As NFL Free Agency winds down, teams are looking for bargain players who may still be able to make an impact on the field. The Washington Redskins began this period with almost $30 million dollars of cap space, and there was a strong belief among fans that the team would make a huge push to fix their Offensive Line woes.
Yes, the Offensive Line was a glaring issue during the team's 2013 campaign, but it must also be realized that this is not the team's only problem area. The Redskins have a lot of holes to fill and a limited amount of cap space to fill them. Did they fix all of the problems in one Free Agency period? No. It would be preposterous to expect a team to fix all of their problems overnight like that, especially when there are other teams like the Oakland Raiders, who boasted a whopping $70 million dollars in cap space at the start of Free Agency.
The guys in the Front Office are not oblivious to the situation. They understand the problems that need to be fixed and they have addressed them to the best of their ability. However, the whole of Redskins Nation has one firm request; protect RG3 at all costs. Have the Redskins been able to solidify their Offensive Line through Free Agency? It is really too early to tell, but as of right now, it isn't looking to much different from the Offensive Line that started in 2013.
On the first day of Free Agency, the Redskins made a move to sign Guard Shawn Lauvao from the Cleveland Browns to a four year, $17 million dollar contract. Lauvao has been a starter in Cleveland since 2011. Also remember that Jay Gruden was the Offensive Coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals before he became Head Coach of the Washington Redskins. The Bengals and Browns are in the same division (AFC North), so Gruden was able to see Lauvao perform on the field twice a year for the past few years. The only negative that can be attached to his resumé is the fact that Lauvao was rated as one of the worst Guards in 2013 by Pro Football Focus. However, Pro Football Focus also ranked the Redskins Offensive Line as the third best in the League in 2013. This ranking may have several Redskins fans calling blasphemy, and for good reason. It is important for fans to realize that these "rankings" are purely opinions, and shouldn't be the deciding factor in determining whether a player can make an impact or not. Another important tidbit of information to recognize is that Shawn Lauvao played next to the best Center in the League, Alex Mack, while he was in Cleveland. Is Lauvao simply getting overshadowed, or did playing next to Alex Mack help inflate his overall performance? No matter the case, Lauvao seems to be an immediate upgrade over what the Redskins already have along the interior Offensive Line, and should be able to contribute in some way for the 2014 season.
Other than this Day One signing, the Redskins have not done anything to improve the Offensive Line from it's 2013 form. However, this isn't to say that the organization hasn't tried to turn things around. The team recently made a push to sign Free Agent Tackle Donald Penn from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both sides were in contract talks for a few days, but were never able to finalize anything. Penn has since agreed to terms with the Oakland Raiders. See? Money does make a big difference.
There have also been some shifts along the interior. The Redskins released former starting Center Will Montgomery to save some cash. Since that move, there have been recent talks about starting Guard Kory Lichtensteiger making the start at Center in 2014. Former Redskins Tight End Chris Cooley believes Lichtensteiger will be "excellent" at Center because of his size and mobility.
Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus are the two top Offensive Line candidates to be cut from the team at this point. They are set to earn $4.3 and $2.6 million dollars, respectively. Cutting these two players will result in cap savings of about $4 million dollars (numbers courtesy of overthecap.com). The Redskins also have several young players who can make the start if necessary. 2012 Draft picks Josh LeRibeus and Tom Compton should be competing for a starting job this season. LeRibeus filled in for an injured Kory Lichtensteiger at Guard in 2012 and performed nicely in his absence. Tom Compton has performed well in Preseason games at Left Tackle, and is currently serving as a swing Tackle on the Redskins roster, meaning that he backs up both the Left and Right Tackle positions. If Polumbus is released, do not be surprised to see Compton move up on the depth chart. If neither of these players get the chance to start, the Redskins have plenty other unheralded guys that may be ready to step up to the plate.
There is still room to improve via Free Agency. Several Offensive Linemen could be had for a good price if the Redskins aren't comfortable with their current corps of guys. Here is a list of possible future Redskins:
- Brian De La Puente - Center - Has started 44 games for the New Orleans Saints since 2011 and total cap hit in 2013 was just over $2,000,000 dollars. Won't exactly be a long term option, because he is 28. However, if keeping RG3 healthy is the ultimate key, Brian De La Puente should be considered if the Redskins feel Kory Lichtensteiger isn't the right fit at Center.
- Wade Smith - Guard - He has made a visit to the Pro-Bowl during his career. However, he is 32, and won't be a long term option. If anything, he can bring competition during training camp and pre-season. His 2013 cap hit was at $3,750,000 dollars. The Redskins shouldn't pay him this much money, but if his asking price comes down due to age, the team should make a pass at him to strengthen the interior of the O-Line.
- Ryan Harris - Tackle - The Redskins are still looking for a competent Right Tackle. Ryan Harris may not be the long term option at the age of 30, but could come in on a cheap deal for the same reasons as Wade Smith. He was also pretty cheap during 2013, taking up just $620,000 dollars of cap room. Nothing like a good bargain signing, right?
These might not be the sexiest of Free Agent signings, but every little bit helps. The Redskins still have some money to spend, and they should focus on depth with the rest of their money.
Let's not ignore the fact that Trent Williams has continued to block at a high level while serving as the Redskins Left Tackle. He has the most important job of all; protecting RG3's blindside. Redskins fans should breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they have one of the best Left Tackle's in the League anchoring the left side of the line. On another positive note, Jay Gruden is coming to Washington with a changed Offensive style of play. Gruden may not want to run an offense identical to the zone blocking scheme that Mike Shanahan used. This move could also be beneficial to the rest of the Offensive Lineman who were struggling in the zone blocking scheme.
It is really impossible to tell what the outcome of these moves will be, but even though the Redskins had more money to spend in Free Agency this year, it looks like it will be another year of "competition" for the Offensive Line. Although it hasn't been proved very effective in recent years, it isn't entirely a bad thing. You know the old saying, "competition brings out the best in players." This saying may hold true for the Burgundy and Gold in 2014.