Taking a look at areas of need for the Washington Redskins entering free agency.
Position: Offensive line
Why it's a need: The Redskins allowed 58 sacks, but to blame the line for that alone is foolish. The Redskins were second in the NFL in coverage sacks allowed (28.6 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Information. And the rest of the protection struggled, too. But it's not like the line was great, either. However, the big issue was the constant third-and-long situations. If the Redskins want to improve the pass game, they need to quit putting their quarterbacks in third-and-long all day -- they must produce better there, but it's a lot easier in third-and-four or less. So improving the run game is paramount and getting stronger run blockers is crucial. The Redskins were 21st in the NFL in yards per carry on first down (3.98). That must change; if it does, then they'll be in more favorable third-down passing situations.
Top tier: San Francisco guard Mike Iupati; Green Bay tackle Bryan Bulaga. Both players are expected to get strong interest if they hit the open market. The Packers would like Bulaga back at a reasonable price, which suggests a deal would be tough before free agency. Iupati seems likely to hit the open market.
Big question: What position do the Redskins want to pursue? They have a need at right tackle where Tom Compton did not prove he should be the starter in 2015 and where Morgan Moses is recovering from a Lisfranc injury -- and before the injury teammates viewed him as a guy who was raw. It would be real hard to rely on Moses being ready to be a starter this season. The Redskins could opt for Iupati, a left guard, release Chris Chester and slide Shawn Lauvao to right guard. I would not put center on the must-have list; Kory Lichtensteiger had a solid season, though if they want more power all-around the Redskins could do anything. I most definitely would not overspend to replace him, as they likely would need to do.
Who makes sense: Iupati. However, this comes with an asterisk. His strength is run blocking, which is fantastic. But his weakness is pass protection and he struggled in that area this past season. Signing him will not cure all their evils (and at some point the quarterbacks have to learn to succeed despite pressure that other quarterbacks manage to win with). He's a three-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro performer. The Niners used less power blocking last season, which is his strength. The Redskins want to run more power in 2015.
Buyer Beware: Plenty of examples. Guard James Carpenter's knock in Seattle, where he was a first-round pick, was pass protection. Always be wary of teams letting guys walk, unless it's just a money issue. Bulaga has been a solid right tackle, and he played well last season, but durability is a big concern (he's missed 28 games the past four years, including all of 2013). I would also stay away from Anthony Collins if he's released from Tampa Bay before free agency. He struggled big-time last season and if they're really shopping him one year after signing him, that's not the sort of player you want -- he was inactive the last four games in 2014.
Bad sign: If the Redskins go out and sign another guard, one year after inking Lauvao. The Redskins have drafted two guards in the third round the past three drafts in Spencer Long and Josh LeRibeus. When you can't develop your own talent, or when you draft guys higher than others, you end up paying for your mistakes in free agency instead of solving issues. A vicious cycle, one that results in multiple double-digit loss seasons. You dig?
Ties to the Redskins: Iupati does not have direct ties; he was drafted in San Francisco a couple months after Scot McCloughan was fired. But clearly McCloughan would have done a lot of work on him. McCloughan was in Seattle when guard Carpenter was drafted. Free and Parnell both played under line coach Bill Callahan in Dallas. Guard Clint Boling played two years for then offensive coordinator Jay Gruden in Cincinnati. It's hard to imagine the Bengals allowing Boling, a solid guard, to leave. He's considered an excellent run blocker.
Bargain shopping: Parnell. While Free might seem to make sense, it could be that Callahan likes Parnell more, having developed him in Dallas -- he was a college basketball player and only played one year of college football and was converted full-time to tackle in 2010. Callahan worked with him starting in 2012. Free is two years older and McCloughan said he does not want to spend solid free-agent money on players in their 30s. Parnell is 28. If Moses develops, then Parnell is just a short-term solution. He's an OK tackle who moves well, but has mental lapses in protection.