The phrase “build it right” has been repeated quite often by the Washington Redskins‘ decision-makers this offseason, an approach that emphasizes taking a longer view rather than trying to fill every hole right now. With a new coach (Ron Rivera), and a new top personnel man (Kyle Smith), the Redskins know they can use the 2020 season to assess who they want to keep and how to attack in the future while trying to win.
The Redskins didn’t sprint to find a short-term replacement after they traded left tackle Trent Williams last month. Rather than sign an aging veteran, they want to see whether anyone on the roster can handle the job.
They took a similar approach in free agency and the draft. In the short term, it could result in more questions about the roster. But it also provides the Redskins with a great deal of future flexibility when it comes to the salary cap, allowing pursuit of big-time free agents or retention of their own.
By trading Williams, the Redskins created another $12.5 million in salary-cap space. They now have about $35 million available, prompting fans to wonder: Who else are they going to sign? The answer for several weeks is not the one most want to hear: nobody who will be expensive. Their lone veteran signing since trading Williams was veteran cornerback Aaron Colvin. Terms are not yet known, but it was most assuredly a small deal.
Washington did sign 12 players from outside the organization once free agency began, but the most expensive deal went to cornerback Kendall Fuller (four years worth up to $40 million). The Redskins made receiver Amari Cooper an offer of more than $20 million per year, but he opted to remain with the Dallas Cowboys. They weren’t aggressive in pursuing other big-money players.
As a result, Washington already has $75 million in available cap space in 2021 and will be able to carry over any unused space. Plus, at some point quarterback Alex Smith will likely come off their books. If, for example, he’s released after this season, the Redskins would gain another $13.6 million in cap space.
The Redskins could become big players next offseason if they choose, and the extra cap room allows them to retain the players they want. Rivera did not want to extend players this offseason, which was part of the reason Williams and cornerback Quinton Dunbar sought trades. Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, a free agent after this season, would have been extended by the previous regime. Now, like the others, he must prove himself to a new coach.
Among those who will be expensive in future years: right guard Brandon Scherff, who might end up playing under the franchise tag this season, and defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, a free agent after the 2021 season. Of Washington’s 86 players under contract, 66 are 26 years old or younger. It’s conceivable that 70% of the roster will be 26 or younger in 2020, including 18 starters.
“As we develop and grow, it’s not going to happen overnight,” Rivera said this offseason. “That’s one of the things that we feel we have: more time to be patient and develop these guys.”
Washington has a base it can build around and plenty of flexibility with 22 players under contract in 2022.
Drafting Chase Young
There was little doubt that taking Young with the No. 2 pick was always the Redskins’ No. 1 desire. Had they wanted to fill more immediate holes, they could have aggressively shopped the pick, though there’s no guarantee they would have found a suitor — Miami, for example, stayed put at No. 5 and still got quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
The Redskins decided early on that if someone made them an outrageous offer they would listen, but they knew how hard it would be to find potential playmakers such as Young.
Said Rivera: “Chase was the one guy that would really carry the load for us as far as that pick. It would have been very hard to convince me that somebody else would be as impactful as the guy we drafted.”
After trading Williams to the San Francisco 49ers, the Redskins could have signed veteran free-agent tackle Jason Peters. They know he would be their best left tackle even at age 38, but they didn’t want to spend just because they had the cap space; rather, they want to see if anyone on the roster can become a quality starting left tackle. First up: Geron Christian.
Part of the thinking: If they sign Peters, they would still need another tackle after the season, and it’s debatable how much better they’d be in 2020. Christian is a free agent after 2021 and they want to know whether he can be more than a swing tackle. If he can be, it alters their future search at this position. If not, they can find one next offseason. And if Christian or others struggle in training camp, they could pivot from their current thinking.
This should be a natural ascension for Christian, a third-round pick in 2018. Before being drafted, Christian was considered an athletic tackle with long arms who could be developed. ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay projected Christian as a second-round pick.
But doubts will persist with Christian, who hasn’t shown he is capable of being a full-time starter. There were questions internally about his play demeanor last season. Despite the mess that was their 2019 season — the Redskins finished 3-13 and fired coach Jay Gruden after five games — Christian started two games and played 138 snaps on offense, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They continued to start Donald Penn at left tackle ahead of him, even though they knew Penn didn’t factor into their future. It spoke volumes about their thoughts on Christian’s development.
However, they want to see whether staying at one spot helps. Of those snaps last season, 75 were spent at right tackle and 50 at left tackle (the remaining ones were as an extra tight end in short-yardage situations).
They also drafted tackle Saahdiq Charles in the fourth round this year, though they will also work him at guard.
“Growing up an offensive lineman, I watched Trent plenty of times,” Charles said. “I have a lot of respect for his game. Just to see that they traded him and they picked me, just shows what they might have in mind for me.”
The Redskins know this is the best time to see what they have and go from there. It’s the prism through which they have viewed their offseason.
“He’s a guy that has a chance to contribute early on,” Rivera said of Charles, “and quite frankly, because we’re starting over, we’re starting from the beginning, everything is on the table.”