Redskins Ignoring Undrafted Free Agents

Washington Commanders

I gave Coach Shanahan and the Redskins a lot of credit for the way they handled this offseason with signing O.J. Atogwe and a strong draft class, but now I’m starting to change my tune. While the undrafted free agent market is an afterthought to most fans, it shouldn’t be one to an NFL team, especially one that is rebuilding like the Washington Redskins. Yet for the last two seasons the Redskins have barely attempted to participate in this market. Which is a colossal mistake for the Redskins and one that they are likely to regret.

Now before I get ahead of myself, I wanted to dispel a number of myths that seem to be coming out of Redskin Park and from Skins fans:

Myth 1: Undrafted free agents never have an impact and they are a waste of time-

This is absolutely untrue, yet it seems to be a prevailing myth among fans. Undrafted free agents made up nearly 40% of the players that were on NFL rosters last season (important to remember that this is over time, not guys who were signed last year). Now obviously the sheer number of UDFA’s each year means that it will have a higher percentage than say the 5th or 7th round, but still it is impressive to think how many guys do end up making it.

While few UDFA’s ever become more than an average starter or Special Teamer, it is important that we don’t forget that a team needs more than just 22 guys to win a game each week. Football is a team sport and you will likely need contributions from all 53 players (and actually due to injuries it is more like 60+ players) in a season if you hope to be successful. So while the impact might not be great, your back-ups, Special Teamers and average starters are highly important to your team’s success.

It changes each year, but I’d say on average 3-5 UDFA’s end up making each team’s roster in a given season (some teams more than others). And of those 100-150 players, I’d say between 20-30 of them make a significant impact as a rookie. Whether it is as an injury replacement, a return man, a kicker/punter or just a diamond in the rough, immediate production is possible from UDFA’s.

Myth 2: The Redskins don’t need to sign a big UDFA class because of their large draft class.

While their can be some correlation between draft class size and number of guys signed, this is a hard argument for the Redskins to make considering last year. Washington only had 6 drafted players last year, yet signed just 5 UDFA’s. Based on the logic we are hearing from the Redskins now, they should have led the league in signings last year, not be at the bottom of the barrel. In fact if you compare the Redskins 5 draft picks after the 1st round last year to their 5 UDFA’s, you will see they did far better on the open market.

Among the Redskins draft picks only one was on the roster for more than 5 weeks of the season, Perry Riley, and he was inactive for most of the year and played in only 8 snaps on defense. Terrence Austin was 2nd on the team with those 5 weeks of participation, in which he logged 45 plays. Beyond that Eric Cook was signed for the final couple of weeks, but never saw the active roster, and Selvish Capers was on the practice squad all season. Those contributions weren’t much, but they far outweighed Dennis Morris who never made either roster. Combined the Redskins 5 picks had 53 offensive or defensive plays on the season, which happens to be the same number as Brandon Banks and Logan Paulsen combined. And it is dwarfed by the 452 offensive plays by RB Keiland Williams. And any argument of the Special Teams contributions of Riley and Austin goes out the window when compared to Banks’s ST play alone.

Amazingly the Redskins only signed 5 UDFA’s last year and 4 of which were on the active roster at some point (Anderson Russell played one game and blew out his knee on a punt coverage play). What’s even more impressive is none of the Redskins signings were even considered big names. Imagine what could have occurred if the Redskins took a normal approach and signed between 10-20 UDFA’s, including a couple bigger names.

As to relating to the draft, it really shouldn’t make any difference. Year in year out the Patriots draft 10+ players yet they always are aggressive when it comes to UDFA’s. And this year that argument goes out the window as teams such as the Packers, 49ers, and Eagles all had at least 7 late round picks (4th-7th rounds) yet have signed 12+ UDFA’s. If playoff teams like the Packers, Eagles, and Patriots (also teams with 10+ draft picks) can sign a number of UDFA’s, wouldn’t it make even more sense for a rebuilding team like the Redskins?

Myth 3: The Redskins aren’t an attractive option for UDFA’s 

This I don’t understand at all. The Redskins roster is made up of rookies, 2nd year guys (whose talent level was addressed above), street free agents, and a number of older washed up players. Sure the Redskins are expected to be aggressive in free agency, but that doesn’t really have an impact with the undrafted guys. I’m guessing that a Marshal Yanda and a Kris O’Dowd, weren’t going to be competing for the same spot on the roster. The Redskins could use depth at just about every position and need competition at the 3 key ST positions. Given the fact that teams had a cap on the amount of money they could spend on UDFA signing bonuses, the Redskins opportunities should have made them a top option.

Myth 4: The Redskins should focus our resources on regular unrestricted free agents, and not waste money on these players.

As mentioned above, the Redskins signing UDFA guys has zero impact on signing top level free agents. When we are signing FA’s we are looking at starters, UDFA’s are signed for ST, work, guys to fill out a roster, practice squad guys and injury insurance.

In fact the exact opposite of this myth can be argued as filling out our roster with UDFA’s is the easiest way to save money. UDFA’s will make $375K this year whereas the majority of players they will replace will make between $550K-1.0 million. Depending on how many UDFA’s that make it, the Redskins could end up saving a couple million. Don’t believe me…look at this example and see:

Let’s say 10 UDFA’s make it (a high number but not impossible, and they do have to earn it)

QB: The Redskins have no 3rd QB and anyone they bring in will cost more than $500K a year and could be more like $750K that is a savings of at least $125K, but is more likely in the $300K range

TE: The Redskins should highly consider trading either Cooley or Davis, as their TE’s are redundant. Davis makes $550K this year so the Skins could save $175K

FB: There was a pretty big name out there in Henry Hynoski, had they signed him they could have released Sellers and his $900K salary, amounting to a $425K savings.

Oline: If a UDFA makes the team to round out the roster, he could take the place of Artis Hicks and his $1.15 million salary ($675K savings)

K: If Gano lost out to a rookie the Redskins would save $105K

LS: Nick Sundenberg was highly inaccurate last year and the team could save $30K

P: Right now Brian Bidwell is under contract for $1.5 million, they could have saved $1.125 million

DE: Phillip Daniels is no longer the player he once was, and they could save $525K if a UDFA guy made it over him.

NT: If the Redskins spend big on a top NT, they could cut Anthony Bryant and his $640K salary ($265K savings, I also am assuming Kemo is cut regardless).

S: The Redskins are set with their starting safeties but their two primary backups (Kareem Moore and Chris Horton) are scheduled to each make $555K, a top UDFA guy would have come in at $180K less.

Combined that would be a savings of $3.360 million. Now 10 guys might have been high, but even if say only 7 guys made it, you could still get over $2 million in savings. That money could be the difference between landing a good free agent or a great free agent.

Where the Skins are at: 

While every other team in this league has reportedly inked at least 10 UDFA’s (some more than 25) the Redskins have landed 3. QB Ben Chappell, RB Shaun Draughn, and OL Willie Smith. While Smith was considered a solid addition the other two look more like practice squad fodder. Considering that rosters are expanding to 90 players for the offseason, this is simply pathetic. How in two years we’ve only managed to bring in 8 UDFA’s is a horrible misstep (particularly when in year one they actually worked out). Although there are still some serious names out there, it is basically too late to really salvage this class. Why the Redskins are sitting on the sidelines is beyond me, but this is not the way a team gets rebuilt.

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