- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Some key dates over the next month for the Washington Redskins (and the rest of the NFL):
March 8-11: It used to be that teams could not legally contact players until free agency began. But that was a sham so now they have a legal window to talk to players. The Redskins talked to numerous players during this period last year, but with no room against the cap they didn't sign anyone. It was akin to colleges recruiting players before offering a scholarship. But deals can't be struck during this time. It gives teams and agents a good idea on what to expect when free agency begins. Not everyone likes this format. Teams are sometimes reluctant to say exactly how much they'll pay a player, fearing they're just doing another team's negotiating. This causes teams to be more vague, which, in turn frustrates agents.
What to watch: Perry Riley's situation. The Redskins and Riley have continued to talk, but no deal appears imminent. The Washington Post reported they're not close. The scouting combine provides agents and teams a chance to talk (even if they're not supposed to) so Riley's side should have a feel for his market. But it'll crystallize more this weekend. If he indeed wants $5.5 million per year, as rumored, that's too much for Washington. In Riley's favor? It's not a strong inside linebacker market, in free agency or the draft.
March 11: Free agency begins at 4 p.m. Teams must be in compliance with the salary cap by 4 p.m. (this is also when the rule of 51 begins and only the top 51 contracts count toward the cap). This won't be an issue at all with Washington. The Redskins will have approximately $30 million in cap space and plenty of needs. The shopping list includes two safeties, another cornerback, at least one inside linebacker, a defensive lineman and perhaps receiver and an offensive lineman. Other than that, they're all set.
What to watch: How aggressive will the Redskins be? They were forced to be prudent the past two offseasons. But with more cap space, that will change -- but how aggressive will they be? General manager Bruce Allen has done a good job of setting a price for guys and sticking to that figure. But will that change with the desire to rid themselves of last year's 3-13 stench? They need a safety and the best one out there is Buffalo's Jairus Byrd, whose ability to cover deep middle would open up this defensive scheme. Byrd might be too expensive, but he can't be ruled out of course. Also, New York defensive lineman Linval Joseph could be a target among others. Other names to watch: Carolina's Mike Mitchell and Giants' receiver Hakeem Nicks. They also apparently like Houston free-agent linebacker Joe Mays, as much for his special-teams ability. They talked to him during training camp
March 23-26: NFL owners meeting in Orlando, Fla.
What to watch: Will the NFL expand the current playoff format? It's working rather well the way it is, but Redskins coach Jay Gruden will meet with the media for about an hour during this trip. If there's a big free-agent signing I'm sure he'll talk beforehand, but this is always a good chance to delve into other topics.
April 7: Because the Redskins have a new coach, they can begin their offseason workout program. Teams without a new coach must wait two more weeks.
What to watch: For the first two weeks of the offseason workouts, players can't work with their position coaches. They can only do strength and conditioning or rehab. Quarterbacks can throw the ball to receivers, but not against a defense. In the second phase, which lasts three weeks, coaches are allowed to be on the field to provide instruction and run drills. But there's still no offense vs. defense. And in the final phase, there are no individual drills pitting offense vs. defense, but you can do a full-team drill that way. This is also the first time players can wear helmets in the offseason (no pads of any kind however).
The Redskins also get an extra minicamp this spring because they have a new coach and that's what will be more revealing publicly. Last year, for example, you could see Josh LeRibeus did not have a good offseason just by how he looked physically: out of shape. During Washington's minicamps, we'll get a chance to see how Griffin is throwing the ball -- will he be more consistent? The problems he had throwing the ball were evident last summer, so we'll get some clue as to his improvement. There's a long way to go of course, but it will be the first measurement and it will come after he's had a month or two of good training. Will the brace be on?