Breaking down Washington's biggest free agent decisions
Arguably no franchise has wasted more resources on free agents than Washington in the recent past. Albert Haynesworth proved one of the biggest busts in recent memory, playing only 800 snaps for Washington in his two years with the team. The new regime, led by General Manager Scott McCloughan, has done a much better job of avoiding overpaying in the open market. Washington is still recovering from years of mismanagement, but the front office appears on the right track heading into 2016.
As expected, Washington placed the franchise tag on Cousins, who will be required to sustain his level of performance from 2015 to earn a long-term contract.
Below is a breakdown of their impending free agents, along with some potential targets.
(Editor’s note: This article was updated on March 3, 2016.)
NT Terrance Knighton
While Knighton failed to standout as Washington’s nose tackle in 2015, he made a solid contribution. As a two-down run defender, he finished with a respectable 76.9 overall grade, recording 18 defensive stops. Considering Knighton played only 38 percent of snaps, his production was respectable. With the depth they now have at five-technique in Chris Baker, Jason Hatcher, Ricky Jean-Francois, and Stephen Paea, Washington can afford to limit Knighton to early downs. Although far from an exciting move, keeping Knighton on a short-term deal makes sense.
ILB Mason Foster
Washington’s linebacker situation was a mess prior to getting Foster into the lineup late in the year. Both Will Compton and Perry Riley struggled throughout the season, making Foster an upgrade by default. He only finished as our 50th-overall linebacker but reinforced Washington’s run defense in particular, finishing with a 76.6 grade in that facet of play. Foster significantly underperformed in coverage, allowing a QB rating of 93.6, but flashed enough in his six games to suggest he’s worth keeping around.
C Josh LeRibeus
LeRibeus looked like a bust through his first three years in the league. Drafted between the QBs in 2012 (third round) he saw only 174 snaps in his first two years. LeRibeus got an opportunity when Kory Lichtensteiger went down with injury early in the year, but still looked some way off of NFL-caliber, recording a -16.7 cumulative grade in his first six games (0.0 is average). However, experience brought improvement to such an extent that LeRibeus recorded a positive grade in his final seven games. He allowed just a sack, two hits, and six hurries in those games, and made some impressive reach-blocks in Washington’s zone-rushing scheme. It’s possible that the improvement in LeRibeus’ performances was merely coincidental, but stability is key on the offensive line, suggesting he deserves another shot.
RB Alfred Morris
Morris’ overall grades have dipped each season since he entered the league as a sixth-round pick in 2012. After staking a Rookie of the Year claim, Morris’ stock has slipped slowly to the point that he’ll likely be looking for a new team this offseason. Surpassed in the pecking order by the fumble-prone Matt Jones and the limited Chris Thompson, time appears to be ticking on Morris’ career in D.C. Although he was far from terrible, Morris averaged only 3.8 yards per carry, broke just 15 tackles from 213 attempts, and scored just a solitary touchdown in 2015. He also averaged a career-low 2.2 yards after contact per attempt. Morris did enough early in his career to earn another shot, but it’s unlikely to come in a Gruden-led offense.
ILB Keenan Robinson
The inside linebacker position has been neglected for a number of years in Washington. The fourth-rounder invested in Keenan Robinson four years ago is the most significant investment in awhile, yet it failed to pay off. Robinson finished as our 72nd overall linebacker, with a run defense grade of 20.1 (1–100 scale). He missed almost a quarter of his tackles (15-of-70), including nine in a four-game stretch, and consistently struggled to shed blocks. Washington need to try a different combination at the inside linebacker position in 2016.
FB Darrel Young
Washington moved away from two running back sets in 2015, making Darrel Young expendable. He played a career-low 121 offensive snaps since becoming a starter in 2011, and saw his productivity fall as a result. With negative grades on the ground, in pass protection, and as a run-blocker, the likelihood is that Washington moves on this offseason.
CB Nolan Carroll, PHI
Washington’s lack the cap room means they have limited ability to sign any free agents to mega-deals, especially considering the money they’ll be forced to spend retaining their quarterback. Nolan Carroll won’t command a big contract coming off an average year and broken leg. He’s far from the most talented corner, but wins with effort and physicality, two traits Washington’s secondary lacked in 2015. With Bashaud Breeland’s breakout year, a serviceable complement is all that’s really needed. Carroll finished the season with a 71.6 overall grade and a 74.3 mark in coverage. He can contribute on the outside, in the slot and on special teams. Carroll would be a good pickup on a deal close to the veteran minimum.
C/OG Ben Jones, HOU
If Washington decide against re-signing LeRibeus, Jones is a ready-made replacement. Even if he’s brought back, Jones would offer quality depth along the three interior offensive line positions. The impending free agent also has the added bonus of experience in Houston’s zone blocking scheme. Jones finished as our 18th-overall center with a 69.4 grade. He’s played almost every snap the past two seasons, taking live reps at both center and guard. Jones isn’t much more than serviceable—he recorded negative grades in pass protection and as a run blocker in 2015—but that’s about as much as can be expected of a depth lineman.