ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins, for the first time in a while, have set themselves up for a bigger free-agency haul. That is, if they want one.
The Redskins already have cleared an additional $15 million in cap space this offseason by releasing cornerback Josh Norman, wide receiver Paul Richardson and tight end Jordan Reed. They now have about $63 million in cap space -- with the ability to create more, whether by more cuts, trades or extensions. That puts them among the top 10 teams in terms of cap space.
Some who worked with new Redskins coach Ron Rivera in Carolina predict he'll attack free agency, but perhaps not signing the biggest names available. The Redskins have been more disciplined with contracts in recent years and, though it's a new regime, their man in charge of the cap, Rob Rogers, has a reputation for not just giving in to any demand.
This is where they might allocate their money:
A starting cornerback
Not only is Norman out, but Quinton Dunbar has asked to be traded or released if they don't give him an extension. The Redskins don't seem inclined to give him one, so their choice is this: keep him around at $3.25 million but risk having a ticked-off cornerback, or trade him and start over.
J.I. Halsell, an agent with SWAY Talent, said that while working with Washington as a cap analyst he learned a valuable lesson from the Redskins' former chief negotiator, Eric Schaffer, that applies to Dunbar.
"One thing Eric taught is you never want a player walking around the locker room feeling a team is getting over him from a compensation standpoint," Halsell said. "As you're trying to change the culture and mold a locker room, moving on from Dunbar could be a win-win situation."
But that means Washington must replace two starting cornerbacks, but it's hard to imagine the Redskins spending big on two. There are differing opinions on where this market will go. A lot depends on how which cornerbacks get cut -- names like Minnesota's Xavier Rhodes for example -- which could potentially create a saturated market.
"It goes back to supply and demand," Halsell said.
Joel Corry, a former NFL agent and cap expert who writes on the topic for CBS Sports, anticipates Dallas Cowboys starter Byron Jones topping the market. The Redskins are expected to pursue James Bradberry, who played for Rivera in Carolina and has expressed interest in a reunion. Corry said because Bradberry would essentially be replacing Norman, he might ask for the same money -- $15 million per year. And Rivera’s familiarity with him could make him more comfortable paying more for him, one league source said. Corry agreed.
"I don't know if anyone else values him at that level," Corry said.
"I could see those guys in the $12-14 [million] range, but I don't think anyone is resetting the market," Halsell said. "[It's] one of those situations where, 'If James doesn't want to take our $13 million, then perhaps Byron Jones will.'"
If Washington wants a less expensive corner, versatile former Redskin Kendall Fuller is available.
One option stands out at tight end: Austin Hooper of the Atlanta Falcons. He has caught a combined 146 passes for 10 touchdowns over the past two seasons, and the Falcons have already said he'll hit free agency. He also doesn't have an injury history like Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry (136 receptions in three seasons; multiple knee issues, including a torn ACL).
"It's been stagnant since 2014," he said. "If an aging Jimmy Graham can get another deal at $10 million a year, then Austin Hooper, who is 25 and an ascending player, should be significantly higher than Graham."
Or, as Halsell said, "I see Hooper resetting the tight end market, and he could do it by a significant amount."
Their guess: Hooper ends up receiving about $11 million per year. To put that in perspective, Halsell said, "Offensive guards are making more than that."
There's a desire to add another quality starting receiver opposite Terry McLaurin. Amari Cooper would be the high end, but it's uncertain if the Redskins have interest as they might prefer to devote more finances at other spots. It's a thin group of free agents, so finding the player they want might be tough; the draft is deep at receiver and could yield quality players in the middle rounds.
They also need to add another healthy body at running back, where they have Adrian Peterson plus two others coming off knee injuries: Derrius Guice and Bryce Love. Their third-down back, Chris Thompson, is not expected to return, barring a change in thinking. That's why one league source predicted the Redskins would pursue Arizona's Kenyan Drake, a run and pass-catching threat.
The Redskins also have to decide what they want to do with these players:
Tackle Trent Williams: Multiple people say Williams wants to become the highest paid tackle. That means topping Lane Johnson's four-year extension signed in November that pays him an average of $18 million per year. And that number could change once Houston signs tackle Laremy Tunsil to an extension; he has one year left on his contract. Williams’ desired number could creep into the 20s, a league source said. They must decide if it’s better to keep him around for one year at $12.5 million and let him leave via free agency or trade him now.
"The Redskins need to make a compelling [contract] proposal that makes sense for Trent to give up [free agency in 2021]," Halsell said. "[Otherwise] if you're Trent, why not roll the dice on yourself and wait for next offseason to have someone pay me $19 or $20 million?"
Guard Brandon Scherff: The Redskins want to keep him around, but negotiations during the season went nowhere. Multiple sources say Washington will have to use the franchise tag on him to keep him around – and will do so, while hoping to continue negotiating. They do view him as a core player. They could always use the franchise tag, then continue to negotiate a long-term deal. The tag number for a lineman last season was $14.067 million. The last guard tagged was Logan Mankins in 2011. Brandon Brooks received a deal last year that averages $14.1 million.
"Any time a good guard hits the open market, he becomes the highest paid guard," Corry said. "I expect him to set the market whether in free agency or [if the Redskins] tag and re-sign him. If they don't tag him, he's gone."
Guard Ereck Flowers: He won't be as costly, but he did show last season that he could be a decent starting guard after spending his first four seasons at tackle. The Redskins would like to keep him; he's a big body at 330 pounds and helps the run game. The estimated cost to sign him: anywhere from $6 million to $9 million average per year.
Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan: The Redskins have been talking to him about an extension, and in the fall owner Dan Snyder told Kerrigan he'd be a "Redskin for life" according to multiple sources. Kerrigan is scheduled to have a cap hit of $11.5 million this season, and while an extension might not lower that number initially, it likely would decrease in future years -- as other Redskins linemen, such as Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, become more expensive. The Redskins could have a surplus of pass-rushers in their new 4-3 alignment, with Kerrigan, Montez Sweat and possibly Chase Young. Kerrigan could eventually ease into a different role at a more comfortable price point for Washington.