With the NFL Lockout now over, there's been plenty of speculation about how the Redskins will proceed during what will be a frenzy of a free agency period. A prior report by NFL Network's Jason La Canfora stated how the Redskins are prepared to be aggressive and spend big in free agency. Redskins fans have long been accustomed to hearing the phrase ‘aggressive in free agency' associated with their team, and it's usually led to disastrous results. So it comes as no surprise that fans and media are concerned that if the Redskins choose to spend big yet again, that they will likely come up empty as they normally do.
This year, however, that may not be the case. For one, Redskins fans need to remember that free agency has been a roster building tool that has been available to all NFL teams for close to 20 years now. There have been plenty of success stories of how teams have used free agency to help augment a core of talent that was already present on a developing roster. As we all know, the problem for the Redskins over the past decade was not only did they lack that core of talent, they attempted to use free agency to build that core, and when they came up empty each time, the roster wound up looking quite barren. So Redskins fans certainly have good reason to be fearful of another failed spending spree.
That being said, with the lockout ending , it looks like the Redskins will have to spend big. Not only does the team have plenty of holes on the roster to fill, they have plenty of money to spend, and the new CBA rules might force them to spend it. So the key for the Redskins will have to be getting as many bargains as they possibly can at need positions while still trying to dramatically upgrade the roster. Not exactly the easiest task.
So with those lofty goals in mind, let's count down some of the biggest needs the Redskins should address in free agency:
4. Inside Linebacker
Rocky McIntosh was among a multitude of players who didn't exactly flourish in year one of the 3-4 defense. McIntosh is likely to be an unrestricted free agency once the lockout ends, and it wouldn't be surprising if the Redskins let him walk. Moving forward, the Redskins will need someone who can not only play alongside captain London Fletcher in the 3-4, but they need that player to be comfortable taking over for Fletcher should he decide to finish his career in the near future.
Potential targets at inside linebacker: Barrett Ruud (Tampa Bay, and a Bruce Allen draft pick), Paul Posluszny (Buffalo), Steven Tulloch (Titans).
3. Right Tackle/Guard
It's a tie here, because the entire right side of the offensive line needs work. Jammal Brown finished last season strong, but with him being an unrestricted free agent, it remains to be seen whether or not he will return in 2011. Not only that, but is the team willing to invest in a player who has an injury history?
As for right guard, after Artis Hicks' benching, backup Will Montgomery played admirably the rest of the year but certainly not well enough to consider starting him Week 1 of this season. You could argue that center needs to be upgraded as well, but with Montgomery and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger being natural centers, there could be capable options at center on the roster already should Casey Rabach lose his job.
Potential targets at right tackle: Brown, Tyson Clabo (Atlanta), Ryan Harris (Denver), Jeremy Trueblood (Tampa Bay)
Potential targets at right guard: Davin Joseph (Tampa Bay), Marshal Yanda (Baltimore), Harvey Dahl (Atlanta)
It's no secret that Carlos Rogers is a goner. The uncertainty is how they choose to replace him. Are they willing to go out and sign a big name corner? Or are they willing to get a lower tier player and try to survive in the secondary for a year? The fact is that DeAngelo Hall, while a great playmaker, isn't the greatest cover corner in the world. The team needs to be able to have someone who is steady in coverage opposite of Hall to compensate for his gambling ways. The Redskins know they'll have some (very expensive) options in free agency, so it'll be really interesting to see which where they go.
Potential targets at cornerback: Nnamdi Asomugha (Oakland), Ike Taylor (Pittsburgh), Antonio Cromartie (New York Jets), Johnathan Joseph (Cincinnati)
1. Nose Tackle
This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who watched this team in 2010. Ask any coach who runs a 3-4, and they'll tell you that you can't run the scheme without an effective nose tackle. Plain and simple.
Last year, the Redskins were getting horrendous play from the nose tackle position. One of your chief responsibilities if you're playing nose is being able to occupy space for the linebackers by forcing a guard to help the center block you. Instead, opposing centers were taking on Redskin nose tackles one on one and winning the battle. Needless to say, that's not good, and it compromised the entire defense immensely, leading them to finish ranked 31st overall last season.
The thing about nose tackles, unfortunately, is that they don't exactly grow on trees. With a scarcity of them on the market, the Redskins will likely be forced to go for guys who will be on the wrong side of 30 once the season starts. Either that, or they will have to convert 4-3 tackles into playing the 3-4 nose, which won't be easy given the amount of time teams will have to prepare for the season.
There are a number of Redskins fans who are concerned about some of the names currently being thrown out there as possibilities, but that's the market. There's a reason why guys like B.J. Raji and Jay Ratliff are unavailable. While the team will likely have to settle for stop gap options at such a critical position, there are still players available who can get the job done when healthy while also proving to be major upgrades over what they had a year ago.
Potential targets at nose tackle: Aubrayo Franklin (San Fransisco), Kris Jenkins (New York Jets, Edit: Now retired), Barry Cofield (New York Giants)
Even if the Redskins address all of those needs, they'll still have a number of holes left on the roster, most notably at wide receiver and quarterback. But the thought here is that they'll re-sign Santana Moss and Rex Grossman and go with what they already have.
After speculating for nearly four months about what the Redskins might do, it'll be fun to finally see which direction the team ultimately goes in free agency.
Editor's Note: This was modified after the lockout ended.