Redskins free-agent needs: Defensive line

Taking a look at areas of need for the Washington Redskins entering free agency, having picked the brain of people in the NFL as well as my NFL Nation colleagues.

Why it’s a need: Because the Redskins are in transition up front and could use more bodies. They have one starting end in Jason Hatcher and could always move Chris Baker back to end, creating a hole at nose tackle. They cut end Stephen Bowen and nose tackle Barry Cofield last week, but could re-sign Cofield at a later date if he’s healthy. They need younger bodies up front; Hatcher is 32. Newly signed Ricky Jean Francois is best as a reserve. Frank Kearse played well as a backup last season and Kedric Golston remains a capable reserve (and special teamer). Still, they could use more up front. To make a 3-4 dominant, you’d better have a good nose tackle.

Top tier: Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh. I won’t even put anyone else here with him because no one is in his class. Suh will receive the biggest contract in free agency. He’s the most dominant defensive player.

Others to watch: Tackle Terrance Knighton, tackle Jared Odrick, tackle Nick Fairley, end Jabaal Sheard, nose tackle Dan Williams.

Big question: How hard will the Redskins chase Suh? Any team with a need up front should be interested in him so just saying there’s interest is far different from being, say, a front runner to land him. There’s probably a 50-percent chance he sticks with Detroit, but the Lions certainly have a firm deadline with him. It’s tough to imagine him returning if he does get on the open market. As for the Redskins, they have approximately $25 million in cap space, but others have more. If Oakland wants him, the Raiders and their cap space will be tough to beat. Miami and Jacksonville certainly are teams to watch as well. Maybe even Indianapolis.

Is Suh worth the money?: He is not Albert Haynesworth, Part 2 – nor is he Dana Stubblefield or Dan Wilkinson, for that matter. People I’ve talked to who have worked with Suh love him – his work ethic (relentless, one source said), his ability, his penchant for playing hard all the time. One source called him meticulous in his preparation and said he is an excellent practice player, too. There is the matter of those stomping penalties, but he’s not a guy whose effort will fall off after signing a big contract. Both Haynesworth and Stubblefield produced in a contract year after some up-and-down seasons. Suh has only been up -- and he makes others better.

Who makes sense: Williams. But it does not make sense if you want to spend more than $4 million for him. He’s not a three-down player and those are the guys who should get big money. However, with more teams playing the 3-4 now than the 4-3, there will be competition for him. While Williams has a good reputation – he’s considered a true nose tackle; no-nonsense guy and not vocal – he’s not a Pro Bowler. He’ll turn 28 in July, so he’s still in his prime. Signing him would give the Redskins someone to plug the middle and allow Baker to rotate between nose and end. You can’t run an effective 3-4 without solid nose tackle play.

Statistic worth noting: Another reason why stronger nose play matters – the Redskins ranked 28th in rushing yards per carry up the middle (4.89 yards per carry) on first down, when teams are more likely to be in their base formation. The Cardinals ranked fourth at 3.18 yards per run. There are other factors involved and it’s not as if Baker was bad, but that stat must change in 2015.

Buyer beware: Fairley. Too inconsistent. There’s a reason the Lions declined last year to pick up his fifth year option a year ago. Not a bad guy, just inconsistent and will get paid more than he should. Another guy is Green Bay’s B.J. Raji. He was good – a while ago. But he did not play well in 2013 and missed last year with a torn biceps. You have to know what you’re getting in a player so unless they’re at a certain level, or unless you have ties to them, it’s best to pass on guys with questions like this. Arizona’s Darnell Dockett is coming off a torn ACL; it’ll be tough for him to play to his reputation next season.

Ties to the Redskins: Defensive coordinator Joe Barry coached Cory Redding for two seasons when he held the same job in Detroit. Redding was OK last season in Indianapolis. But he’s also 34 years old. If the Redskins somehow pursued him, he should only receive a one-year deal. General manager Scot McCloughan made it clear when he came here that giving multi-year deals to players over 30 is not wise. Redding considered retirement last year.