COMMENTARY | While the opening of free agency is usually Dan Snyder’s time of year to make headlines with major splashes, this summer the deck is certainly stacked against the Washington Redskins to make a major upgrade.
With the NFL informing teams on Feb. 28 the 2013 salary cap would be $123 million, the league’s 32 member clubs can officially finalize their offseason spending plans and target who they might like to sign to improve their clubs. However, for the Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, they are put at a disadvantage this offseason, as part of the salary cap penalty the two teams were ordered to serve last offseason.
The Redskins need to deal with the $18 million penalty — half of the original $36 million punishment issued last year — as part of the two-year punishment for contracts given in the uncapped 2010 season. According to the Washington Post, the team is considering suing the NFL to get that cap space back. However, while the team appears to feel they’ve been wronged in this mater, it seems unlikely a legal challenge would be successful and the team has to operate with a ceiling around $105 million, or roughly $3 million under what the Redskins are currently at per the Washington Post’s estimate.
Normally, a team could look to bulk up in the draft when faced with spending issues, but for Washington, their 2013 first-round pick — 20th overall — is property of the St. Louis Rams thanks to the Robert Griffin III trade. Barring another trade, their first pick is going to be the 51st overall selection, in middle of the second round. Washington will have seven picks in the second through seventh rounds, with a pair in the fifth round with them holding New England’s pick as well, and allowing them to acquire some depth, but perhaps not the impact player the team covets.
So what are the Redskins to do? They likely will have to get creative to upgrade their roster once free agency starts March 12.
The first step Washington would have to make is to restructure some contracts to get under the cap. According to the Post, cornerback DeAngelo Hall has offered to restructure his $8 million cap hit for 2013, and wide receiver Santana Moss has a $6.16 million hit on the cap.
The primary concern for the Redskins has to be the secondary, as the Achilles’ Heel of Washington’s defense last season, even during the seven-game win streak that landed the team atop the NFC East, was the team’s ability to defend against the pass. Washington had the NFL’s third-worst 281.9 passing yards allowed last year, but the Redskins’ bend-but-don’t-break defense limited that liability.
Of the teams that were in the bottom 10 in passing yards allowed during the regular season, only the Redskins, New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons made the postseason, and none advanced to their league’s championship game.
While the Redskins’ rushing defense was very good — fifth-best in the league — opponents opted to go to the air against Washington, and as a result, their defense allowed the fifth-most yards last season. If the Redskins want to take that next step toward being a Super Bowl contender, they will need to shore up the secondary and ensure the injuries and other issues don’t become a factor in 2013.
Offensively, the Redskins certainly could see if they could land a wide receiving threat to take some of the pressure off Griffin and Kirk Cousins downfield, but that might be a luxury with the Redskins already having such high-ticket receivers as Pierre Garcon, Moss and Josh Morgan on the roster. But if Washington elects to create cap room by making a move at that position, they certainly could try to upgrade that way.
Morgan led the Redskins with 40 catches last year, which ranked 40th in the NFC. Garcon had 633 receiving yards, which only was good for 37th in the conference. If the Redskins had a truer deep threat, especially with all the money tied into the position, it would help alleviate pressure on the quarterback and force defenses to choose to defend the mobile quarterback or wide receiver, which could make Washington very dangerous to opposing defenses.
Another area is the guard position, which clearly is a priority with a pair of young quarterbacks, one which will be coming off major surgery. This might be a spot the Redskins elect to target in the draft since solid NFL linemen tend to be available in the first few rounds, but of course, with the heavy investment in the current quarterbacks, they may opt for a more experienced — yet expensive — veteran free agent.
While free agency is always an interesting time around Redskins Park, this year certainly offers more intrigue with the threat of legal action and Washington looking to have to deal with the NFL’s sanctions. Washington has some good pieces in place, but will be interesting to see how they cope with the NFL’s salary cap restrictions in a time they normally try to shine.