Washington Redskins' Bargain Guide to the 2014 Offseason
Coming off a 3-13 season, free agency may be the best friend the Washington Redskins have. New head coach Jay Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen won't be shackled by the recently lifted league-imposed salary-cap penalty.
But even with more money to spend, Gruden and Allen have several needs this offseason. The priorities have to be bolstering a pitiful offensive line and adding talent to a suspect secondary.
They should also be on the lookout for some useful pass-catchers to give quarterback Robert Griffin III a few more weapons.
Having that many holes to fill will require some smart shopping. It will also mean taking some risks on both injuries and age.
Fortunately, several potential bargains on the market could boost the weak positions on the roster. These include an aggressive and opportunistic veteran cornerback, as well as a pair of experienced offensive linemen.
Here are the eight hidden gems that the new regime in Washington should pluck from the bargain bucket this offseason.
Eric Winston, RT, Arizona Cardinals
It is no secret the Washington offensive line needs an upgrade at right tackle. Tyler Polumbus is merely serviceable at best as the current starter.
Veteran Eric Winston would be a steal in free agency. Frankly, it was beyond baffling that the Redskins didn't turn to the 30-year-old last offseason.
He is an accomplished zone-blocker from his days with the Houston Texans, who ran an identical scheme to the one the Redskins have played since 2010.
The 6'7", 302-pounder possesses the technique and move skills that have helped make the ground game in D.C. so effective. Winston also worked well in a more power-based system as a starter for the Arizona Cardinals in 2013.
That level of scheme versatility, combined with being durable enough to start every game since 2007, makes Winston a bargain whom the Redskins shouldn't overlook.
Terrell Thomas, CB, New York Giants
Terrell Thomas is something of a medical marvel. He has bounced back from three straight ACL surgeries to show off his credentials as a quality slot cornerback.
That is something the Washington defense is sorely missing. He has the size at 6'0" and 191 pounds to play press.
He is also a good hitter and useful on the blitz. Those are all essential requirements for slot duty.
Thomas didn't miss a game last season, taking a major step in proving he can stay healthy enough to play one of the key roles in modern defense.
The Redskins shouldn't waste time in robbing NFC East rival the New York Giants of such a savvy and talented player.
Colin Cole, NT, Carolina Panthers
One of the main criticisms of the Redskins' switch to a 3-4 defense has been the failure to find a powerful enough nose tackle to man the middle. Taking a gamble on aging behemoth Colin Cole would soon fix that problem.
Cole helped make the Panthers the second stingiest rush defense in the league. He plugged the middle to keep blockers off star linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly.
He has the right attributes to fix a soft Washington run defense that surrendered 110.6 yards per game in 2013.
His age might deter some, but the market for nose tackles isn't strong this offseason. Miami Dolphins big man Paul Soliai is available, but he would command more money.
The Redskins should be loath to pay too much at a position that often only sees action on early downs.
With Cole over center and Barry Cofield and Chris Baker at ends, the Redskins would boast a fearsome three-man line.
Seyi Ajirotutu, WR, San Diego Chargers
Seyi Ajirotutu is rarely used by the San Diego Chargers, but he always seems to make an impact whenever the ball is thrown his way.
The 26-year-old speedster can stretch the field, both from the outside and the slot. At 6'3" and 215 pounds, he also has the right physical build to play wide receiver in the version of the West Coast offense that Gruden favors.
Gruden often relied on big wideouts when he ran the offense for the Cincinnati Bengals. With Joshua Morgan headed to free agency and Leonard Hankerson injury-prone and inconsistent, the Redskins are short of size at the position.
Gruden can snare Ajirotutu on the cheap to add another big flanker alongside Pierre Garcon.
Dane Fletcher, ILB, New England Patriots
London Fletcher's retirement has created a void at inside linebacker. With Nick Barnett and Bryan Kehl being free agents, finding reinforcements at this vital position is a priority.
A bargain to consider is New England Patriots "Mike" 'backer Dane Fletcher. He is a big-bodied bruiser on the inside who has experience playing in a 3-4 scheme.
Standing 6'2" and weighing 245 pounds, he has the size to suit the physical demands of taking on guards in a linebacker-led front.
He is a natural short-area player. He is at his best attacking the box against the run and pressuring a quarterback on the blitz.
He would make a good complement next to Perry Riley Jr., who has become a more active playmaker and is equally able in coverage as he is near the line.
Fletcher is also a capable and active special teamer. That last quality can be invaluable after arguably the worst season by a special teams unit in franchise history.
Andrew Quarless, TE, Green Bay Packers
Andrew Quarless is an underrated tight end who could become an invaluable part of the Washington offense. He is barely used by the Green Bay Packers despite his dangerous combination of size and move skills.
He seized the chance to prove those skills in a brief but prolific late-season spell. He caught six passes for 66 yards and a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 14. He repeated the same numbers against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 15.
In both games, Quarless moved around to attack defenses from wide, in the slot or in a classic in-line position. But the 25-year-old caught just four passes in his next three games.
He has shown he merits the kind of extended playing time he could get in Washington. Gruden likes to use two-tight end sets in the absence of a traditional fullback.
He would find ways to get 6'4", 252-pound Quarless on the field as a short-range complement to the more dynamic Jordan Reed.
Aside from Reed, the Redskins are not as well-stocked as they appear at tight end. Fred Davis is set to hit the market again. As talented as he is, there have been too many issues, ranging from a drug-related suspension in 2011 to falling asleep in meetings.
Davis might even be hit with another suspension for failing a marijuana test, per CBS Sports reporter Jason La Canfora.
Fellow rotation players Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul are not accomplished enough in any one area to be true factors in the offense.
Signing Quarless would give the Redskins a dangerous two-tight end set that features a pair of dynamic, young playmakers at the position.
Willie Colon, G, New York Jets
Willie Colon represents a major gamble for the Redskins, but he is one worth taking. He is one of the better interior linemen on this year's market.
The 30-year-old suffered a torn biceps on the season's final day, according to ESPN New York writer Rich Cimini, who estimates the recovery period at four months.
That will reduce the interest in him and make him a true bargain for a team that is willing to take a risk.
The Redskins should be that team, given the power the 315-pounder would add along a weak interior. That is the area where the Washington O-line was routinely pushed around last season.
Colon is a more physically imposing player than slight guards Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester. He is also a punishing run-blocker who would help Alfred Morris be even more productive between the tackles.
Signing Colon could herald a departure from the zone-based blocking schemes or at least a willingness to incorporate more power concepts.
He has been a power-blocker his whole career. But his move skills, especially as a pulling guard, are above average.
As Rich Tandler notes in his Real Redskins blog, Gruden had power-based linemen execute zone techniques in Cincinnati:
Jay Gruden’s Bengals were set up for power blocking. No starter on their end of season depth chart weighed less than 310 pounds. Two of them weighed in at 335. That’s a line that can run zone plays—something the Bengals did regularly—but is built for power.
Offering a low-risk contract to Colon could be the first step toward getting bigger and more versatile up front.
Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona Cardinals
Antoine Cason would be one of the better bargains in free agency for the Redskins. The 27-year-old is an opportunistic cornerback who is capable of making plays on the outside or in the slot.
At 6'1" and 195 pounds, he can cover receivers on the inside. But he is not limited to being a press player. The six-year pro can also shadow a receiver along the sideline.
He has been known to take his chances in coverage to try to make a play on the ball. Obviously, the risks of this approach are as high as the rewards.
But in truth, the Washington defensive backfield needs to produce more big plays. Cason has the skills to do that not only as a rotational corner but also as a potential starter.
The team has already started negotiations over a new deal for free agent DeAngelo Hall, according to Mike Jones of The Washington Post.
Last year's top draft pick David Amerson will also be keen to build on a rookie season that had as many pitfalls as positive moments.
So the Redskins may only need to add an accomplished third cornerback to the roster. That's why a modestly structured deal for a veteran like Cason makes sense.
This year's free-agent market features enticing bargains that a shrewd shopper can spot. If the Redskins refine their search to natural scheme fits, like the players on this list, modest investments will yield positive returns for a rebuilding team.