With the devastating loss of edge rusher Junior Galette to an Achilles injury for the season the Redskins pass rush/OLB depth chart looks a lot less imposing as training camp is about to start. The good news for the Redskins is they still have two very good edge rushers in Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan, but behind them the depth chart is quite sparse. Houston Bates is the next biggest name on the current roster and while he shined in pre-season last year, he was still considered a project player. Perhaps he can help replace Galette some this season, but the Redskins would be wise to add veteran help as well. While there isn’t a free agent that would fully replace Galette’s elite skill set and upside, there are options that will definitely improve their roster.
*Note while Dwight Freeney would ideally be the perfect fit and a guy most capable of replicating Galette’s skill set/impact, John Keim is reporting that currently the Redskins aren’t interested in him. If that changes, he is definitely the number one option by far.
-Neal came into the league as a 3-4 DL 2nd round pick from Purdue, but during his 3rd season the Packers began the transition of him to an edge/OLB role where he found greater success. Over the last 4 seasons he’s notched sack totals of 4.5, 5.0, 4.5, and 4.0 while putting up solid QB pressure and hits numbers as well. He’s been good-to-solid versus the run and he can be a decent 3rd option for the Redskins and can both play an early down and nickel role as a 3rd pass rusher if needed. He’s not going to strike fear in opposing offenses, but he will give you good snaps and can be a decent fill in starter if either Smith or Kerrigan need to miss any games.
-Schofield was a highly touted pass rusher coming out of Wisconsin in 2010, but he suffered an ACL injury leading up to the draft and fell in the 4th round. He had some follow up knee issues early in his career, but has missed just one game over the last three seasons. He hasn’t put up big sack numbers, but he also hasn’t been asked to rush the passer as much as he’s played some 4-3 OLB over the last few years. He has some natural edge ability, and in a situational role he could be effective. He’s also probably the best coverage option on this list, though that isn’t saying much. There would be a definite drop off if he had to take on a starting role for a couple of weeks, but he could probably get by in that capacity and provide around league average play.
-Pace is a long time veteran entering his 14th year in the league, but he has started to see his skills decline over the last few years. Despite that he’s still been starting and playing significant snaps for the Jets and even notched a career high 10 sack season in 2013. Since then he has just 8 combined sacks and he’s seen a drop in pressures, but he still could be an intriguing option for the Redskins. In addition to the veteran leadership/locker room presence which is a big plus in his book, Pace could still be effective in a situational/limited role. He’s still been able to get some pressure on the QB these last few years and if his role is reduced to a 15-20 snap a game type of role he could be semi-productive. With most of the focus on stopping Kerrigan/Smith, Pace could find himself with some favorable match-ups to exploit. One concern with Pace is if Kerrigan or Smith were to miss a game or more, he wouldn’t be a great option to take over a full time role.
-After Pace there is definitely a gap in options here as Biermann has very limited experience in a stand-up role. What he does bring is a solid consistent level of play that has notched 2.0-5.0 sacks every full season he’s had, which some solid pressure numbers. Biermann is also considered a pretty good run defender and could help by resting Smith and Kerrigan on some early downs to keep them fresher to rush the QB in key situations. Biermann basically is a better version of Trent Murphy’s role in the defense these past two seasons. Since he’s not really an option for a full time role, particularly in coverage Biermann is definitely a fall back option, but he could still help the Redskins if they can’t land a better option.
-The lack of 3-4 OLB options is quite apparent on the open market as Wynn who is only converting to the position this offseason and is coming off a lost 2015 campaign due to an ACL tear. Wynn has been a solid rotational DL for his career and spot starter, but he’s never played OLB in the NFL and was just making the conversion this offseason before the Bills waived him after the draft. He’s worth working out to see how his health is and how the conversion is going, but he’s not much of an upgrade if that is who the Redskins have to end up signing.