There have been two themes for the Redskins after the first couple days of free agency: get better on defense, and get younger players who were undervalued in their previous spots.
As we sit back and reflect on a busy day for the Washington Redskins on the second day of NFL free agency, we have to remember last season for a second. To put it plainly, the Washington Redskins had issues on both sides of the ball last season. Not only did they have headaches on each side in Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth, but neither side wound up performing in year one of new systems. The offense under Kyle Shanahan could never stay on the field, while Jim Haslett's defense could never seem to get off it. At season's end, there were so many issues up and down the roster that most wondered where the Redskins would choose to upgrade their roster most once free agency started.
While the offense certainly struggled with quarterback that would eventually be shipped out of town, it was clear by the end of 2010 that the Redskins had to upgrade what wound up being the league's 31st-ranked unit. Last year's squad featured far more miscasts than fits, with a number of players asked to play positions they had never played before and finding themselves in positions that didn't take advantage of their strengths. Pair that with the fact that the unit's biggest weakness, nose tackle, just so happens to be the scheme's most critical position, and the Redskins found themselves with a bit of a problem to rectify.
So going into the offseason, it was clear that defense would and should be a priority. That process started with the drafting of Purdue defensive lineman Ryan Kerrigan to play outside linebacker, and later with second-rounder Jarvis Jenkins to play defensive end in the scheme. But even with the players they selected in the draft, there were still plenty of holes left to address.
With the signing of Barry Cofield, the Redskins feel as though they have a player who's athletic skill set is good enough to play him at the nose, a position he hasn't played at the NFL level. Though Cofield may lack size (he only weighs in at just over 300 pounds), he appears to have the skill set that could eventually translate to success at the nose position.
The Redskins then added former Cowboy Stephen Bowen for what some believed to be a rather bloated five-year, $27.5 million dollar deal. What's interesting about this move is that it seems to be the opposite of how the team has historically dolled out contracts. Usually, they pay free agent veterans for the type of players they were, and simply hope they are able to maintain their level of play. With Bowen, a 27 year old 3-4 defensive end, they are paying him not for who he was in Dallas, but for what they believe he can be in Washington. Bowen played very well replacing Marcus Spears last season, and with a chance to be a starter, could prove to be a very prudent signing by the club.
Although the essence of the Redskins' struggles took place in the defensive front seven last year, they still had issues in the secondary that needed to be resolved. The free safety position was one that saw injuries and poor
tackling play lead to a number of big plays allowed in the passing game. The team addressed that prior to the lockout with the addition of Rams OJ Atogwe, a player who spent time with Haslett in St. Louis. Atogwe looks to be a major upgrade over incumbent Kareem Moore, and if true could be another big step towards shoring up the secondary.
The Redskins weren't done there, with the team signing former Terps and Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson to be a potential replacement for the inconsistent Carlos Rogers. Wilson again fits the mold of the type of player the team is seeking in free agency: younger, ascending players who weren't given the as much of a chance to shine at their previous spot.
Free agency is not even a week old, and yet the Redskins defense will come into 2011 vastly improved in such a short amount of time, with more moves expected to be on the horizon. The Redskins may still have issues winning games this year, but they seem intent to make sure it won't be because of their defense.