The Redskins have started each of the last two seasons 3-6. However, those two seasons have had literally polar opposite endings. In 2012, the Redskins won their last 7 games, finishing 10-6 and winning the NFC East. In 2013, the Redskins lost their last 7 games, finishing 3-13 and with the #2 overall pick in the draft, which they’ll have to send to the Rams as part of the RG3 trade from 2 drafts ago. Mike Shanahan has been fired and Robert Griffin’s future doesn’t look nearly as bright as it did last season.
The Redskins were one of 4 teams to go from the playoffs in 2012 to 5 or fewer wins in 2013. What happened? Well, RG3 was nowhere near the same quarterback. After completing 65.6% of his passes for an average of 8.14 YPA, 20 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions in 2012, Griffin completed 60.1% of his passes for an average of 7.02 YPA, 16 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in 2013. Also in 2012, Griffin rushed for 815 yards and 7 touchdowns and in 2013 he rushed for 489 yards and no touchdowns.
That was predictable. RG3 tore his ACL in January and came back after just 8 months for the start of the season week 1 in September. He had no pre-season to get ready and had a prior knee injury. He’s also very reliant on his legs. Even pocket quarterback Tom Brady struggled, by his standards, in his first season back from a torn ACL and he suffered the injury the previous September, had no knee injury history, and had a pre-season to prepare. RG3 probably won’t ever throw just 5 interceptions in a season again like he did as a rookie, but he should bounce back in 2014 and probably in a big way. Where he’s at in his development, as a 2nd year quarterback coming off a serious knee injury, is totally fine. His critics need to calm down.
It also didn’t help Griffin that more of the team’s burden fell on him this season. In 2012, he didn’t have to do as much. The Redskins were able to run very methodical run heavy offenses, which allowed Griffin to scramble and complete short passes more often. In 2013, their defense was so bad that the Redskins often found themselves down early and unable to establish their game plan. Brian Orakpo’s return should have fixed their defensive problems and Orakpo played very well, but that was about it as Orakpo and fellow rush linebacker Ryan Kerrigan represented the only two above average starters on Washington’s defense. Once reliable players like Perry Riley and Josh Wilson had very bad seasons and the secondary saw two rookies struggle while playing significant snaps.
The fix on defense is not as clear. The Redskins do have 6 defensive starters set to hit free agency, which could allow them to redesign the unit, but they don’t have a ton of cap space and they don’t have their own first round pick. On top of that, Brian Orakpo is a free agent and he’ll need to be re-signed. The best case scenario on their defense is that they re-sign Orakpo, the new coaching staff brings in a strong defensive coordinator who offers a needed change from Jim Haslett, they get a few smart signings in free agency, and they get strong play from their rookies and from 2nd year players David Amerson, Philip Thomas, and Baccari Rambo. The offense should be better in 2014, but it’s hard to see the Redskins climbing back to the top of the NFC East without a strong defensive turnaround.
Another reason why the Redskins won just 3 games was that they “rested” RG3 down the stretch, in favor of backup Kirk Cousins. Their logic was that doing so would allow RG3 to rest, prevent him from future injury, and give them an opportunity to showcase Kirk Cousins to teams as a trade chip, which would net them another much needed draft pick to fix their defense. Now it looks like it could completely backfire. Kirk Cousins was miserable in 3 games against three of the worst defenses in the NFL, completing 53.1% of his passes for an average of 5.75 YPA, 4 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. It would be hard to argue that the Redskins could get more for Cousins now than they could have before “showcasing” him and they probably would struggle to even get the 4th round pick they used on him in the 2012 NFL Draft, to be Griffin’s backup.
On top of that, they could have cost RG3 valuable game reps to help get his legs back under him, by sitting him those last 3 games. It’s probably not going to be a huge deal and they did prevent him from injury, but they ran the risk of stunting his recovery. Finally, they lost all 3 games, giving them a 3-13 finish and locking them into the #2 pick, which they’ll have to give to St. Louis. Considering two of the losses came by a combined 2 points, it’s very reasonable that they could have finished 5-11 if Griffin had started those 3 games, gotten Griffin some needed reps and gotten his confidence up against bad teams and given the team some feel good momentum into 2014. Instead, the only team who couldn’t benefit from tanking executed it to perfection.
The Redskins’ secondary struggled mightily in 2013. The trio of Josh Wilson, DeAngelo Hall, and David Amerson all played poorly at cornerback. Amerson, a 2013 2nd round pick, will get another shot as a starter, but Hall and Wilson will both be free agents this off-season. They should use this opportunity to look at new options at the position.
Brandon Meriweather and EJ Biggers are also free agents this off-season and like at cornerback, they should use this opportunity to upgrade the position. Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo were 4th and 6th round picks in the 2013 draft, but Thomas missed the entire season with injury, while Rambo struggled whenever he was asked to play. It’ll be tough to count on just them going forward, so they need to add more talent here.
Perry Riley and London Fletcher graded out 46th and 55th respectively among 55 eligible middle linebackers on Pro Football Focus. Fletcher is clearly on his last legs and will wisely be retiring this off-season as a free agent who will be 39 in 2014. Riley is also a free agent this off-season. Ideally, they’d be able to get two upgrades here this off-season, but they need to get at least one.
The Redskins need a reliable receiver opposite Pierre Garcon. Santana Moss was 2nd on the team among wide receivers in receiving yards and he only had 452. He’ll be a free agent going into his age 35 season this off-season and Josh Morgan, a bust of a free agent signing, will also be a free agent. Leonard Hankerson flashes, but the 2011 3rd round pick is very inconsistent and will be coming off of a torn ACL suffered in November. That will put him in a race to get ready for training camp.
Brian Orakpo was probably one of the top-20 defensive players in the NFL this season and still the Redskins’ defense was terrible. Can you imagine how bad they would be without him? The Redskins shouldn’t let it get to the point where they find out. Priority #1 of their off-season should be locking up Orakpo and not letting him hit the open market, whether that’s with an extension after the season or by franchise tagging him in March. If for some reason they let him go, they’ll need to find a replacement because there really isn’t one on the roster.
Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield will probably be back as starters on the defensive line next season. Neither of them is worth their salary, as they’re both just average starters, but the Redskins are in no position to be cutting average starters on defense, especially since cutting either one wouldn’t really free up much cap space at this point in their contracts. They need a 3rd defensive line starter, however. Adam Carriker is likely going to be a cap casualty, while Kedric Golston, Chris Baker, and Jarvis Jenkins are mediocre at best.
The Redskins ranked 30th in the NFL in punting average and dead last in net punting average as part of their league worst special teams. Sav Rocca will probably be a cap casualty this off-season, so the Redskins can find a replacement fairly easily.
Punting wasn’t the Redskins’ only special teams problem, as they averaged just 20.0 yards per return, tied for worst in the NFL. Maybe having 240 pound tight end Niles Paul as their primary kick returner wasn’t a good idea. He needs to be replaced back there.
Punt returning was also a problem as well, as they ranked 28th in the NFL, averaging 6.4 yards per return. Santana Moss was their primary punt returner and he’s probably going to be gone as a free agent heading into his age 35 season this off-season. They should take this opportunity to replace him.
Key free agents
OLB Brian Orakpo
The Redskins had one of the worst defenses in the NFL despite the phenomenal play of Brian Orakpo. Orakpo bounced back from a lost season with injury in 2012 and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked rush linebacker, excelling in all three facets of the game, rushing the passer, stopping the run, and in coverage. The 2009 1st round pick had some good years before, but this was by far his best. Can you imagine how bad they’d be without him? They can’t allow him to hit the open market this off-season, even if that means franchise tagging him. He’ll get a big payday this off-season.
CB Josh Wilson
Josh Wilson has usually been a decent starter, but he struggled along with the rest of the Washington secondary this year, grading out below average on Pro Football Focus. His biggest problem was missing 16 tackles. Someone may still bring him in as a starter this off-season. Considering his history, that wouldn’t be the worst idea. His best year was 2010, when he graded out 4th among cornerbacks, and he also graded out above average in both 2011 and 2012.
S Brandon Meriweather
People were shocked when the Patriots made two-time Pro-Bowler Brandon Meriweather a final cut before the 2011 season, but they made the Super Bowl, while Meriweather didn’t finish the season in Chicago. He’s caught on in Washington over the past 2 years, but he’s graded out below average on Pro Football Focus and has only played 14 of 32 games thanks to injuries. He’d be a desperation signing for a team as a starting safety.
CB DeAngelo Hall
DeAngelo Hall was a cap casualty of the Redskins last off-season, but eventually came back on a one year deal worth a million dollars. The Redskins got what they paid for, as Hall struggled as a starting cornerback, a big part of the reason why the Redskins’ had so many problems on defense. Going into his age 31 season, he may be limited to one year deals for around the veteran’s minimum again.
MLB Perry Riley
A 2010 4th round pick, Riley flashed in a half season as a starter in 2011 and wasn’t bad in 2012 as a full-time starter, but didn’t really live up to his promise. In 2013, he had his worst year at the worst time, as he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 46th ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible. He’ll be looking at cheap one year deals this off-season and may have to compete for a starting job somewhere.
S EJ Biggers
Biggers struggled for the most of his tenure in Tampa Bay, but started to show some promise towards the end of his 4-year tenure in 2012 and was brought in by the Redskins, where he reunited with Raheem Morris, the Buccaneers former Head Coach and current Redskins defensive backs coach. Biggers was converted to safety in Washington and was terrible in limited action at the position. He’ll be greeted with a cold market this off-season.
TE Fred Davis
Fred Davis has plenty of talent. During 18 games from 2011-2012, he caught 82 passes for 1112 yards and 3 touchdowns. However, he missed 13 games and most of a 14th, 4 with suspension and the others after tearing his Achilles. A 2008 2nd round pick, Davis has plenty of talent and was franchise tagged after the 2011 season, but he failed to recover from the Achilles injury he suffered in 2012 and only caught 7 passes in 2013. During that 2013 season, he fell behind promising rookie Jordan Reed on the depth chart and was frequently a healthy scratch because of his inability to block and his bad attitude. He frequently spoke out saying he wanted a trade at all costs. The Redskins couldn’t get anything for him. He’s worth a buy low flier because of his upside and he may just need a change of scenery, but he could easily disappoint. He’s a one dimensional pass catcher who may have lost his explosiveness and could cause continuing problems in the locker room.
WR Santana Moss
Santana Moss had a fantastic 9-year tenure in Washington, catching 571 passes for 7741 yards and 45 touchdowns and he has over 10,000 yards receiving thus far in his 13-year-career. However, he’s heading into his age 35 season and coming off of his lowest receiving yardage total since his 2nd year in the NFL in 2002. He may be done. At the very least, he’ll have to wait a while to generate interest.
MLB London Fletcher
London Fletcher is expected to retire this off-season, coming off of his age 38 season. It’s coming 2 years too late. Fletcher looked old and slow over the past two years, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd worst and worst ranked middle linebacker in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Now he’ll just have to sit and wait for the Hall of Fame to call and it should. By some measures, he’s the NFL’s all-time leader in tackles.
Cap Casualty Candidates
DE Adam Carriker
Adam Carriker has played 42 snaps over the past 2 seasons thanks to injury and didn’t play a snap in 2013. He wasn’t that great before injury anyway. There’s no chance he gets the 6.7 million he’s owed in 2014. The Redskins can save 3.2 million on the cap by cutting him. He’s as good as gone.
P Sav Rocca
As I mentioned, The Redskins ranked 30th in the NFL in punting average and dead last in net punting average as part of their league worst special teams. Punter Sav Rocca is going into his age 41 season this off-season and the Redskins can save 1.2 million on the cap by cutting him in his contract year and replacing him with someone else, possibly a rookie. They’ll probably do that.