Pending free agents:
- E.J. Biggers, CB
- Ryan Clark, S
- Kai Forbath, K (restricted)
- Leonard Hankerson, WR
- Roy Helu, RB
- Jarvis Jenkins, DL
- Colt McCoy, QB
- Brandon Meriweather, S
- Santana Moss, WR
- Chris Neild, DT
- Brian Orakpo, OLB
- Niles Paul, TE
- Tyler Polumbus, T
- Trent Robinson, S (restricted)
- Justin Rogers, CB (restricted)
Top 10 2015 cap hits:
- Trent Williams, T: $13,730,393
- Pierre Garcon, WR: $9,700,000
- DeSean Jackson, WR: $9,250,000
- Stephen Bowen, DL: $8,020,000
- Barry Cofield, DT: $7,677,500
- Ryan Kerrigan, OLB: $7,038,000
- Robert Griffin III, QB: $6,719,713
- Jason Hatcher, DL: $5,250,000
- DeAngelo Hall, CB: $4,812,500
- Chris Chester, G: $4,800,000
Notable coaching changes:
- Defensive coordinator: Joe Barry replaces Jim Haslett.
- Hired 2014 coordinators Bill Callahan and Perry Fewell as assistants.
- No. 5 overall pick
- No traded picks
- Current projected cap room (via Over the Cap): $13.73MM
- Must exercise or decline fifth-year option for 2016 for QB Robert Griffin III.
- Top extension candidates: Trent Williams, Ryan Kerrigan, Alfred Morris
In January of 2014, Washington hired Jay Gruden to be the team’s next head coach after Mike Shanahan was let go. Almost a year later, many wondered if he’d get a second season. Ultimately, Gruden was assured his job after a convincing Week 16 victory over the Eagles. The same can’t be said for everyone else in the organization, however.
Longtime GM Bruce Allen was removed from his post in favor of Scot McCloughan, a seasoned executive with many years of scouting experience. For a team that hasn’t always nailed it in the draft, McCloughan’s arrival could prove to be a game changer. Meanwhile, Joe Barry was brought aboard as the team’s new defensive coordinator to replace Jim Haslett. Barry was Washington’s first choice — sort of. The club went hard after the Chargers linebackers coach, then changed direction sharply once 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio became available. Once things failed to shake out with Fangio, Washington circled back to Barry and got its original No. 1 pick.
Positions Of Need
Washington’s top priority will probably be to address the two starting safety spots. Last season, the club’s safeties were repeatedly burned deep and opposing offenses seemed to have little trouble with blowing the lid off of the coverage. The team primarily relied on Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather in 2014. To say that the duo disappointed would be an understatement. Meriweather was rated as the No. 60 safety in the league by Pro Football Focus (subscription required and recommended), while Clark was dead last among the qualified players at the position at No. 87. Meriweather’s -2.1 overall score indicated that he was merely below average. Clark’s -20.7 rating pegged him as being downright atrocious.
If Washington moves on from both safeties, the team could theoretically fill one hole with Phillip Thomas. Thomas was was a fourth-round pick in 2013 but has seen limited playing time thanks to injuries and time on the club’s taxi squad. However, he started four games to close out the 2014 season and he could be in the mix for a starting job, provided that he isn’t too green for it.
Still, Washington can be expected to go out of house for at least one of those roles. In a perfect world, the team would back up a Brinks truck for someone like Devin McCourty this offseason. In the real world, the front office will probably aim a little lower if they turn to free agency. Jeron Johnson, who is scheduled to hit the open market one year after he signed a restricted free agent tender with the Seahawks, could be one potential target. New GM McCloughan was in Seattle’s scouting department when Johnson was first signed as a UDFA, so there’s a definite connection there. Rahim Moore, who just turned 25 last week, is one of the Broncos’ many free agents (unrestricted) and could be another possibility. In the draft, Landon Collins could be on the radar when it’s Washington’s turn at No. 5.
Ryan Kerrigan had a breakout year for Washington last season but Brian Orakpo wasn’t able to deliver an encore of his 2013 performance on the other side. While Kerrigan impressed with 51 tackles, 13.5 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles, the team’s pass rush as a whole left much to be desired. When Washington made Orakpo its highest-paid player with an $11.455MM deal (off of the franchise tender), the club had much higher hopes for him than an injury-riddled year that would be cut short by Week 7. The young Trent Murphy did the best he could in a starting role, but he likely won’t be asked to start again in 2015. With so many question marks surrounding Orakpo (a pending free agent), you can expect Washington to at least explore outside linebackers in free agency and possibly in the draft.
The offensive line will also be pretty high on the list of priorities for McCloughan & Co., as NFL Network’s Mike Mayock recently detailed in a conference call wtih reporters, including CSNWashington.com’s Tarik El-Bashir.
“Remember Scot McCloughan is in charge of the draft,” Mayock said. “His background tells you he’s a big-bodied guy. Offensive line and defensive line—big, strong guys. So where could they go [at No. 5 overall]? I think offensive line needs help. How they evaluate Morgan Moses and Spencer Long, who are both third-round picks from a year ago, is going to be important.”
Specifically, Mayock posited that there will be a need at right guard regardless of Long’s development as he enters his sophomore year. Mayock opined that at 32, Chris Chester‘s best football is behind him, necessitating a change. The metrics at Pro Football Focus seem to agree: Chester ranked as the No. 47 guard out of 81 qualified players at the position in 2014.
Key Free Agents
Last offseason, Washington decided that it wanted to see more out of Orakpo before making a lengthy and lucrative commitment. After seeing just seven weeks of regular season action from the veteran, it appears that the team made a smart choice. Now, the club has another difficult decision on its hands. Orakpo is eligible to hit the open market once again and, despite the uncertainty, he remains one of the most talented players at his position when he’s healthy. Using the tag on Orakpo again would be an option, theoretically, but that seems unlikely, as our own Luke Adams recently wrote. Time isn’t necessarily on Orakpo’s side as he approaches age 29 and, therefore, he’ll probably prioritize the best payday available to him. All things considered, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Washington let him go elsewhere.
In his five games (four starts) in 2014, quarterback Colt McCoy posted respectable numbers, completing 71.1% of his passes for 1,057 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions. Now, he’ll likely be looking for a pay raise as he approaches the open market. Assuming Washington sticks with Robert Griffin III under center (and even if they don’t), the organization has learned the value of having a quality No. 2 signal caller on the depth chart. Another team could certainly outbid Washington, but with plenty of breathing room under the cap, it would make sense for the club that drafted RGIII in 2012 to retain the University of Texas product.
Speaking of valuable understudies, tight end Niles Paul became quite an important player in Washington’s passing game last season. With Jordan Reed struggling through injuries, Paul filled in capably and posted some impressive stat lines, particularly in the early going. Paul may be a bit undersized for the position at 6’1″, but you can expect teams to circle the wagons around him regardless if he hits the open market.
On defense, it’s a little tricky to get a read on the aforementioned safety situation. After turning in a year that disappointing by any measure, Clark probably won’t be welcomed back. Meriweather, on the other hand, could be a consideration depending on how things break in the secondary.
Longtime Washington back Roy Helu could wind up elsewhere to infuriate fantasy owners everywhere. Veteran Santana Moss, who has been a huge part of the organization for years, is determined to continue playing but he could be donning colors besides burgundy and gold for the first time since 2004.
Extension Candidates/Contract Issues
As we detailed earlier, the offensive line is definitely an area of importance for Washington. With that in mind, the club could seek to work out an extension with tackle Trent Williams. Injuries and all, Williams figures to be a sought-after commodity after the 2015 season when he’s eligible to hit the open market. A new deal won’t be cheap, but it’s also not easy to replace a young, dominant tackle like Williams, who turns 27 in July.
The team has to decide by May 3rd whether to extend RGIII through the 2016 season. Not long ago, that seemed like an absolute no-brainer of a move. Now? – That’s a dilly of a pickle, as longtime NFL aficionado Ned Flanders would say. Last season, the one-time face of the franchise was benched in favor of McCoy and only regained his starting gig when he was placed on IR. Despite his adamant public statements to the contrary, it’s widely believed that Coach Gruden is not a huge fan of RGIII. Rather than pick up the costly option, owner Dan Snyder might be okay with rolling the dice on Griffin in ’15. Of course, if Snyder does not subscribe to the idea of the sunk cost fallacy, he might have a hard time doing that after Washington gave up a fortune to draft the young signal-caller just a few years ago.
Running back Alfred Morris, earning a pittance of a salary, is entering his walk year and could certainly be an extension candidate. Kerrigan, coming off of a breakout season, will earn a $7.038MM salary in 2015 after the team exercised his fifth-year option in May of last year. Of course, as a former first-round pick, it wasn’t a total shock to see him put everything together at this stage of his career. Washington has watched Kerrigan bust his behind each and every season and that should give them confidence that he’ll continue to trend upward.
After a 4-12 season, no one will accuse 2014’s NFC East cellar-dwellers of looking like world beaters. Still, in a division that looks relatively wide open, there’s no reason why Washington can’t get back on the right path in 2015. Armed with a host of high draft picks and a healthy amount of cap space, the team could be poised to pull off an impressive turnaround with the right offseason moves.
Information from Over The Cap was used in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.