The first 24 hours of NFL free agency 2013 are almost over and most of the talk about the Washington Redskins is how there has been so little to talk about. Sure, the Redskins re-signed some of their own players -- like DE Kedric Golston and punter Sav Rocca -- but they haven't made a splash by going out and signing players from other teams. Why isn't Dan Snyder's jet ferrying overpriced mercenaries into Redskins Park. Where are the signing bonuses larger than Costa Rica's annual GDP?
As you probably know, the $36 million penalty the NFL laid on the Redskins one year ago is the onion in the ointment. The Skins dealt with the first $18 million last year and now they're trying to deal with the final $18 million. The Redskins had to cut CB DeAngelo Hall and restructure the contracts of WR Santana Moss and DE Adam Carriker -- getting both of them to reduce their cap number by converting a portion of their salaries into incentive bonuses -- just to get under the cap far enough to keep several of their own.
The Redskins are not finished tinkering with their salary situation to create more cap space. Today, injured SS Brandon Meriweather restructured his contract so that his '13 cap figure is now $1.65 million, from $2.9 million. His base salary dropped to $1.2 million from $2.45 million. That extra $1.25 million in cap space may prove useful as the Redskins pursue a free agent cornerback or safety or right tackle. Other players, like WR Josh Morgan or NT Barry Cofield, may also be asked to restructure their contracts to create further space.
Let's look at some positions on the field where the Redskins need to upgrade and might turn to free agency to do it. We start today with cornerback.
Fortunately, this nonsense about the Redskins pursuing TB Reggie Bush -- apparently, there was some contact -- is over now that Bush has signed with the Detroit Lions, where he will fit like a glove. The Redskins must focus on need positions and cornerback is their top need in my opinion. The bad news for the Redskins is that they don't have a lot of money to spend on a cornerback or much of anything else. The good news is that this cornerback free agent class is very deep, with recent cuts swelling the ranks, and that glut on the market should force prices down, making it easier for the Redskins to find a talented player who fits their budget. Let's look at them.
We know the Redskins are interested in CB Aqib Talib -- a superb, perhaps elite talent at a critical need position. However, as I have written, Talib is a dangerous hire since he comes with more baggage than a 747, including a generous rap sheet and a reputation for fighting [literally] with his teammates. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, under GM Bruce Allen, drafted Talib with the 20th pick in the first round in 2008, but traded him last November rather than offer him a long term contract. That's pretty telling.
I'm also a bit concerned that Talib allowed opposing passers to put up a 103.7 passer rating against him last season. That's pretty bad, especially since he was playing for a contract and should have been at his best.
More encouragingly to me is the news that CB Antoine Winfield, recently and unexpectedly cut by the Minnesota Vikings, is on the market and the Redskins are interested in him. Winfield will be 36 in June -- 9 years older than Talib -- so that might seem like a strange move for a team like the Redskins, that has made a major effort to get younger the past few years. However, the Redskins need a starting cornerback now and Winfield, despite his advancing age, is still as good as it gets at what he does.
Per Pro Football Focus' metrics, he had 34 tackles and 26 "stops" (plays for negative yardage) in 354 run snaps in 2012, amassing a 7.3% stop rate that was by far the best at his position. He played 326 pass-play snaps in the slot, allowing no touchdowns, and just 34 catches for 337 yards on 51 targets.
There is also CB Sean Smith, a free agent from the Miami Dolphins. He's got great size [6'4"] and supports run defense very well. He doesn't have anything like elite speed, but he's pretty athletic and can use his size and strength to muscle up with receivers. He's very inconsistent, going from great games to poor ones, often one right after the other. However, the Seattle Seahawks have shown what can be done with big cornerbacks and it wouldn't be a shock if the Redskins [and many other teams] try to copy it.
There is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, recently cut by the Eagles and looking for a new employer. He's young, 26, athletic, good size and went to the 2009 Pro Bowl. On the other hand, I thought he was terrible last year and a quick check of the Pro Football Focus stats confirms that -- they ranked him 98th among NFL cornerbacks last year. That's not much better than me and I don't even play pro football.
Keenan Lewis is a solid cornerback and the Pittsburgh Steelers would like to have him back, but that seems unlikely right now. He's got good size and plays sound fundamentally, but I think he's more of a Cover-2 type cornerback. Can he play the sort of defense the Redskins do? I think so, but there might be an adjustment. Lewis didn't intercept any passes in 2012, but he led the NFL with 16 passes defensed and opposing quarterbacks posted a lowly 80.7 passer rating against him.
The Redskins have been linked to Antoine Cason, until yesterday a member of the San Diego Chargers. He's big and the right age, coming off his rookie contract. He'll support the run and has good top-end speed, but he's not that explosive and I'm not as in love with him as the Redskins reportedly are. Nevertheless, he'd be a big upgrade from DeAngelo Hall, though I don't think he'd be better than Josh Wilson.
After my problems with Aqib Talib for all his personal problems, you'd think I'd advise staying away from Adam Jones [formerly known as PacMan], but I'm quite intrigued. He's 30 so his age is not ideal, but he was definitely one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL last year and has stayed out of trouble recently. Could he relapse into his prior bad behavior? Absolutely. However, his recent record is much improved and his play on the field is stellar. He obviously benefitted from playing opposite Leon Hall in the Bengals' secondary, but Jones looks like a stud corner.
Brent Grimes is 30 and coming off season-ending injury, but in 2011 he was fantastic, allowing only 25% of all passes to be completed against him and QBs had a meager 62.9 passer rating throwing in his direction. He might come cheap because of the injury, having to accept a one-year "prove it" contract, but if he comes back healthy, he's a terrific player.
Derek Cox, soon to be a former member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is a player who intrigues me. He's in his mid-to-late 20s and has great size and pretty good speed. His major issue: He's played in only 18 games the past two seasons due to injury. There's nothing to indicate he's particularly injury-prone or that the injuries have affected his ability to play. Right now, the injuries just look like bad luck. In any case, those injuries will force Cox to accept less than he would like.
What do you think? Which of these players should the Redskins target in free agency? Or is there someone else they should pursue?