people in the organization have said Bowen remains in the plans for 2014.

Linebacker

Number on roster: 12
Total percentage of cap space: 18.5
Total cap value: $23,901,881
NFL average: $15,201,455
Biggest cap hit: Brian Orakpo ($11,455,000)
Underpaid: Ryan Kerrigan will count $2.8 million against the cap, a much lower sum than he’ll soon receive. If Akeem Jordan wins the starting inside linebacker job next to Perry Riley, then you could consider him underpaid as he’ll only count $635,000 against the cap and also would be a big help on special teams.
Looking to the future: Kerrigan is in the last year of his rookie contract, but the Redskins have until May 3 to decide whether to extend it by one year (at an average fourth through 25th highest-paid players at his position). Jordan, Rob Jackson and Darryl Sharpton all signed one-year deals this offseason. If the Redskins don't draft an inside linebacker, they have to hope Keenan Robinson stays healthy and shows why teammates have praised his talent since his arrival.

Cornerback

Number on roster: 7
Total percentage of cap space: 6.1
Total cap value: $7,873,638
NFL average: $12,316,626
Biggest cap hit: Tracy Porter ($2,800,000)
Underpaid: DeAngelo Hall is coming off his best season in Washington and will count only $2.1 million against the cap – 55 corners will occupy more cap space.
Looking to the future: E.J. Biggers is the only corner who will be a free agent after this season. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see them draft someone else, in case Hall’s play slips that much or Porter doesn’t help or just to add depth. Richard Crawford still has to prove his knee is sound and that he’ll continue improving. Same with Chase Minnifield.


Safety

Number on roster: 7
Total percentage of cap space: 2.91
Total cap value: $3,746,719
NFL average: $8,237,006
Biggest cap hit: Brandon Meriweather ($1 million)
Underpaid: No one here is underpaid, though if Ryan Clark can coax out another good year and help groom some young safeties, then his $635,000 cap hit will qualify. But they also have to have young safeties worth grooming.
Looking to the future: Meriweather and Clark have one-year deals, which means the Redskins could well be in the same position next offseason in looking for starting safeties. Of course, they could still draft one (I would) and hope that between the rookie and the two young holdovers from last year, Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas, that they’ll find one starter and then only need to find one more. Thomas must prove that he’s not only healthy but can move as he did before the Lisfranc injury. Rambo has to earn a job this year. Neither holdover is a given to be a starter – in 2014 or beyond.
The Washington Redskins filled two big holes in free agency -- they hope -- when they landed defensive lineman and pass-rusher Jason Hatcher as well as big-time playmaking receiver DeSean Jackson. Next stop, the draft, where the Redskins don't pick until the second round (34th overall). Several positions would make sense in the second round: right tackle, safety or even inside linebacker.

Todd McShay's fourth mock Insider is now available on ESPN Insider's page and he projects a player to Washington who should make quarterback Robert Griffin III happy.


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