Washington Redskins: Antonio Smith

The Redskins will host two players Thursday: safety Ryan Clark and linebacker/defensive lineman Anthony Spencer. But the interesting part of the day, or the next several, could be another player they’re targeting: running back Darren Sproles.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday morning that the Redskins are among the teams interested in trading for the New Orleans running back. Apparently, the thinking now is that it would take a mid- to late-round draft pick.

Sproles would certainly add a good weapon for the Redskins. Though his production went down last season, he remains someone who can help an offense. Sproles can be lined up in many spots, creating mismatches. Also, even last season, there were times defenders would cheat toward him – taking two defenders. And that would leave a bigger window for quarterback Drew Brees to find another target. Sproles would give Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III an excellent option on checkdowns.

The drawback: Sproles turns 31 in June. He also has a hefty base salary for a part-time player; according to ESPN Stats & Info his base is $3.4 million with a $100,000 workout bonus and a Pro Bowl bonus of $100,000. (Note: An earlier version said it was listed as $2.4 million; but that was listed incorrectly in the system. It's definitely $3.4 million). Overthecap.com also has Sproles at a base of $3.4 million with a $100,000 workout bonus. The Redskins have all their picks in rounds two through seven.

But if they somehow did add Sproles, the Redskins' biggest acquisitions thus far would have come on offense. They’ve also signed receiver Andre Roberts and guard Shawn Lauvao. Meanwhile, a defense that struggled has received no help through the first two days of free agency. The Redskins hosted corner Corey Graham, but he signed a four-year deal with Buffalo. They also hosted defensive lineman Antonio Smith, but he left without a contract and now is scheduled to visit Tennessee and then Oakland.

Even some of the Redskins’ offensive players are waiting for them to add more help on defense.

They are hosting Clark, who played safety here from 2004-05, and Spencer, the former Cowboys linebacker/end, on Thursday. But Clark has drawn interest from many teams. His agent, Joel Turner, said numerous teams called about him during the legal tampering period. The Redskins did not call until early Wednesday morning – after losing out on safety Mike Mitchell, a player they had wanted for a while, the previous day.

But Turner said Clark’s interest in the Redskins is legitimate: “We’re not playing games. We’re coming down because we’re interested and they’re interested.”

Clark, who will turn 35 before the season, tweeted late Wednesday night:

If signed, he would give the Redskins a strong veteran leader in the secondary and someone to mentor their group of young safeties: Phillip Thomas, Bacarri Rambo, Trenton Robinson and Jose Gumbs. They could always draft a safety, too, though it’s a difficult spot for a rookie to play.

Clark obviously is not a long-term solution, but the hope would be that after a year someone else might be ready – or they can pursue this position again.

As for Spencer, he was an excellent linebacker with Dallas in its 3-4 front. The Cowboys moved him to end last season when they switched to a 4-3. But Spencer played just one game last season after having microfracture surgery on his knee. At 30, Spencer would be a guy who needs to prove he’s still healthy and can play. He would not be guaranteed help. The Redskins need guaranteed help.
The Redskins will entertain defensive end Antonio Smith and corner Corey Graham, both of whom can fill specific needs. Smith told the Houston Chronicle that he’ll also visit Tennessee, St. Louis and Oakland. He also said, “My heart’s with [the Texans], but they haven’t made me an offer, so I’m going to take these visits,” Smith said.
  • Smith would fill a pass-rushing void among the defensive linemen. He’s listed at 6-foot-4, 289 pounds -- a little small for a typical 3-4 end (Stephen Bowen and Jarvis Jenkins both weigh around 315 pounds). But Smith started every game but one in his six-year Texans career (in addition to missing one game after being suspended for swinging his helmet at Richie Incognito).
  • Smith has played in both a 3-4 and 4-3 front and would be an excellent pass-rusher in a nickel package for the Redskins. He has 41.5 career sacks, but 18 in the past three years.
  • The Redskins need someone who can apply pressure from the defensive front, easing the burden on linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.
  • Graham is an excellent special teams player -- he was a Pro Bowler in 2011. Graham was Baltimore’s nickelback this past season. In the 2012 playoffs, he intercepted Denver quarterback Peyton Manning twice.
  • Graham, who has good size at 6-foot, 196 pounds, played five seasons for Chicago before signing with Baltimore in 2012. He’s made 23 career starts.
  • You don’t need me to do an analysis of the Santana Moss signing because, well, he’s played here since 2005. You know who he is, what he’s done and what he can do. I don’t know that Moss will definitely be on the roster in 2014, but he at least will get a chance to prove he belongs. He’s a true pro and that always helps.

Offseason needs: Defensive line

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
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.