Redskins Debates: What to Fix First on Defense
November 29, 2013 in Redskins Personnel
The Redskins have some interesting decisions this offseason, but one of the most important ones is how they prioritize their offseason needs. Depending on who they cut this team could be looking at replacing up to 12-14 starters or significant contributors (i.e. 3rd WR/CB, Rotational DE etc.). While the Redskins can have a good amount of cap room next year, they can't fill every position in one offseason with quality starters, so some tough decisions will have to be made. The Redskins will have to decide between prioritizing the offense and defense and what positions on each side of the ball take highest priority. First up we will look at the defense and how they should prioritize their needs on defense.
Typically we think on defense as the front 7 (defensive line and linebackers) versus the back 4 (the secondary), but it can be looked at in another way. With the defensive line and the rush linebackers being the front 5, and the inside linebackers and secondary as the back 6 (in a 3-4). The defensive line is responsible for occupying blockers and getting penetration, and the rush linebackers are the key to the pass rush. While the inside linebackers and secondary are more responsible for coverage.
The Redskins currently have all 6 starters of the back 6 up for free agency (Riley, Fletcher, Hall, Wilson, Meriweather, Doughty). Now the hope is that rookie corner David Amerson can take one starting role and possibly have rookies Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas battle it out for a starting safety role. Even if both of those things occur the Redskins will need 4 starters and a replacement for Amerson as the 3rd corner.
With needing so much on the backend it should make sense that it should be the overwhelming priority to fix. That might not be the case though. Right outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is a free agent as well. Not only is he the Redskins best pass rusher, and arguably best defender, but he plays the most important position on defense. He's the pass rusher tasked with attacking the quarterback's blind side and winning battles versus the top left tackles in the league. Re-signing Orakpo or finding a replacement has to be the top priority for this team. Even a guy like Ryan Kerrigan can't fill the role of Orakpo, and no one else on the team looks to be capable of it either.
In addition to having to fill the most important position on the defense, the Redskins are going to need to focus more on the defensive line. Right now Barry Cofield has proven to be a consistent good player along the line, but he's gotten very little help among his other linemen. Even the help he does have could be waning as Stephen Bowen is a near lock to get cut given his hefty contract, decline in play and the fact that he will be coming off a major injury. Back-up Chris Baker is also a free agent and further will weaken a poor line.
Though they don't get much of the glory (sacks, tackles, turnovers), the defensive line is instrumental to a 3-4 defenses success. The best 3-4 defenses have defensive lines that own the line of scrimmage and can put their fair share of pressure on the opposing quarterback. While we can talk about changes to the NFL with it being more of a passing league and all of that, the fact remains that the best defenses continually win in the trenches, and that is why the Redskins need to prioritize the front 5 over the back six.
The good news for the Redskins is that their only big needs along the front five are replacing/re-signing Orakpo and getting one additional starter along the line. They could use more line help, and can maybe add depth, but it's not like they need 2-3 new DL starters.
Inside linebackers vs Cornerbacks vs Safeties-
After filling the starting roles of ROLB and DE, the Redskins need to figure out what is most important among their other starting spots. With having basically two needs at each position the smart play for the Redskins is probably grabbing one good player at each position and then fill in around him at the other starting spot.
Of the three positions safety is probably the biggest need. Safeties don't get paid as much as corners or inside linebackers, but if you can find a quality safety it allows you to do so much on defense. A well rounded safety who can come up and help versus the run or as a blitzer, but who can also cover tight ends or help as the last line of defense is so important. Now finding these safeties can be pretty difficult, and might not be easy to do. If the Redskins can find someone who fits that bill in free agency or the draft they should grab him.
Next I'd look at getting one quality inside linebacker. While some might say that guy is Perry Riley, he doesn't really look to be more than an above average inside linebacker. Now at the right price that is fine, but he's not the top talent the Redskins would love to have in the middle of their defense.
Corner is the third priority of this group. While you want a good corner it's a position that is notoriously overpaid and one that you can get by with just solid play if you can generate enough of a pass rush and can have quality safety play. The Redskins can have those other positions covered and allow them to not overpay for a "top corner". With the way DeAngelo Hall has played this year, if they can re-sign him for a reasonable rate he can be that guy. If not finding a cheaper 2nd tier veteran can help out the Skins for a year.
For the number two spots at all these positions the Redskins are going to need to find them rather cheaply. Either 1 year prove me type of contracts with veterans or with cheap draft picks. The Redskins just can't afford to pay good money to all of these starters. The defense might not turn into the Steelers of the 70's overnight, but with a smart strategy of prioritizing needs the Redskins can go back to having a quality unit.