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Free Agent Targets For The Redskins

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(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, as always, is waiting as patiently as a herd of 5 year olds staring at an untouched birthday cake while the NFL’s “Countdown to Free Agency” clock meanders toward zero. Snyder is sitting on a mound of a cash, has Redskins One poised on a nearby tarmac and has dinner reservations for four—Coach Shanahan, a marquee free agent, said player’s agent and Snyder himself—booked in strategic cities all across this great land. It is an annual scene far more indicative of spring’s pending arrival than any groundhog’s search for his shadow. 

This free agency season, Snyder, the one-man economic stimulus package, will remain, in all likelihood, largely stifled—the proverbial kid without a piece of cake or an owner without an ATM card. The ‘Skins are slated to absorb the other half of a $36 million cap penalty levied against the team last year for some “creative” accounting employed during the league’s uncapped 2010 season. The ‘Skins have an on-going legal grudge match against the league, but relief from Commissioner/King Roger Goodell’s harsh punishment seems a remote proposition. 

Despite Goodell’s annoyances, there’s no chance Daniel Snyder remains a wallflower when everyone else takes to the free agency dance floor. However, assuming the ‘Skins are operating within a garnished 2013 salary cap, what is a realistic free agency strategy and who are some of the team’s possible dance partners? If I’m GM for a day, or at least this column, we cut up the free agency rug a little something like this. 

Taking Care of Their Own

‘Skins fans are a nostalgic bunch. They reminisce about The Hogs, The Posse, some guy name “Riggo” and are prone to belting out bad versions of Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” at karaoke night. Two decades of consistent losing, embarrassing moments courtesy of over-promoted head coaches, incompetent front office hires, bad ownership and only fleeting flirtations with success will do that to you. Now, behind an overhauled roster, a could-be franchise savior in Robert Griffin III—if he’s not ruined already—and the franchise’s first division title of the millennium, the ‘Skins may just be on to something special and sustainable. The ‘Skins have a few B-list free agents that simply must return, and that’s why the first order of business when free agency opens should be, as Springsteen more recently said, to “take care of our own.”

Kory Lichtensteiger, age 27, is in the prime of his career and was a solid contributor on an offensive line that exceeded expectations, afforded RGIII adequate time and consistently opened holes for the other rookie sensation, Alfred Morris. Continuity is key on the offensive line and Lichtensteiger should come at a reasonable price. 

Similarly, right tackle Tyler Polumbus, 27, performed admirably in 2012 after Jammal Brown broke down again long before the season even began. There’s no doubt the ‘Skins would like to upgrade the right tackle position, but the aforementioned financial constraints may prevent that from happening. If so, Polumbus is a frugal Plan B. 

Lorenzo Alexander, a special teams beast, has also played on offense, along the defensive line and, most recently, at linebacker during his tenure in Washington. In addition to being incredibly versatile—an absolute must as attrition takes its annual toll on every NFL roster—Alexander is as solid of a human being as you’ll find. It’s hard to put a price on his combination of production and character, so the ‘Skins shouldn’t quibble too much when the parties start to haggle.

Getting Defensive

Last year, the offense was Washington’s priority in the draft and in free agency. The additions of RGIII, Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan completely transformed a barely watchable unit in 2011—think John Beck and Rex Grossman behind center—into a primetime show in 2012. 

When shopping abroad in 2013, the guess here is that the ‘Skins will look to address several defensive weaknesses. The secondary was and is a complete mess. The free agent acquisitions at safety—Brandon Merriweather tore his ACL and Tanard Jackson was suspended by the league—were a disaster, their backups were barely employable and the cornerback play was mediocre. The front seven is a talented and deep, but two key members—Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker—are returning from major injuries while London Fletcher, 37, is battling father time and thoughts of retirement. Frankly, there are as many questions as answers on defense. 

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett responded to so many unforeseen scenarios with workable solutions throughout the 2012 season that he resembled the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. Fortunately there’s a decent stock of defensive players slated to hit the open market. Here are a few names and scenarios that will undoubtedly make me look like a genius—or an idiot—in a few short weeks. 

With the cap issues in Baltimore and Joe Flacco backing the Brink’s truck down owner Steve Bisciotti’s driveway, the ‘Skins may be able to swoop in and poach cornerback Cary Williams and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Williams would provide the team flexibility in re-negotiating or releasing overpaid corner DeAngelo Hall. Ellerbe’s signing would be an upgrade at ILB at worst and an absolute coup if Fletcher opts for retirement. 

Oft-injured safety Kenny Phillips might be worth a risk—after Merriweather and Jackson why not double-down on signing talented but troubled safeties?—and would deal a blow to the division rival Giants.

I’ll offer one more name: Derek Cox. Cox, 26, plays cornerback for the Jaguars and I love the strategy of poaching good players off bad teams. 

There are a half dozen other names out there that could be the objects of Redskins’ affection. The big catches—Dashon Goldson, Jarius Byrd, Connor Barwin, etc.—would look nice in burgundy and gold but will likely be franchised or unaffordable. Then again, I shouldn’t discount Daniel Snyder. Regardless, after locking up their own free agents, the back eight of Washington’s 3-4 defense should be the team’s next priority. 

An Indulgence

With the team being built around RGIII and him likely limited for at least a portion of the 2013 season, the offense won’t be completely neglected. The most glaring need is help out of the backfield on third down. However, the return of Roy Helu—remember him?—might provide an economical, internal answer. Tight end is also an area of concern. Logan Paulsen emerged as a serviceable option, but he’s one of only two tight ends currently under contract. Chris Cooley is an in-line blocker at best now and the team faces a tough decision with free agent Fred Davis. The guess is they work something out with Davis or pluck another pass catching tight end off the open market—perhaps someone like Dustin Keller or Brandon Myers. 

Those are all decent options, but it sounds so incredibly un-sexy and completely not like Daniel Snyder. Wide receiver might be the sleeper position where the ‘Skins get a little crazy and Snyder scratches his itch. They are deep at the position, but beyond Garcon, who has a troublesome toe issue, the group kills you with quantity more than sheer talent. Santana Moss is long in the tooth and pricey, Josh Morgan is a bit of an enigma and Leonard Hankerson looks like just “a guy”—code for nothing special. 

The homerun would be Mike Wallace, but he’s probably not within budget — and I don’t see Andy Reid letting Dwayne Bowe get away. So how about Danny Amendola?  Yes, he gets nicked up a lot, but the guy is a flat out baller and would look spectacular in the slot. And after catching 15 balls against the ‘Skins last year, I’m pretty sure he’s an identified commodity on the free agent board. It’s hard to imagine the Rams parting with poor Sam Bradford’s only reliable target, but anything’s possible with Jeff Fisher’s group. So if the ‘Skins fan within me was permitted one, reasonable indulgence, it might just be signing Amendola—oh, and then installing field turf at FedEx Field to give him, Garcon and RGIII a track befitting their athleticism.