With so many defensive players who are impending free agents I’m splitting this in two parts.
-Baker is the back-up nose tackle who is playing on his restricted free agent tender this season. Though he had bounced around the league for a while, Baker found a home in the Redskins Defense last year and performed fairly well. Though he doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher and probably isn’t well suited for a starting role, Baker helps the Redskins as a good run defender. As a situational player that is pretty beneficial considering he sees a good bit of action on crucial 3rd and short and goalline plays. If Baker can once again excel in this area the Redskins would do well to throw him some money to keep him around.
-Orakpo is the big fish when it comes to potential free agents next year and with him coming off a serious injury it at least opens the possibly that he might not be a Redskin after this season. That though is still the last resort because Orakpo is the Redskins best defensive player, and his pass rush is key to getting the most out of so many other defenders. Any sort of re-injury would be a concern, but with nearly a full year to recover this time, it is expected that Orkapo will be 100%. Though his sack numbers aren’t the most gaudy, Orakpo is near an elite level as a pass rusher. In 2011 his sacks and hurries per pass rush were nearly top 5 in the league among all pass rushers. One thing the Redskins can do to help improve those sack numbers is have him rush the quarterback more often. While at times a rush linebacker will need to drop into coverage, the Redskins were having Orakpo (and Kerrigan) drop off the rush more than they should. The Redskins should expect big things from Orakpo this year and will likely reward him big next offseason.
-Riley followed him his solid half a season in 2011, with a good full season as a starter this past year. He’s not a top tier ILB/MLB, but he’s an effective starter. Whether Fletcher hangs them up next year or is back the Redskins probably want to ensure some stability at the position and will look to bring Riley back if possible. The biggest issue with Riley is consistency as he still is out of position more than you’d like for a guy that you would be signing to a significant extension. While an improvement in Riley’s numbers would be nice, the real issue is if he can just play at his peak level week-in-week-out.
-From a leadership/toughness perspective, the Redskins should hand Fletcher a blank check, unfortunately the salary cap doesn’t let them do that and Fletcher needs to earn his pay. Last season we may have seen Fletcher’s age finally creep up on him as his play was pretty down. Fletcher still racked up the tackles, but too many of them were down the field as opposed at at or near the line of scrimmage like years past. Fletcher also missed more tackles last season than his previous two years combined. If that wasn’t bad enough, the biggest drop off in Fletcher’s production was in coverage, where he was routinely burnt by tight ends for big gains. If Fletcher looks to keep playing after this year, he needs to have a big bounce back season, particularly if he wants any sort of significant money.
-Jackson will have his work cut out for him this season as he needs to prove his worth in 12 games (hopefully more with the playoffs) as opposed to 16 games due to the suspension. Jackson did well to fill in for Brian Orakpo last year as a strong guy versus the run and in coverage, but he lacked the pass rush aspect of his game. Unless Jackson improves in this area it will be tough for him to be anything more than a back-up and the money won’t likely be too much. Barring an injury to one of the starters, Jackson won’t have many chances to prove himself this year so every snap is crucial for him.