Grading Each Position on Washington's Roster Heading into Free Agency
Right now, no one knows how the Washington Redskins' will be solved. Coachless and rudderless, the team has drifted into the offseason in a terrible state.
However, all is not lost.
Yes, there's no draft pick available in the first round, but the franchise is in a better position than it was the last time Daniel Snyder went coach-hunting. There are several aspects of the roster that show a lot of promise, and it's those that will attract potential suitors to one of the most thankless jobs in sports.
The fans no longer wish for huge free-agency signings—although, with the cap penalty gone, Washington now has some breathing room—and instead long for an exciting young team built through the draft.
A few additions in free agency wouldn't hurt, though.
For the purpose of this article—which pertains to the free-agency period—each position has been assigned a grade, which translates as follows:
A = No free agents needed. All is well.
B = Bargain free agent would be ideal, if only for depth.
C = Solid contributor needed, but just enough present to scrape by regardless.
D = Starting-caliber player required, but contributors present elsewhere on the roster.
E = Urgent attention required, only bit-part players present.
F = Lacking any depth or talent. Woeful.
There's a quarterback controversy in Washington, and it's not the healthy kind. After failing to fully recover from a knee injury sustained in the 2012 playoffs, Robert Griffin III regressed in all areas this year.
Per Manny Fantis of WUSA9 in Virginia, Mike Shanahan claimed that he benched Griffin with three games left in the year to protect him from further injury, but Griffin's play warranted a spell on the pine anyway. He was picking up bad habits, throwing off balance and making poor decisions.
Luckily for Griffin, Kirk Cousins failed to surpass him. The propensity for throwing interceptions that Cousins demonstrated at Michigan State was still there, and he too made some bad choices with games on the line.
To his credit, however, Cousins got rid of the ball quicker than Griffin and often went to his second or third read if the defense didn't give him the look he was after. This is an area in which Griffin definitely needs to improve, but the former Baylor Bear remains the starter in D.C.
It's likely that Washington will bring in a third quarterback for insurance. Rex Grossman is a free agent in 2014, so it'll all come down to the coach.
There's still a lot of hope at this position, and a full offseason could work wonders for both quarterbacks in the nation's capital.
While all else crumbled around him, Alfred Morris quietly put up great numbers again. Although he didn't surpass his 2012 total, this season was actually more impressive from the sixth-round pick.
He was made to work so much harder for his yards, with defenses keying in on him as they sensed Griffin's uncertainty in the pocket and lack of trust in his legs.
Dissenting voices argued last year that Morris was simply a product of the system and that the threat posed by Griffin on the ground was inflating his numbers. Morris proved he could thrive in any system, quietly going about his business to the tune of 1,275 yards from 276 carries.
Elsewhere, Rou Helu showed flashes of his ability when he scored three touchdowns and Washington beat the Chicago Bears in Week 7. Darrel Young got in on the act against the San Diego Chargers, running in three touchdowns on five carries as Washington emerged victorious in overtime.
Evan Royster is likely to be gone this year, while Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison have failed to make an impression in their rookie seasons. Shanahan's decision to take them in this year's draft was questionable to begin with, and now those doubts seem justified.
Morris is going to be in Washington for a long time, and Helu offers a good option on third downs and as an extra receiver out of the backfield. There are good pieces in place here, they just need the right coach.
Pierre Garcon had the best year of his career, putting up 1,346 yards at an average of 84.1 yards a game. The rest of the unit was patchy at best.
Leonard Hankerson is supposed to have his breakout year every year, but it never arrives. Be it injury or inconsistency, the Miami product just can't seem to work his way up to the position of No. 2 receiver.
Aldrick Robinson, too, can't seem to take his opportunities. If ever there was a year where the team needed a receiver to step up and make some plays, it was this one.
Josh Morgan dropped a lot of passes and didn't seem to be giving his all in service of the team. It's likely that he knew he was on his way out in 2014, and that should in fact be the case.
Santana Moss suffered a horrific comedown from his excellent 2012 and was virtually invisible all year.
Outside of Garcon, there's no receiver on the roster who can be relied upon to put up good numbers, which is a real concern.
After giving Fred Davis a one-year deal to prove himself, Shanahan then decided he wasn't even good enough to be active on Sundays. That was partly due to the emergence of Jordan Reed, who showed flashes of real talent when he tore up the Bears for 134 yards and a touchdown. It was clear that Reed was the future, and Davis was out.
Unfortunately, Reed suffered a concussion that ruled him out of the last six games. For a player who had concussions in college, that's worrying. Should he pick up another head injury, a promising career could be quickly shortened.
Niles Paul was one of the only players who seemed to care about special teams, and that versatility could ensure he keeps his place on the roster. He might not be a starter, but his effort cannot be questioned.
Nevertheless, the tight end position is in need of an upgrade. Relying on Reed isn't the way to go, but he could be a real asset with the right partner in a two-tight-end set.
For a unit that exceeded expectations last year, the offensive line retreated to the level that many felt was more befitting.
Outside of Trent Williams, no one seemed to make any attempt to block oncoming rushers, leaving Griffin in serious danger of further injury. The second-year quarterback was often left running for his life, and sometimes he never even got through his dropback before being hit.
Giving Kory Lichtensteiger a five-year extension was madness, and Chris Chester seriously regressed. Tyler Polumbus was again ineffective, and Josh LeRibeus doesn't deserve to see the field again in Burgundy and Gold. The former third-round pick lost all the goodwill he gained in relief of Lichtensteiger last year. Showing up to camp overweight and never making the active list was inexcusable, especially when the guys in front of him were so poor.
Whoever the new coach may be, he will need to give the line a revamp. It's the most undersized unit in the league, which may have been suited to Shanahan's blocking scheme, but the players will struggle to find employment after the performances of this year.
Were it not for Williams, this bunch would be getting the lowest grade possible. The offensive line needs some aggression again.
Yet another area of regression, the defensive line failed to generate much pressure, often leaving opposing quarterbacks enough time to pick the secondary apart.
B/R columnist James Dudko suggested Jason Hatcher as a potential free-agent acquisition, which would give the line the experience and power it needs going forward.
Hatcher will be looking for good money, however, and Washington has many holes to fill. Although the draft should remain the focus, both the offensive and defensive lines would really benefit from veteran experience.
Barry Cofield was excellent last year at nose tackle, but he fractured his right hand in the preseason and wasn't the same after that.
Along with Cofield, the only defensive starters under contract next year are Jarvis Jenkins, Ryan Kerrigan and Brandon Meriweather. That doesn't bode well, but for those who like change, it could bring some hope.
In Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo, Washington has some good bookends in a 3-4 alignment. There's a lot of talk about returning to the 4-3 that featured before the arrival of Jim Haslett, but Orakpo and Kerrigan give the team a good base in its current alignment.
However, Orakpo's strong performances to end the year put him in the perfect position to listen to offers from other teams and demand more money as a result. Washington may finally have cap space, but that doesn't mean it can afford to keep everyone.
Orakpo's presence as a disruptive pass-rusher makes for a better team, but there's a tough choice to make regarding his future.
Perry Riley also deserves a new deal, and DeAngelo Hall was one of the only other bright spots on defense. These players will feel they made some sacrifices to stay with the team, and now is the time they should be rewarded.
Despite that, this is another area that has some good pieces. Meanwhile, Brandon Jenkins could yet develop into a starter. One tackle in six games doesn't exactly scream "All-Pro," but he has talent nonetheless.
With three draft picks spent on the secondary, there should have been a marked improvement in Washington's defensive performance in 2013.
Instead, Phillip Thomas missed the entire season, and Bacarri Rambo's lack of fundamentals cost him—and the team—at vital moments. David Amerson had a solid, if unspectacular, year, but the team should remain upbeat about his future.
With any luck, Thomas can return strong and cement his place as a starter. If Haslett returns, his scheme is one with which Thomas is familiar. This is crucial to both his and Rambo's development in their second season.
Josh Wilson is a free agent and is likely to be on his way out of Washington. Last year, he gave up too many big plays and was targeted by opposition quarterbacks as a weak point in the secondary.
DeAngelo Hall took a pay cut to remain with the team and then balled out, so he deserves to be the first one in discussion about a new deal. It feels strange to say so, but he's the most reliable figure in the defensive backfield.
If he stays, of course.
Grade (with Hall): D
Grade: (without Hall): E
There's no need to spend much time on this unit. There's simply too many things wrong with it, and it makes for depressing reading.
A return man's dream, this group often decided that the NFL was flag football and failed to successfully bring anyone to the ground. Touchdowns scored by the offense were immediately cancelled out by returns of over 100 yards. That brought it back on the field and in greater danger of a three-and-out.
Good field position for Griffin and his receivers was a far-off dream, and the quarterback frequently started from his own end zone. Thompson, Moss, Morgan; it didn't matter who caught the ball. The result always seemed to be the same: 10-yard gain.
Kai Forbath had some injury troubles at the start of the season, but he finished strong and remains the right guy for the job next year. The rest is up for grabs, including the position of special teams coordinator. Keith Burns deserves some sleepless nights for the way his unit performed, and his job will be immediately under scrutiny upon the appointment of a new head coach.