CHANTILLY, Va. -- The Washington Redskins didn't pursue any big names in free agency, which didn’t bother their players. In a new twist for the Redskins, there’s faith in what the front office is doing.
That hasn’t always been the case in Washington. But defensive end Ricky Jean Francois said the players understand what general manager Scot McCloughan is doing. It’s not as if every move McCloughan made paid off with great dividends, but they were good enough to improve the team's win total by five games, win the NFC East and change the franchise's culture.
“I’m excited about what he’s doing,” Jean Francois said. “I understand a lot of people say he didn’t bring in a lot of big names. You’ve got to know Scot McCloughan; he doesn’t like big name guys. As you can see with our [defensive backs], we got guys off the street and he brought them in and they did a wonderful job for us. I can only imagine what he’s going to do with the draft. I understand he [wants] 12 picks. I believe that first and second pick are up for grabs to get what he wants.”
The Redskins didn’t have a lot of money to spend in free agency, though they certainly could have made a bigger splash had they desired. However, McCloughan made it clear that he wants to build more through the draft -- and the team also has several key players whose contracts are up after this season. They want to be in position to offer extensions this summer or new deals next offseason.
The Redskins’ free-agent signings were mostly for backups and depth: tight end Vernon Davis, a big name but now a backup; safety David Bruton Jr., a possible starter; defensive end Kendall Reyes, a likely backup; and linebacker Terence Garvin, a likely backup and special-teamer. The Redskins re-signed eight of their own unrestricted free agents. They also handed out extensions to left tackle Trent Williams and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan last summer, preventing them from becoming free agents.
“It doesn’t take one individual to change a whole team,” said Jean Francois, who was drafted by the 49ers when McCloughan was their GM. “You need multiple players. Scot wanted to change the culture and the only way to do that is to bring in your own type of guys and the guys who have his mentality. And I agree with him.”
Defensive end Chris Baker agrees with him as well. He said he spoke to McCloughan about his strategy. McCloughan has often said he mimics a lot of what he learned while in Green Bay where he was a scout from 1994-99.
“They draft, they develop their own players,” Baker said. “You don’t hear about them spending money in free agency. They get players they think fit their system. They hang on to them and develop them and they’re always a good team. We’re trying to take after that model, find tough guys who love the game and we’re going to draft them and bring in undrafted free agents and develop those guys and become a great team.”
Players expressed confidence in McCloughan last season after he and his front office signed players who provided a lot of help, notably corner Will Blackmon, linebacker Mason Foster and kicker Dustin Hopkins among others. Last year’s draft class contributed quite a bit as well.
“I want to see what type of team he builds,” Jean Francois said. “Not even on offense. I feel he already has the team. I don’t know what else he can put over there. With the addition of Vernon Davis, [quarterback] Kirk Cousins should be happy with the things he has. He’s got Toys "R" Us over there. I believe in the draft we’ll probably lean more toward defense. I can only imagine what he’ll do there.”
At the owners meetings last month, coach Jay Gruden said, “People realize the work [McCloughan has] done in a short amount of time. … Still a work in progress, we’re working ahead, but you can see the progress, which is exciting.”
The defensive line, though, is going through a transition. The Redskins were content to allow nose tackle Terrance Knighton to leave via free agency and they released end Jason Hatcher. He might still return, though the Redskins will wait until after the draft to see what they still need.
Baker said “you lose a lot” by not having those players. Jean Francois called it a loss of leadership.
“You look up to someone like Jason Hatcher. When I first came in that’s who I was looking up to,” Jean Francois said. “I knew he knew the game and he made the game a lot easier. There are a lot of guys who looked up to them. When you’ve got players like them, you make sure you take full advantage of it while they’re around because it’s not guaranteed they’ll be here the next [season]. So we have to take advantage of what we get.”