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Redskins Free Agent Analysis: to retain or not to retain

If it hasn’t been defined already, Mike Shanahan’s tenure as the Redskins personnel guy will be defined by how he manages the Redskins existing roster this offseason.  It’s a trying time.  He’ll have to make decisions on O.J. Atogwe and DeAngelo Hall, who have contracts.  He will have to make a decision on London Fletcher, on Adam Carriker, and on LaRon Landry, who do not have contracts.

And that’s just the defense.  Mike Shanahan can’t go any longer coaching an offense that turns the ball over as often as it scores touchdowns.  You just can’t survive in the NFL that way, and frankly, you have to be a “somebody” to have survived a 30 game turnover streak, particularly since every coach that ever did survive such a performance almost certainly had to concede to fire their offensive coordinator in order to get another crack at it.  Shanahan got started early shaping his 2012 offense, deciding to protect WR Aldrick Robinson over RB Ryan Torain, which was probably an intelligent (if ultimately meaningless) decision.  To fix this offense, tough decisions may need to be made with the only Redskins to have played on the 2005 team that won a playoff game: Santana Moss, Chris Cooley, and Mike Sellers.  Tough decisions may need to be made with Jammal Brown, who the team gave up a fourth round pick to acquire and then signed to a long-term deal, and with Tim Hightower, who is coming off surgery to repair an ACL and the Redskins gave up a 6th round pick to acquire.

The alternative to the idea that the Redskins have begun to value their draft picks is that the three players they gave up picks for were Donovan McNabb, Tim Hightower, and Jammal Brown (and if you want to be liberal with the definition of ‘gave up picks for,’ add Roy Helu).  On the plus side, they were successful at improving the running back position for their efforts.

Anyway, the past record may end up irrelevant.  The fact that the Redskins haven’t been good under the Shanaplan does not mean that it will never work.  But I will go as far as saying that if they can’t get it right in the offseason leading up to the draft, then it is safe to say it will never work.  The 2012 offseason is pivotal in that way.  

I will examine the Redskins unrestricted free agents, and look at who the Redskins need back next year and who they can let walk.

London Fletcher

On May 19th, London Fletcher will turn 37.  Training camp will still be two months away.

There is probably no 37 year old in the league who means as much to his team at London Fletcher.  Peyton Manning will be 36 in March.  If he plays, there is an argument to be made for Ray Lewis being more important to the Ravens than London Fletcher to the Redskins, but I’m not even sure that is accurate at this point.  For argument and comparison only, here is a list of 36+ year olds and the approximate value of their 2011 seasons.  Here is a similar list over a three year span.

The lists are clear in one thing: in Fletcher, we are talking about a player who is more comparable to Ray Lewis than to any other player at his age or older.  Unlike Lewis, Fletcher is not openly considering retirement and is argably aging better than Lewis is.

So what might Fletcher cost?  According to rotoworld.com, this deal was signed by a veteran (formerly of an NFC East team) on February 28th, 2009:

2/28/2009: Signed a five-year, $17 million contract. The deal includes $7.2 million guaranteed. Another $10 million is available via performance incentives. 2011-2013: $6 million, 2014: Free Agent

That contract was signed by Brian Dawkins, who turned 36 that Fall.  A $7 million guarantee sounds like a minimum for keeping Fletcher in town, meaning that a contract to him will probably be at least three years.  If it is longer than three years, that will just be for cap purposes, though the Redskins under Bruce Allen have shown no propensity to use contractual dummy years to lessen the cap hit of free agent contracts.

There is reason to believe Fletcher can put up a good season or two under a new contract, though once we reach 2014 (assuming Fletcher still wants to play), you’re talking about an incredibly abbreviated number of quality starter seasons since the merger by non-quarterbacks, and the list itself is almost exclusively comprised of hall of famers.  Former Redskin Ray Brown was pretty much the only post-merger exception to the rule, who continued to play 16 game seasons late into his 40s and managed to be a quality reserve on the 2004 and 2005 Redskin teams.  The lesson is it doesn’t matter how well London Fletcher takes care of his body, we’re now down to the last season or two seasons of a great career (I’ll put my money on two seasons).

So a three year contract with seven million guaranteed, I think you’re looking at a total value of about $16 to $18 million in total value with $5.5 or $6 million (non-guaranteed) in the last season of the deal which Fletcher is unlikely to see due to anticipated retirement.  So for his age 37 and 38 seasons, the Redskins need to pay Fletcher about $6 million per season (which is actually a higher annual value than he signed for back in 2007), and guarantee him his 2012 salary (around $5 million).  So if the deal is structured salaries of $5 million-$5 million-$6 million, then either the Redskins should guarantee $2 million of Fletcher’s second year salary, or add a $2 million signing bonus in the deal.  Doing it the former way gives the Redskins protection against Fletcher’s retirement.  Doing it the latter way gives the Redskins a bit more flexibility if Fletcher struggles.

The real issue here is that the Redskins have had a bunch of chances to work out a reasonable Fletcher extension, and never bothered to initiate contract discussions.  His age had plenty to do with that I’m sure, but the rumblings that have come out of the Fletcher camp sound a lot like a lot of past players who have left the Redskins with some hard feelings.  I think Fletcher will be back, but I think he’s more likely to look for best offer than people think.

LaRon Landry

In the case of LaRon Landry, we have the kind of deal where the player is dealing with a potentially serious injury for the first time in his football career, and he’s not handling it all that well.  LaRon Landry may not lack durability so much as he lacks common sense.  Conversely, since I’m not close enough to his personal situation to speak with great information, Landry may be acting in his personal best interest, and may simply have a durability issue.  If the Redskins don’t know better, they’ll need to treat it like a durability issue.  They may no better.  This analysis will assume we’re dealing with a player who has an injury history.

The best option here is the franchise tag.  The market value for a player of Landry’s quality who is just shy of 28 years old comes out to between $6-8 million dollars per season.  Michael Huff got a deal last year that payed him $32 million dollars over four seasons, and $16 million in the first year of the deal (mostly a signing bonus).  Landry is a better, more valuable player than Michael Huff.  Though no safety is likely to receive the percentage of guaranteed money Huff got from the Raiders (which was out of line with the market), $8 million dollars a year for a young, talented safety with a good resume is not obscene, it’s market value.

Landry would essentially have to sign a contract that allows a team to get away from him after one year.  Antrel Rolle’s contract with the Giants was 5 years/$37 million.  Landry, even on a bad foot, is a better player.  Rolle is just over two years older than Landry and hit the market two years ago.  If the market believes they are getting a player who will be in the pro bowl sooner rather than late.  Still, compare him to the Atogwe contract: if Landry hits the market, it’s going to cost at least ten to twelve million in first year money (signing bonus plus salary) to get his signiture.  To date, Landry’s career looks like the start of Bob Sanders’ career or John Lynch’s career.  Landry’s career path can still fall anywhere between his best years being in the rear view mirror to having a kind of borderline hall of fame case with multiple pro bowls and maybe an all-pro season in there.

The projected franchise tag value for a safety in 2012, according to Football Outsiders’ Brian McIntyre, is between $6.2 and $6.5 million.  If the Redskins are for any reason not sold long term on Landry, it would be absolutely inexcusable to not put the franchise tag on him for 2012 — unless of course the Redskins are actively looking to be rid of him.  Performance wise, Landry is probably the best player on the defense when healthy.  There’s a lot of things he cannot do.  He can not cover anyone man to man.  He can not stay healthy.  He doesn’t always have a great frame of mind for the mental side of the game (celebrates too many tackles on opponents’ succesful plays).  And at the end of the day, his coverage range and physical presence are every bit as important to the team as London Fletcher’s leadership and consistency are.

At the end of the day, Landry will be more difficult to replace than the next guy on this list, who at least may be a better player right now.

Fred Davis

The franchise tag value for a tight end has been estimated between $5.4 to 5.7 million.  That’s cheaper than a safety tender, but the Redskins’ aim should be to avoid the franchise tag with Fred Davis and get an extension done.

Comparable contracts?  Greg Olsen signed an extension with the Panthers for 5 years/$24.7 million.  Jason Witten signed for 5 years/$37 million with $19 million guaranteed.  Marcedes Lewis signed for Jacksonville for 5 years/$35 million, with a guaranteed figure for a TE of $17 million.  Vernon Davis signed for 6 years/$42.7 million with $23 million guaranteed before the 2010 season.  Kellen Winslow signed for 6 years/$36 million with $20 million guaranteed before the 2009 season.  Cooley’s deal was (and is) 6 years/$30 million prior to 2007.  Cooley will make about $4 million a year these next two years.  The average annual value of a Fred Davis contract will need to exceed that.

Every player on that list except Witten was drafted in the first round, which I’m sure pressure their teams to keep them and commit to them.  There is a good chance the Redskins can get Davis locked up with a deal that doesn’t neccessarily approach those other deals.  But the average value of those contracts ranges from $5 million a year to a little over $7 million a year.  The Fred Davis contract will certainly fall into that range.

I think 5 years/$27.5 million (identical to the Jammal Brown deal) probably gets it done as long as the Redskins guarantee Davis about 40% of the contract (which comes out to $12 or $12.5 million — much more than the Brown deal).  You’re looking at a signing bonus of $5 million, a guaranteed first year salary of about $4 million and about $3 or $3.5 million of his second year salary to be guaranteed with some money tied up in roster bonuses in years 3-5, plus incentives.

In case you are wondering, the amount of cap space it will take to have Landry under the franchise tag with the two proposed contracts to Davis and Fletcher comes out to $17 or $17.5 million under the 2012 cap to keep all three of them.

Adam Carriker

Carriker is unlikely to command a huge contract, as something like 3 years/$9 million or 2 years/$8 million likely gets his signature.  But if he’s going to be a reserve, it’s worth questioning if that’s worth it.  Carriker proved in his time with Washington that he’s a viable player to teams that play a true two-gap 30 front, which makes him an attractive option to a number of teams who have a hole in their roster at the DT position.

If Carriker is looking for $4 million in a signing bonus, he’s going to cost about $3 to 3.5 million on the 2012 cap.  That’s a backup QB committment, but maybe not so much for a defensive lineman.

I think Carriker will be out there on the market for a long time, and I could see him returning to Washington if other teams who bring him in for a visit end up going in a different direction.  The need for a player like Carriker on the roster is there.  But the Redskins aren’t going to get in a bidding war for him.

Will Montgomery

Montgomery is among a ton of centers in free agency this year and will get buried amongst much bigger names.  The best name was John Sullivan of the Vikings, but he’s been signed long-term.  Dan Koppen of the Patriots, Matt Birk of the Vikings, Scott Wells of the Packers, Jeff Saturday of the Colts, Casey Wiegmann of the Chiefs, Samson Satele of the Raiders, and Chris Myers of the Texans all have expiring contracts.  Add to that list Olin Kreutz, formerly of the Saints, and at least temporarily retired.  That’s six pro bowlers, and one of the two guys that isn’t a pro bowler (Myers) might be the best of that bunch.  Mike Shanahan drafted Chris Myers.  He also traded him.

What could make it harder to retain Montgomery is if Kreutz, Birk, Saturday, Wiegmann, and perhaps even Koppen (though unlikely) all have played their last down in 2011.  If the NFL loses all those guys to retirement, now the free agency class looks like 1) Myers, 2) Wells, 3) Montgomery and all of a sudden there are more than three teams with a need at center.  But if some of their teams retain their veterans, it’s unlikely that Will Montgomery will receive a starter offer elsewhere.

Kedric Golston

Golston becomes a really interesting case.  With Carriker likely to receive offers to play for other teams, it’s worth pointing out that in 2011, Golston was a more effective player on a down by down basis than Carriker was.  This is a guy who was awful in 2010 and lost his starting job for 2011.  Now he might make the most sense to be brought back on another one-year deal to provide depth.

In a perfect world, the Redskins could spend $2 million in cap space and have both Golston and Carriker back in 2012 as backup defensive lineman, providing the unit the depth it needs pending one rookie DE to come out of the draft (probably late in the draft).  But it might be tough to retain them both.  So I would say that if it came down to picking between the two, I would take Golston on a one year contract.

Tim Hightower

The Redskins need to bring in a veteran at RB, and because of the nature of Hightower’s injury (knee), I would think of his 2012 prospects more as a two position backups (RB and FB) rather than a guy who can carry a load in any one of the 17 weeks of the season.  That does fit what the Redskins want to due in terms of featuring Royster and Helu.  The good thing about Hightower is that he’ll be inexpensive on the cap, and he won’t prevent the Redskins from adding a RB they really like in the draft.  They can keep four RBs if the fourth RB is Tim Hightower.

The argument against offering Hightower a one year contract is that he might not be the best guy for the job available.  BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cedric Benson, Ronnie Brown, and Cadillac Williams are better players and could be just as available.  Mike Tolbert will come with more of a financial investment, but if you’re looking for a two position backup, he’s a better fit.   Earnest Graham might be looking for a new destination.  Just an athlete who can line up in or out of the backfield and can threaten defenses.  What the Redskins really ‘need’ is a matchup nightmare or moveable chess piece.  The Redskins were interested in Darren Sproles before the 2010 season when the Chargers reluctantly decided to tender him.

Unfortunately, there are no players like that in this free agent RB class.  The closest player may be Jerious Norwood or Justin Forsett.  It’s more likely the Redskins give Steve Slaton a shot, though that would not be a good decision giving Kyle Shanahan’s history of favoring Slaton over much better runners.

Rex Grossman

The Redskins would be better off with Rex Grossman back in the fold in 2012, but one thing they cannot do is guarantee his 2012 salary to have him.  There is talk of the Redskins picking two quarterbacks in the draft, and I think they will sign a veteran.  That’s three guys added to the roster.  While I wouldn’t be in a hurry to turn over absolutely everything about the position on the Redskins, Grossman’s value to the team in 2012 comes only if they 1) avoid the free agent market for QBs, or 2) have a rookie as a third stringer.  Grossman does no good on the roster as the third quarterback.

The Redskins can budget $3 to $4 million in the cap for a backup QB (or starter in some cases where the no. 2 guy is a rookie second round draft choice).  That should outbid all other offers for Grossman, making Washington the only place Grossman could win the starters job as well as the place offering him the most money.

Darrion Scott/Keyaron Fox

Should be added to the 80 man roster.  Fox is an excellent insurance policy for a long Fletcher injury, and probably should have been playing instead of Rocky McIntosh while the Redskins prepared Perry Riley for the job.

Rocky McIntosh

I would not even tender Rocky McIntosh (or Kentwan Balmer, or Donte Stallworth) a contract on the 80 man roster.  It is time to move on.