By Jake Russell
The Redskins are expected to have 16 players with free agent designations when the new league year begins on March 10. The open negotiation period between free agents and other teams opens on Saturday but deals can’t be signed until Tuesday at 4 p.m. The team will need to make several big decisions.
Assuming restricted free agents Kai Forbath, Trenton Robinson and Justin Rogers, and exclusive rights free agents Chris Thompson and Rishaw Johnson all return, the team will be left with 11 unrestricted free agents, meaning they are free to sign anywhere after March 10.
Safety Ryan Clark was set to become an unrestricted free agent after signing a one-year deal last year. The 13-year veteran instead opted to retire after a lackluster 2014 season.
The team re-signed tackle Tom Compton on February 27, who was slated to become a restricted free agent. Compton played in all 16 games in 2014 and started the final nine games in place of soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Tyler Polumbus.
Exclusive rights free agent safety Duke Ihenacho was re-signed on March 4. As an ERFA, the fourth-year veteran would have had to either re-sign with the team or retire.
Below is a list of the team’s 11 unrestricted free agents.
OLB Brian Orakpo
I say bring Orakpo back because the Redskins need help with their pass rush. If they bring him back, it should only be on a reasonably priced deal. If he commands too much, then let him walk. Last year he signed the one-year franchise tender at $11.45 million but only registered a half sack in seven games.
Orakpo has only played in 25 games since 2012. In a contract year, he posted 10 sacks in 2013, which led to his franchise tag designation.
Over the course of his six seasons, he hasn’t quite lived up to the billing of being the 13th overall pick. Two of his last three seasons have been marred by injuries, which bring down his value.
According to Dianna Russini from NBC4, the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars are very interested in the six-year veteran. She also reported that he and the Redskins were working on a long-term contract but “it’s not looking good.”
RB Roy Helu Jr.
Helu Jr. provides a change-of-pace to Alfred Morris’ bruising style. He showed the ability to be a regular starter when he ran for 100 yards in three straight games during his rookie campaign but has proven to be a quality pass-catching running back.
He caught 42 passes for a career-high 477 yards and two touchdowns in 2014.
ESPN980’s Chris Russell reports the team is interested in re-signing Helu Jr. but he’ll test the free agent market and that at best, there’s a 50 percent chance he returns.
DE Jarvis Jenkins
Jenkins, the talk of training camp as a rookie in 2011, has not lived up to the potential he showed before tearing his ACL during his third preseason game in Baltimore.
In the last three seasons, Jenkins has played in 44 games, started 23, registered 75 tackles and two sacks. Signing Ricky Jean-Francois may have put his spot on the team in jeopardy but bringing him back as depth is a good idea if he’s not able to find a starting gig elsewhere.
TE Niles Paul
The Falcons will reportedly be a suitor for Paul’s services if he hits the free agent market, according to an ESPN.com report. Paul played the first three seasons of his career under current Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s scheme. A wide receiver in college, Paul was converted to tight end as a pro and is athletic enough to return kicks.
He posted a career-high 39 receptions for 507 yards and one touchdown in 2014. His versatility is something this team needs at the tight end position because of Jordan Reed’s inability to stay healthy and Logan Paulsen’s workmanlike skill set.
QB Colt McCoy
McCoy was decent at times in 2014, helping lead the Redskins to victories against Tennessee and Dallas. He appeared in five games, starting four. He posted a 71.1 completion percentage and a quarterback rating of 96.4.
He has a year of familiarity with Jay Gruden’s offense under his belt and another one-year deal might be enough to bring him back if he can’t find another team to fight for the No. 2 position. The hope for 2015 is Robert Griffin III grows as a quarterback and grasps the offense and that Kirk Cousins cuts down his mistakes and solidifies his position as the No. 2 quarterback.
Let ’em go:
S Brandon Meriweather
Despite their need for safety, the Redskins reportedly plan to not re-sign Meriweather, according to Russini. A two-time Pro Bowler with the New England Patriots, Meriweather has the propensity to draw penalties, suspensions or even injure himself. Even though he may be a little better than what is on the roster now, it’s clear the team will try to upgrade at safety throughout the offseason.
T Tyler Polumbus
The six-year veteran was supplanted by third-year tackle Tom Compton seven weeks into the 2014 season. The 29-year-old has never consistently used his hulking size (6’8″) the way dominant right tackles typically do. On a team that gave up 58 sacks last season, I see the Redskins addressing the right tackle position through free agency, the draft or possibly both.
WR Leonard Hankerson
Another member of the 2011 draft class that has not panned out, Hankerson was active for only one game in 2014 but did not catch a pass. For his career, he has 81 receptions for 1,081 yards and six touchdowns.
Behind a receiving corps of DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts and last season’s emerging rookie Ryan Grant, the likelihood of Hankerson being more than a No. 4 receiver is slim to none. I see him seeking an opportunity elsewhere.
WR Santana Moss
Moss has had a fantastic 14-year career, including 10 seasons with the Redskins. In his first season as a member of the burgundy and gold, he broke the team’s single-season record with 1,483 yards.
Despite being a fan favorite, the writing has been on the wall for the past yer that his time as a Redskin is winding down. Last season was his worst statistical season since his rookie year in 2001. He appeared in 10 games, started none and was declared inactive for six. He only caught 10 passes for 116 yards and no touchdowns. He turns 36 in June.
NT Chris Neild
The Redskins have already begun to revamp the defensive line. Given Neild’s injury history, it would be a risk to bring him back. Neild tore the ACL in his left knee during training camp in 2012 and tore the ACL in his right knee in the 2014 preseason finale.
Neild appeared in 26 games during the 2011 and 2013 seasons and has a career total of 16 tackles and two sacks.
DB E.J. Biggers
Biggers was a liability in coverage the last two seasons and was brought in partially because of former secondary coach Raheem Morris’ familiarity with him from their days together with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Morris is now in Atlanta with Shanahan, so returning to the NFC South may be an option for Biggers.