Offseason to-do list for the Washington Redskins
John Breitenbach identifies the three biggest needs for Jay Gruden and the Redskins this offseason.
Offseason to-do list for the Washington Redskins
Although the season ended in disappointment against the Packers in the playoffs, Jay Gruden has Washington moving in the right direction. A nine-win season, coupled with a divisional title, is the first significant achievement of Kirk Cousins’ career, and his play suggests he’ll bring some stability to the quarterback position in D.C. Add that to an infusion of youth on the offensive line that took the unit from a weakness to a strength, and the offensive unit appears to be coming together. Between 2012 and 2015, Washington invested three third-round picks and a first-round pick on offensive linemen in the draft. Even C Josh LeRibeus improved as the season went along, providing the group with solid options at every position.
On the defensive side of the ball, Gruden took a risk in elevating Joe Barry to the role of defensive coordinator. The front seven is amongst the most underrated in football, and Barry deserves significant credit for unleashing his defensive lineman while scaling back the blitzes on the back end. Despite the strides Washington made in 2015, the team could still improve at certain positions going into next season.
Since London Fletcher retired, Washington has lacked a dominant inside linebacker. The front office has—reasonably so, perhaps—decided to invest their resources elsewhere, but the production from the position has suffered as a result. 2013 undrafted free agent Will Compton struggled in his first year as a starter, finishing as our 95th overall linebacker with a 33.6 overall grade. He recorded a measly 27.1 grade against the run, and was only slightly better in coverage (39.2). Compton’s run-stop percentage of 5.3 was 39th out 42 qualifying linebackers, and he allowed a QB rating when targeted of 107.0. Partnering him by the end of the year, street pickup Mason Foster improved the production by default, but still didn’t play well. He was only targeted 19 times, but gave up 13 catches for 175 yards in limited snaps. Although, to be fair to him, Foster was solid against the run and had an impressive Wild Card game. With backups Perry Riley (37.7) and Keenan Robinson (46.1) also struggling, Washington are in desperate need of an injection of talent at the position.
Washington may well continue to invest only late-round picks and minimum-level free agent contracts in the inside linebacker position, but one player scheduled to hit the market who might come cheap is the Colts’ Jerrell Freeman. The 30-year-old veteran looked overmatched in his three previous years, but finished 2015 on top of his game. He graded positively every game from Week 7 onwards, amassing an impressive +26.9 cumulative grade in just eight outings. Freeman ended the year as our fourth-overall inside linebacker, (90.6 grade) beating Luke Kuechly for the number one spot in run defense (97.0). Although his coverage numbers weren’t outstanding—Freeman allowed a QB rating of 101 including three TDs—he still graded positively in that facet of play. Considering his age, he might not command a big contract, and has the added bonus of coming from a 3-4 defense in Indianapolis. Freeman should be on Washington’s radar if he does hit the market.
Washington’s defense has also suffered from inconsistency in the secondary for a number of years now. The decision to shift DeAngelo Hall from corner to safety helped hide his limitations somewhat, but the defense could use a difference-maker on the backend. Hall finished the year ranked 57th amongst safeties, with a below-average 67.4 grade. Although he was far from terrible, he failed to secure the position for the long-term. While Hall was serviceable at the free safety spot, Dashon Goldson continues to prove he’s inadequate as an NFL starter. He’s graded negatively in all but two of his years as a pro, including in 2015 where he ranked 73rd overall with a 60.1 grade. Goldson recorded the worst run defense grade amongst safeties, missing an alarming 19 tackles from 113 attempts. His coverage numbers also make for bleak reading—Goldson allowed 80 percent of his 39 targets to be caught for 285 yards, two TDs, and a 103.5 QB rating. Aside from the two starters, both Trenton Robinson and Jeron Johnson proved liabilities in their limited reps.
Assuming Eric Berry is resigned and Jalen Ramsey goes in the top five, this year’s crop of available safeties lacks standout performers. With that said, there are a number of intriguing graduates and free agents. Reggie Nelson might shake free from Cincinnati, considering his age and the fact that the Bengals also have his partner at safety, George Iloka, to tie up. Both played well this year, but Nelson graded better, finishing the year as our 10th overall safety, with an 84.2 grade. Nelson is best utilized as a center fielder in coverage, where he recorded an 83.6 grade due to eight INTs and five PDs. He also allowed just 50 percent of targets to be complete for a QB rating of just 61.8. Washington could use a playmaker of Nelson’s quality patrolling the deep middle.
Bashaud Breeland’s breakout year aside, Washington also had issues on the perimeter of their secondary in 2015. Finding a compliment to their sophomore standout has to be a priority heading in next year. Green Bay exposed Washington’s lack of depth in the Wild Card game. Rodgers threw for 80 yards and a score against Will Blackmon. His attitude and commitment aren’t in question, but the journeyman is more suited to the role of backup and special teamer. Overall, Blackmon gave up six scores in 2015, and finished the year as our 85th overall corner with a 47.2 grade. Chris Culliver looked like a good signing last offseason, but injuries and suspension took their toll. He graded negatively in each of his six games, giving up 375 yards and four scores for a QB rating of 134.8. Culliver’s 32.3 coverage grade was worse than all corners aside from the penalty-plagued Brandon Browner. Credit 2015 undrafted free agent Quinton Dunbar for holding his own when called upon, but Washington would be wise to add competition this offseason.
The 2016 draft appears short of corner talent, especially in the early rounds, suggesting Washington will have to dip into the free agent market to ensure a solution opposite Breeland. The Rams’ Trumaine Johnson would make an excellent addition to any secondary. He finished second in the NFL in interceptions from the cornerback position, with seven and added a further five pass deflections. Johnson also allowed just a single score, culminating in a QB rating of 55.0. He’s equally adept at attacking the line of scrimmage against the run, finishing with an 80.7 grade in that facet of play. Coupled with an 80.2 grade in coverage, Johnson has the profile of a complete corner capable of boosting a team in need of secondary help. If the Rams fail to strike a deal with their top cover man, expect him to have a number of offers on March 7.