Walters: Redskins Off-Season Plan – Phase One
[center][b][u]Redskins Off-Season Plan – Phase One[/u][/b]
After their most successful regular season performance this millennium, the spirits are almost as high as the hopes for next season among the Redskins faithful. That success places even more emphasis on personnel decisions than ever before, given that the roster in its current composition has proven it can thrive. For once the focus will be on shoring up areas of need, rather than plotting for a complete overhaul of one or more facets of the team. In Phase One of my plan, we’re going to focus on the in-house decisions that the Redskins are currently facing, and in which direction they should go.
Luckily for the cash-strapped Redskins, there are no bank-breaking potential free agents whose futures need contemplation. With only three starters set to become free agents, the starting lineup should remain relatively intact. Of those three, Ryan Clark and Robert Royal are unrestricted free agents, while the third, left guard Derrick Dockery, is set to be a restricted free agent once the NFL’s calendar resets in March. None of the three figures to command a princely sum, and Dockery most likely will be offered the predetermined tender offer given his status.
With any off-season plan, the salary cap groundwork must first be laid before any other moves can be reasonably debated. For the purposes of this series, we’re going to assume that the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement will be renewed, although the likelihood of that accord varies from source to source. Also, as in my plans from previous years, consideration will be given to potential salary logistics. However since it is such an inexact science to predict the cap effect any potential contract restructuring among current players may have, salary issues will be reasonably approximated.
To create some much needed cap relief, Phase One begins by trimming some of the fat off of the current roster. Stone hands and a $2 million salary make reserve safety Matt Bowen a good candidate for release. Cutting defensive tackle Brandon Noble, whose career is most likely complete given his devastating recent injuries and illnesses, would save an additional $1.7 million. With those two in mind, the release of the suddenly inept Walt Harris, pulled-quad-waiting-to-happen John Hall, and swinging gate Cory Raymer, pushes the total savings to over $7.5 million.
Forgotten man Patrick Ramsey has also spent his last Sunday in a Washington uniform, though his method of departure will differ from those listed above. Ramsey, whose value is somewhat nebulous in league circles, should bring at least an early second-day selection in a trade. All jokes about how that pick might then be transformed into another depth linebacker or perhaps an additional fullback aside, dealing Ramsey will boost the new total savings to approximately $9.3 million.
Despite his recent public squabbles with management, LaVar Arrington has indicated that he wouldn’t be averse to reworking the terms of his Redskin contract to free up space to help the team, provided, of course, he is still a Redskin in 2006. Whether or not he’s around is a topic for a future column, but for the purposes of my plan, he’s returning. This could potentially somewhere in the vicinity of $5 million against the cap, bringing the total to $14.3 million. Contract renegotiations with Mark Brunell and Jon Jansen would add a couple million more to that tally, and prorating bonuses due to Marcus Washington, Clinton Portis, and Cornelius Griffin among others would boost the total even further. All of this leaves Washington with some, albeit limited, space to work with, and certainly enough to resign their most critical free agents.
Of their potential free agents, safety Ryan Clark is easily the most valuable to the team in my view. Clark, a hard-hitting safety who has played himself into favor with the defensive staff, is the leader of the secondary and has proven himself to be a dependable open-field tackler as well. His less than ideal coverage skills are somewhat overstated, though that accusation is certainly not without its merits. Clark figures to garner moderate interest around the league, though the prospects of his landing an astronomical offer are thinner than Jerry Jones’ surgically altered neck. Clark is the type of core guy that Joe Gibbs is building this team around, and he should be brought back to continue in that capacity.
Offensively, tight end Robert Royal has benefited from being the best in a long line of horrible tight ends that have been trotted in to challenge him during his time in Washington. Royal is an adequate blocker, but is at best only mildly effective as a receiver. With Chris Cooley having developed into a legitimate weapon, it isn’t imperative that the tight end be a dominant offensive force. It would be nice, however, if the man that determines strength on the offensive line wouldn’t drop every other ball thrown in his direction. Washington could easily upgrade the tight end position via the draft or free agency, and should chose to do so by letting Royal slip away as if he were a pass going through his own hands.
Coming into 2005, the feeling was that Derrick Dockery had this season to prove his worth or be replaced at season’s end. The University of Texas product started the season in much the same manner as he had ended the previous two, but soon developed into a solid performer by mid-season. Keeping Dockery maintains a prized continuity on the offensive line, and even at his lowest point, Dockery has at least been durable. Given this, as well as his improvement and potential, Dockery should certainly be tendered in restricted free agency at a level that would ensure his return in 2006.
Among the key reserves, only Demetric Evans figures to draw any appreciable attention league-wide. While Evans may want a bigger contract than Washington is willing to offer, he is likely to receive his most lucrative proposal from the Redskins. Evans provided key depth in 2005, but depth players do not usually command high dollar in the open market given the ambiguity of their niche. He certainly isn’t as valuable as Joe Salave’a, for example, and Big Joe’s contract isn’t exorbitant, so Evans should be retained, but only at a modest price tag.
On the special teams front, long-snapper Ethan Albright – the big redhead who looks like he won a “Redskin-for-a-Day” contest on a talk radio show – had a solid season as evidenced by his name going without mention. He should return, as should ace Khary Campbell, who won a training camp battle for a roster spot, then rewarded the coaching staff with yet another solid effort on teams. It’s almost as easy to find linebackers in the NFL as it is to find crime in downtown Richmond, VA, but Campbell has a proven proclivity for special teams that is paramount on this staff.
But any discussion of Redskin special teamers generally gravitates quickly to Rock Cartwright. Rock is a great player to have because he’s like spackle, filling holes when and wherever they may arise. However, when the 2005 NFL Draft netted Washington Nehemiah Broughton from The Citadel, Rock’s road to the roster got considerably bumpier. He made the squad this season based largely on his potential contributions on special teams, and he was surely aided by his smallish cap number as well. Not that Rock would command a big payday now that he’s unrestricted, but from the standpoint that nearly any wage for a fourth string is too high, it pains me to say that Rock should be let go.
The rest of the Redskin free agents-to-be Warrick Holdman, Omar Stoutmire, Ade Jimoh, and the like are all replaceable. I’d stop short of painting all of them with the same brush since some – Stoutmire, for instance – did fill in nicely in spots, but they are nothing more than depth players whose replacements are readily and easily found.
There probably aren’t any big surprises from Phase One, but it does lay the groundwork for the more interesting segments of the off-season. Some players, specifically Rock, were hard to part with, but the logic to do it was just too sound. Phase Two will focus on free agency, so check back next week for your weekly Redskins football fix. Hail to the Redskins!
Questions and comments can be sent to Trevor Walters at [email="email@example.com"]firstname.lastname@example.org[/email]
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