Washington Redskins' Top Remaining Offseason Priorities
The Washington Redskins' improbable signing of wide receiver DeSean Jackson Wednesday, per ESPN.com's John Keim, not only sent shock waves through the league, but also set the table for the remainder of the team's offseason.
The Redskins took a methodical approach to free agency in March, only to be presented with an opportunity to acquire a Pro Bowl talent in his prime who just so happened to be a member of a hated division rival. Sounds like the ultimate April Fools' joke, right?
Jackson's arrival in D.C. means that the Redskins' immediate priorities have either shifted or become more important than ever to address. New head coach Jay Gruden has a full plate with upcoming OTAs, the NFL draft, minicamps and, of course, training camp. Let's take a look at what's most important for him and the organization to focus on over these next several months.
Bolster Offensive Line/Pass Protection
The Redskins have made some moves on the O-line this offseason, but nothing to throw a party over. The team released center Will Montgomery and acquired guard Shawn Lauvao from the Cleveland Browns and guard-center Mike McGlynn from the Indianapolis Colts.
Those numbers don't exactly scream upgrade, do they?
At No. 34 overall, Washington may be in a position to select one of the top two guards in the NFL draft: UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo or Stanford's David Yankey. Both are immediate starters who can protect the quarterback.
This from Su'a-Filo's NFL.com draft profile: "Quick out of his stance. Effective pass blocker -- can bend his knees, extend and mirror in short area."
Yankey's NFL.com draft profile reads: "Solid base in pass protection -- gets his hands on rushers, anchors and slides to fan pressure."
Right tackle is also a point of weakness. Depending how the first round shakes out, the Redskins may have a remote shot to draft Notre Dame tackle-guard Zack Martin. Virginia tackle Morgan Moses is another option if the organization feels confident that he would be an upgrade over Tyler Polumbus this season.
However it gets done, expect the Redskins to beef up the O-line with at least one of their first three picks in the draft. It's counterintuitive to acquire all of this offensive firepower without having the the big fellas up front to make it all go.
Continue to Improve Special Teams
Since the start of free agency, the Redskins have added three inside linebackers who are all capable of playing a prominent role on special teams. They've also acquired one the most electrifying punt returners in Jackson.
I'd call that progress for a team that—according to Pro Football Focus—was given a special teams grade of minus-46.5, the worst in the NFL by a staggering amount.
Special teams must continue to stay on the brain of general manager Bruce Allen during the NFL draft and throughout the remainder of the offseason. "Can this guy play on teams?" should be atop the list of questions asked in the war room before any draft card is turned in.
New Redskins special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica has quite the challenge in front of him. That said, if the front office can continue to identify willing and able players, there's no reason not to expect marked improvement.
Draft a Starting-Caliber Safety or Cornerback
The acquisition of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jason Hatcher will give Washington an added punch in the pass-rush department. However, the secondary—though moderately improved—still has its warts.
In addition to retaining cornerback DeAngelo Hall and safety Brandon Meriweather this offseason, the Redskins agreed to terms with veteran safety Ryan Clark and cornerback Tracy Porter. These moves, while acceptable in the short term, don't address the future.
In a perfect world, the Redskins would go all-in to select a safety with their first pick in the NFL draft. The problem is, among all positions, safety is probably the thinnest at the top.
It's unlikely that Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Louisville's Calvin Pryor falls to the second round. That leaves Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward—regarded by experts as the third-ranked safety available—as a popular option for Washington at No. 34 overall.
If the Redskins deem it infeasible to draft a safety early, they could stand to infuse some youth into the cornerback position.
NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock has Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller, Ohio State's Bradley Roby and TCU's Jason Verrett among his top five ranked corners. All three could be available when Washington selects in the second round.
Add Speed to the Backfield
Washington's offense will be predicated on speed this season. Why not up the ante?
Running back Alfred Morris is Washington's bell cow—and that won't change—but imagine if the Redskins drafted, say, De'Anthony Thomas from Oregon or Kent State's Dri Archer as a third-down back. Sure, it could be perceived as a luxury pick, but such a selection would add a dimension to an offense already sure to have defenses on its heels in 2014.
Washington's current third-down back, Roy Helu, touched the football just 93 times for 525 total yards and four touchdowns last season. While Helu has decent speed and could certainly thrive in Gruden's system, his release would save the Redskins just over $1.4 million, according to Over the Cap.
Last year's fifth-round draft pick, Chris Thompson, also possesses some quickness but hasn't been able to stay healthy enough to prove that he's worth having on the field in key situations.
Adding a burner like Thomas or Archer to the backfield would give the Redskins yet another playmaker capable of taking it to the house at a moment's notice. Opposing defenses would dread having to line up against such a diverse set of weapons, especially on the money downs.
Build Team Chemistry
With a new coaching staff comes a new culture, new players, new leaders and new hope.
Say what you will about the 2013 Redskins, but that nightmare season is in the rearview. It's only April, but the Jackson signing is a great example of how a team can come together, even before OTAs.
Check out these tweets by current Redskins players reacting to D-Jax coming to Washington:
Man I love my team. Unsung hero of the day GM #BruceAllen— DeAngelo Hall (@DeAngeloHall23) April 2, 2014
Looks like I woke up with a new teammate!! Congrats @DeseanJackson10 !!— Ryan Clark (@Realrclark25) April 2, 2014
The NFC East just got real. #HTTR all day— Stephen Bowen (@stevebo72) April 2, 2014
Gruden has only been in D.C. for a cup of coffee, but the players seem to be champing at the bit to play for him. There's an excitement in the air in contrast to the tension that loomed under the former regime.
Whether these positive vibes translate to wins remains to be seen, but the fact that these guys are already embracing the 2014 season with open arms isn't a bad leaping-off point.
*All stats and information courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.