The Washington Redskins took care of one inside linebacker. When will they take care of another? That’s the focus of this week’s mailbag.
Any word on ZB since resigning Foster? #jkmailbag
— Mark Boyer (@mboyer235) January 26, 2018
John Keim: For starters, let’s look at why they’d want to re-sign Zach Brown. When the defense was relatively healthy, it did a good job -- especially versus the run. When Brown and newly re-signed Mason Foster played alongside one another, the opposition averaged 3.74 yards per carry.
When Foster, Brown and lineman Jonathan Allen were on the field, the Redskins allowed only 2.94 yards per carry on 35 attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information. For the season, the Redskins allowed 4.55 yards per attempt on 472 carries. In other words, Brown -- paired with good help -- made the Redskins’ run defense better. The Redskins love Foster’s leadership and ability to play both linebacker spots. But signing him Thursday does not end their desire to re-sign Brown, multiple sources say. The sides first started talking before the season ended.
Here’s what coach Jay Gruden told reporters at the Senior Bowl about Brown:
“I was impressed. ... We got a very athletic guy that can run sideline to sideline and make some plays. He got hurt there a little bit at the end of the season unfortunately for him, but he had a solid year.
“He’s a guy that it’s hard to replace his type of speed. ... We’ve got a lot of linebackers there, but we do like Zach Brown’s speed and athleticism.”
Here’s a clue as to what Brown would want: The top three paid inside linebackers all average north of $10 million per year. Don’t just look at the average per year because that doesn’t always tell the story about a deal. All three of the highest paid received at least $19 million in guarantees at the time of signing. Contracts are always about details. With any deal, it's about guaranteed money for the player and, for the team, how quickly can they move on if it's not working out.
That said: Last offseason, the Los Angeles Rams’ Alec Ogletree signed a deal worth $10.7 million per year and is third behind Carolina’s Luke Kuechly and Seattle’s Bobby Wagner in average cost. Ogletree received $21.4 million guaranteed at signing.
During the season, Jacksonville’s Telvin Smith signed one that averaged $11.3 per year. Smith plays on the outside in a 4-3 defense, but that is akin to what Brown plays for Washington. In other words, it’s not a spot where you accumulate big sack totals. Smith has seven career picks and 6.5 career sacks. Brown has seven picks and 16.5 career sacks in two more seasons.
From Brown’s perspective, here’s the argument: Neither of those players has the same resume. In 2016, Brown made the Pro Bowl and was named first-team All-Pro. This past season, he was a Pro Bowl alternate. Ogletree was second-team All-Pro in 2016; Smith hasn’t received any such postseason accolades. How much that matters will be up to individual teams. There’s also the Rams’ Mark Barron, who signed a deal in 2016 at an average of $9 million per year with $10 million guaranteed at signing. He’s made no Pro Bowls in his six seasons.
Brown was second in the NFL in tackles in 2016 and was first in ’17 through Week 14 when his season ended.
If you’re Brown, what would you think? Teams can disagree with him (it appears they did last offseason), but right now his opinion matters.
Also, there’s not great depth at inside linebacker in the free-agent market, which could help Brown -- or at least convince him why he should be paid a certain amount. Among the other inside linebackers: NaVorro Bowman, Kevin Minter, Nigel Bradham, Todd Davis, Avery Williamson and Demario Davis.
Maybe the Redskins go in a different direction. Last offseason, they were close to signing linebacker A.J. Klein (he ended up in New Orleans at an average of $6 million per year). Maybe they’d want someone comparable at a similar cost. Not every team wants to spend big for an inside linebacker; they signed Brown to a $2.55 million deal last offseason, which was considered a good bargain.
It’ll depend on what else they plan to do in free agency -- and what happens at quarterback with Kirk Cousins. The Redskins could decide instead to invest in another defensive lineman (Bennie Logan is a pending free agent and there was some interest in him last season) and a cheaper inside linebacker. They might decide they want a linebacker better in coverage than Brown or one who could handle playcalling duties as well -- at a lower cost. But ... that speed.
As of now, the educated guess is that Brown reaches free agency. The caveat: We’re more than a month from free agency so things can change. However, the sides would have to move off current financial positions for that to happen. And both sides can evaluate the market to see if that’s necessary at this point.
Brown came cheap last offseason; history won’t repeat itself.