What we’ve learned from the Washington Redskins first week of free agency:
They don’t want to spend big anymore. Unless it’s viewed as being for an impact player, such as corner Josh Norman last season. They need more help along the defensive line, but let Bennie Logan sign elsewhere for $7 million and weren’t in on Dontari Poe, who signed for $8 million. My New York Giants colleague, Jordan Raanan, reported that Johnathan Hankins was looking for at least $10 million a year (if his price tag lowers, the Redskins need to get in on him). Washington would not have pursued receiver Terrelle Pryor had there been a market for him. The Redskins have done a good job of not taking on bad contracts the last several years. Agents who once used the Redskins to drive up prices, now believe the team’s goal is to “win the deal.” They certainly won on Pryor's one-year, $6 million contract. Call it the mental scars of bad contracts from days gone by. It’s allowed them to improve their salary-cap situation. (That said, they are willing to let Kirk Cousins play another year at $24 million vs. the cap). It's also why I can't say players are avoiding the Redskins because of whatever else is going on; they're just not willing to overspend. But the bottom line: They haven’t done a good job building the defense, whether through free agency or the draft.
For all the talk about former general manager Scot McCloughan’s expertise, a lot of that is on him. (Draft classes take a few years to mature, so it’s unfair to be definitive on them now.) But his first free-agent class from 2015 is all gone and never helped. Then again, they can’t just blame him because they’ve made it clear it’s never been just one person calling the shots on personnel moves. If you’re prudent with money and winning, people view it as a good plan. Otherwise, they are skeptical and lately the Redskins have been average (following an ugly two-year stretch). If you can develop your talent, then it’s not a big issue. The Redskins used to own the offseason and never win. There is a middle ground; you look smart when you build a winning team.
They did not view Chris Baker and Ricky Jean Francois the same as others. Baker was productive, but they considered him inconsistent with performance and effort – they did attempt to re-sign him, albeit at a lower price than he received from Tampa Bay. Jean Francois wasn’t as productive and was going to cost $4 million vs. the salary cap. Yes, he spoke out vs. the team and if you’re slated to be a backup and aren’t a top producer, then that’s a good way to lose a gig. Jean Francois won the Media Good Guy award last season and was easy to deal with; he was always available in the locker room. But it was not unanimous among teammates that he was a leader. Some players viewed him that way; others rolled their eyes at his comments. I also believe that some of the uproar, if you want to call it that, about his release stems from a distrust of the organization’s moves – and the lack of anyone named Logan or Hankins having been signed. Right now, some are saying: Well, duh.
The question then becomes: Will Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain – and the development of others in-house – be an upgrade? The Redskins’ track record with defensive linemen the last few years hasn’t been great, so the team must pardon the skepticism. Perhaps a more proven line coach – Jim Tomsula instead of Robb Akey – will make a difference. It certainly won’t hurt. I don’t think the Redskins are done up front and certainly aren’t finished adding pieces to the defense, now or in the draft. Then we’ll have to decide if there’s real improvement or just re-arranging deck chairs. Fortunately, the season answers all questions. But they’re also not sweating the loss of two-thirds of their defensive-line starters from last season. The one guy they did bring back, Ziggy Hood, is just a work-hard, do-your-job guy – and also cheaper. Not every signing must be a big-named one; depth is important and when filling out a 90-man roster, you need many players. That's why they signed linebacker Chris Carter. By far, his biggest contribution likely will occur on special teams.
They want secondary help. That's why they signed safety D.J. Swearinger, who could/should end up pairing with Su'a Cravens as the starting safeties. And it's why they hosted Darius Butler on Thursday, although the Colts made a late push to successfully re-sign him. Butler's versatility -- he can play corner and safety -- would have been welcomed in Washington. The Redskins could always re-sign corner Greg Toler, but likely wouldn't make that decision until after the draft. They do have Will Blackmon and DeAngelo Hall among veteran options at safety (DeShazor Everett, too, but he's a bigger help on special teams). The draft is deep at safety and corner, so I doubt this quest ends.