Offseason In Review: Washington

Notable signings:

Washington’s secondary was rather dreadful in 2014 and it was no secret that they’d be going hard after corners on the open market. A few days after the start of free agency, Washington reached agreement with ex-49ers corner Chris Culliver on a four-year deal that features $16MM in guaranteed cash. When Luke Adams listed PFR’s top 50 free agents in March, he ranked Culliver 24th overall and fourth among cornerbacks, behind Byron Maxwell, Brandon Flowers, and Kareem Jackson. Culliver will help shore up a secondary whose cornerbacks got burned on a regular basis in 2014. Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Biggers, and David Amerson saw the majority of the snaps at the position for the team, and all three corners ranked inPro Football Focus’ bottom 10 at the position. Culliver limited opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage of 50.7% and a 66.5 passer rating when they threw into his coverage, according to PFF (subscription required). PFF’s grades placed Culliver as the 14th-best cornerback out of 108 qualified players. Elsewhere in the secondary, Washington picked up former Seahawk Jeron Johnson. Johnson was Seattle’s No. 3 safety behind the league’s best tandem, but now he’ll have a chance to make his own mark with a new team – likely as a starter.

Not content with just beefing up the secondary, Washington invested a great deal of money in improving their defensive line. Their biggest free agent D-Line deal went to noteworthy defensive tackle Stephen Paea. Only Suh and Kyle Williams had more quarterback pressures from the defensive tackle position in 2014 than Paea’s 47, according to Pro Football Focus’ data (subscription required). Now in a 3-4 system, Paea figures to see time at both nose tackle and at defensive end.

Ricky Jean-Francois was released by the Colts in February for cap reasons and Washington was delighted to pick him up soon after. Jean-Francois, 28, parlayed a part-time role with the 2012 NFC champion 49ers into a four-year, $22MM pact with the Colts, who made him a starter and increased his playing time. Jean-Francois held his own in the increased role, ranking 26th out of 47 qualified 3-4 defensive ends in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus’ grades (subscription required). He also set new career highs last season with 34 tackles and three sacks.

It’s always hard to peg how much free agents will get once they hit the open market but few expected Terrance Knighton‘s personal market to collapse the way it did. The man known as Pot Roast ranked 16th on our top 50 free agents list early in the offseason but wound up having to settle for a one-year, $4.45MM pact with $2.95MM guaranteed. One can speculate that Knighton’s physical conditioning scared off some teams, but whatever the reason, Washington appears to have come away with one of the best free agent values of the offseason. The six-year veteran was an integral part of a Broncos team that had the league’s second-best run defense in 2014, and Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rated Knighton 12th among 81 qualifying D-tackles last season.

On the other side of the ball, Washington retained Niles Paul with a three-year deal before he could reach free agency. The 25-year-old saw just 28 total targets during his first three seasons in the NFL, primarily serving as a blocker and a special-teamer in Washington. However, when Jordan Reed was sidelined early in the 2014 campaign, Paul got an extended look as a pass-catcher, and took advantage by setting new career highs in receptions (39) and receiving yards (507).

After the start of free agency, Washington struck a deal to retain backup quarterback Colt McCoy. While McCoy will be behind Robert Griffin III on the depth chart to start the year, either he or Kirk Cousins could get the nod if RGIII struggles.

Notable losses:

Brian Orakpo signed with the Titans after a disappointing 2014 season that ended after just seven games when he tore his pectoral muscle and was placed on IR. Still, despite the fact that he logged just 0.5 sacks last year, the former first-round pick was viewed as one of the top free agent players a year ago, when he was coming off a 10.5-sack season and earned a franchise tag from Washington. Orakpo was ranked as the NFL’s fourth-best 3-4 outside linebacker in 2013 by Pro Football Focus’ grades (subscription required). Per PFF, Orakpo racked up an impressive 51 total quarterback pressures in ’13.

Safety Ryan Clark indicated that he wanted to keep playing back in December, but he had a change of heart in the New Year. After a career in which he played 177 games (152 starts), racking up 928 total tackles, 55 passes defended, and 16 interceptions, Clark signed a one-day deal with Pittsburgh so that he could retire as a member of the Steelers.

Running back Roy Helu rushed for only 216 yards in Washington last year, but was a focal point of the club’s passing attack, catching 42 balls for nearly 500 yards. He drew interest from several teams around the league before ultimately putting pen to paper with Oakland.

Chris Chester, 32, signed a five-year, $20MM deal with Washington before the 2011 season, and started every game the team has played since then, at right guard. While Chester hasn’t been consistently above-average at the position, he hasn’t been a major liability either and it was somewhat surprising to see him let go. In 2014, he played the eighth-most offensive snaps among guards (1,091), and ranked 33rd among 78 qualified players, according to Pro Football Focus’ grades (subscription required).

Right after siging Jean-Francois, Washington released veteran defensive tackle Barry Cofield. Cofield, 31, suffered his first major injury in 2014, as he missed about half the season after an ankle injury forced him onto the injured reserve list with the designation to return. While the veteran lineman returned to action in November, he only started three of eight games for the season, marking the first time since 2007 that he appeared in a game he didn’t start.

Santana Moss says that he still wants to play in the NFL, but he might have to settle for an off-field role. Washington owner Daniel Snyder has already spoken with the veteran about a potential job, so it sounds likely that he’ll still be in the nation’s capital in 2015.

Veteran cornerback Tracy Porter had one year left on his deal but Washington opted to let him hit the open market early. Porter, 28, was a full-time starter at cornerback for the Raiders in 2013, and signed a two-year, $6MM deal in free agency last year with Washington, but saw his role reduced significantly in 2014. Before he landed on the injured reserve list in November, ending his season, Porter only played 89 snaps for Washington, finding himself buried on the depth chart behind Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Biggers, David Amerson, and others for a good chunk of 2014.

Biggers, of course, is also gone. The 28-year-old spent his five-year NFL career in Tampa Bay and Washington, playing 76 overall regular season games before signing on with the Eagles this year. Although he has experience at both cornerback and safety, Biggers primarily played corner in 2014, recording 32 tackles and four passes defended in 465 defensive snaps. He also occasionally contributed on special teams.

Tyler Polumbus was Washington’s primary right tackle for the last three seasons, but his services were no longer needed in D.C. this year with a top draft pick taking over the position. Polumbus signed on with Atlanta in May.

Extensions and restructures:

After signing a four-year extension worth $17MM in February of last year, cornerbackDeAngelo Hall played in only three games before tearing his Achilles and being placed on injured reserve. He later re-tore the Achilles in October, leaving his future even further in doubt. With that in mind, Hall agreed to a contract restructure that will eliminate his 2015 salary guarantees. Hall, in all likelihood, probably would have been shown the door if he didn’t agree to the move.


  • Acquired S Dashon Goldson and a 2016 seventh-round pick from the Buccaneers in exchange for a 2016 sixth-round pick.
  • Acquired a 2015 third-round pick (No. 95; RB Matt Jones), a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 112; G Arie Kouandjio), a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 167), and a 2015 sixth-round pick (No. 181; S Kyshoen Jarrett) from the Seahawks in exchange for a 2015 third-round pick (No. 69; WR Tyler Lockett).
  • Acquired a a 2015 sixth-round pick (No. 187; WR Evan Spencer) and a 2016 sixth-round pick from the Saints in exchange for a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 167; CB Damian Swann).

NewWashington GM Scot McCloughan was a member of the 49ers’ front office when the team drafted Dashon Goldson back in 2007 and he decided to orchestrate a reunion this year. Goldson signed a lucrative five-year contract with the Bucs after coming off an All-Pro season in San Francisco. However, his production has slipped a little over the last two seasons, as he has battled injuries. In 2014, among 87 qualified safeties, only the aforementioned Ryan Clark performed worse than Goldson, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Goldson’s -14.5 pass coverage grade was dead last among safeties — per PFF, he allowed a 69.7% completion percentage and a 127.2 passer rating on throws into his coverage. Goldson is hopeful that a change of scenery will allow him to return to his prior form.

Draft picks:

  • 1-5: Brandon Scherff, OL (Iowa): Signed
  • 2-38: Preston Smith, DE/OLB (Mississippi State): Signed
  • 3-95: Matt Jones, RB (Florida): Signed
  • 4-105: Jamison Crowder, WR (Duke): Signed
  • 4-112: Arie Kouandjio, G (Alabama): Signed
  • 5-141: Martrell Spaight, OLB (Arkansas): Signed
  • 6-181: Kyshoen Jarrett, S (Virginia Tech): Signed
  • 6-182: Tevin Mitchel, CB (Arkansas): Signed
  • 6-187: Evan Spencer, WR (Ohio State): Signed
  • 7-222: Austin Reiter, C (South Florida): Signed

A number of teams in need of offensive line help had their eye on Iowa’s Brandon Scherff. Washington wound up taking him at No. 5, which surprised some since Washington was believed to be looking at pass rushers. Scherff is expected to start his NFL career at the right tackle position, across from Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams.

In the fourth round, McCloughan stayed local and chose DeMatha star Arie Kouandjio.


Fans have been clamoring for a GM change for years now and they finally got their wish when Scot McCloughan took over Bruce Allen‘s former title. The former 49ers general manager also discussed positions with the Jets and Raiders, but in hindsight it now looks like those talks were more about leverage than anything else. McCloughan will report to Allen, but will have final say over the club’s 53-man roster.

Washington looked hard at former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio for their own DC job, but he wound up choosing the Bears. After that, Washington opted to hire Joe Barry. Barry will be tasked with turning around a unit that finished 27th in DVOA in 2014, including 32nd against the pass. The team also allowed 27.4 points per game this season, tied for the third-worst mark in the NFL. Barry has one previous stint as a DC under his belt, with the Lions from 2007 to 2008. Of course, Barry left that position at a low point, following the club’s 0-16 campaign in ’08. Barry’s run in Detroit is perhaps best remembered for prompting one reporter to ask his father-in-law, head coach Rod Marinelli, if he wished his daughter had “married a better defensive coordinator.”

There was some question as to whether Washington would exercise it’s 2016 option for Robert Griffin III given his struggles and injury history. Ultimately, they decided to trigger the fifth-year option worth $16.155MM. It’s a significant investment for a player who doesn’t even have the starting quarterback job locked up, but the salary doesn’t become fully guaranteed until the first day of the 2016 league year.

Top 10 cap hits for 2015:

  1. Trent Williams, LT: $14,230,393
  2. Pierre Garcon, WR: $9,700,000
  3. Desean Jackson, WR: $9,250,000
  4. Ryan Kerrigan, OLB: $7,038,000
  5. Robert Griffin III, QB: $6,719,713
  6. Jason Hatcher, DT: $5,203,125
  7. DeAngelo Hall, CB: $4,812,500
  8. Kory Lichtensteiger, C: $4,300,000
  9. Chris Culliver, CB: $4,250,000
  10. Stephen Paea, DT: $4,250,000

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. If Washington struggles again in 2015, it’s far from an automatic that Gruden will get a third year to try and right the ship.

Contract information from Over the Cap and Spotrac was used in the creation of this post.

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2 comments on “Offseason In Review: Washington

  1. Luke Adams

    It may not immediately translate into playoff contention, but I liked what Washington did this offseason. I thought Culliver was one of the more underrated players on the open market, and the one-year deal for Knighton was one of my favorite signings. Obviously, the team’s success in 2015 will hinge significantly on the quarterback play, but there are some positive signs all over the roster.

    • Dallas Robinson

      I agree. Scot McClougan seems like an immensely respected GM around the league, and with the additions of Knighton, Jean-Francois, Paea, Preston Smith, and — on the offensive side — Brandon Scherff, it looks like he’s trying to put together a more physical team.


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