Taking a look forward, while seeing what went wrong or right during the season for the Washington Redskins at each position. Today: linebackers.
Under contract for 2015: Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Murphy, Perry Riley, Keenan Robinson, Will Compton, Adam Hayward, Trevardo Williams, Jackson Jeffcoat, Steve Beauharnais, Austin Spitler, Gabe Miller, JaGared Davis
Pending free agents: Brian Orakpo
2015 cap hits:
Best bargain: Kerrigan. He counted only $2.75 million against the salary cap, but produced like a guy who was making four or five times that amount.
The review: Kerrigan should have ended up in the Pro Bowl for his season, with 13.5 sacks and five forced fumbles. I liked how he continued to work at the little details of the job, such as his angle to the quarterback, and how much it helped him. Murphy played well against the run and had an occasional good rush, but he almost always won to the inside -- he’s not an explosive player to the outside, but that was also the scouting report on him coming out of college. Murphy can help, but he didn’t prove he is an automatic replacement for Orakpo. Robinson handled his first year as a starter well. Maybe he lacked London Fletcher’s expertise but he was faster, better in coverage and a better tackler. Riley was OK, perhaps a little better than in 2013, but still a guy who leaves you wanting a little more. Still, when used right Riley could help.
The outlook: The Redskins need to find depth, especially on the outside. It also depends on what new coordinator Joe Barry wants from his linebackers. Coverage always has been and always will be a part of an outside linebacker’s job -- otherwise you’re rushing five defenders all the time. But if they lose Orakpo, they’ll need to find a quality replacement, unless they think Murphy will develop into an elite rusher. He did not show reason to believe that would be the case this season. A good player, especially against the run? Yes. He did show an array of moves in camp, is a hard worker and can be developed. But if they want elite skills to complement Murphy, they’ll have to look elsewhere. I would expect Robinson to improve; he showed good instincts and coverage skills. I liked how Murphy was disciplined with his reads. But I think he can be better and more consistent. Riley is what he is at this point: A linebacker with good downhill ability. But he hasn’t made enough plays to overcome his mistakes. They could do much worse and with other positions they’ll need to fill, do they want to create more holes? I’ve always liked Compton and I know last summer the staff felt he was close to starter level. It’s a new staff, but the one holdover coached him last year.
Stat that must improve: The disrupted dropback percentage for Orakpo. The stat factors in sacks, interceptions, batted balls and passes defensed; Orakpo had a 0.1 percentage -- the league average was 0.6. Kerrigan was tied for 12th in the league at 2.5 percent. In 2013, Orakpo was at 2.3 percent (Kerrigan was at 1.8).
Stat of note: All of Kerrigan’s 13.5 sacks came when he lined up either as a left end or left outside linebacker. He lined up at a different spot on 101 other snaps, but did not record a sack. This shouldn’t be a big surprise, though, considering how comfortable Kerrigan said he was rushing from this side. For what it’s worth, 7.5 of his sacks occurred when he was a left end.
Key questions: Should they re-sign Orakpo? Yes, they might be able to get him on a good deal. And if the draft wasn’t an option I might say they should consider doing so. But the draft has a few strong options for Washington at No. 5 if it desires to replace him with a young player. Orakpo wouldn’t cost nearly as much as this past season when the tag cost $11.46 million, but if coach Jay Gruden wanted more game-changing plays, then he won’t get them from Orakpo at any price. If they want to go in another direction in the draft, and free agency bears little fruit, then they could sign Orakpo to a short-term deal and hope it works out.
Free agent options: Kansas City’s Justin Houston will be free, but it’s hard to imagine the Redskins being able to pay for him. He’ll only be 26 entering next season. Baltimore’s Pernell McPhee is a versatile player. He’s not a big name, but he can play multiple spots, along the line and rush from outside. Pittsburgh’s Jason Worilds is a possibility, too.