The Redskins Should Extend These Five Players Now
The Eagles signed wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey to a contract extension on Saturday. They have now extended two players (Timmy Jernigan is the other) they signed in free agency this past offseason, preventing both from hitting the market in March.
The Redskins have 21 players working on expiring contracts. That’s over a third of Washington’s roster scheduled to hit free agency this spring. The team will have no problem retaining many of the lower priority names on the list. But there will be plenty of suitors for the best players set to test the market.
Here are five players Washington should prioritize getting new contracts in place with before the season ends:
ILB Zach Brown
Brown’s first season in Washington has been immensely impressive. He’s been the team’s best defensive player in 2017 and that’s despite his impact having dissipated some in recent weeks as he plays through a debilitating ankle injury. Brown has made 16 more tackles than any other player in the NFL. He brings a level of speed and run-stuffing to the Redskins’ linebacking group that the team has lacked in recent seasons.
Brown has been great as the leader of a mediocre defense, but he is the kind of guy that could play at a super-star level if there was more talent around him. If Brown was in Baltimore right now, he’d be getting national attention almost weekly. If Washington could lock-up the former UNC standout while also upgrading the defensive line depth in front of him, Brown’s ability to fly around could make him one of the best players in the league at his position.
He’s a good blitzer from the interior and he’s a sure-tackler in the open field. There are few linebackers as fast as Brown and the Redskins’ team-speed on defense is made tolerable almost solely because of how well he runs. Only 28, he could be an impact player on a Super Bowl caliber defense. That’s what every team is looking for.
OL Spencer Long
Long’s contract year was cut short by injuries. He will end up having played in just seven games (six starts) when the 2017 season winds down. Give him credit for trying to play through injury and even playing in a game he was expected to watch from the sideline midway through the year. He’s a tough guy who was part of a solid offensive line at the start of the season, before it was decimated by injuries and its depth was destroyed.
Long has the versatility to play both guard and center, but Washington seems to like him more as a center. Keeping him around shouldn’t cost much money. He was a third-round pick who the organization has invested time and money on developing. He’s become a serviceable player. I had heard that the Redskins were in talks on an extension with him earlier this season, but after he suffered an injury those calls probably subsided.
Can you do better than Long at center or guard? Sure. If you made either position a priority you could draft a guy in the first or second round. You may even be able to throw huge money at a free agent to anchor your interior as well. But is that necessary? I’ve long been a proponent of spending my o-line money on tackle play and using mid-round picks and savvy scouting to find guards and centers. Long is a decent player you can win with.
You have enough needs already. You don’t need to create another one. Long could either start at center next season, or you could slide him over to left guard if you liked what you saw from rookie Chase Roullier. Long is not going to be a drop off from Shawn Lauvao, who the Redskins were content paying handsomely to play left guard at the start of this season.
ILB Mason Foster
Foster is 29 and will be coming off shoulder-surgery that cost him the second-half of the 2017 season. He was playing really well before getting injured, though. He has enough speed and play-making ability to serve as a really nice compliment to Brown on the second level. I also liked the progress he made covering receivers in space.
Originally brought to DC as a scrap-heap addition at the start of the 2015 season, Foster started five games in his first season with the Redskins before taking over an inside-linebacking job in 2016. He’s not the kind of guy who will break the bank, especially after missing 11 games with an injury. But he’s the kind of guy that I think may have more value to the Redskins than he would have on the open market.
Keeping Foster would also be a nice insurance policy in the event that Brown’s price becomes too steep on the open-market. Remember, Will Compton is also a free agent, meaning none of the Redskins’ top three players at Foster’s position are under contract. That’s even more reason to keep him. But I also think there is something to Foster really starting to come into his own as a quality NFL starter.
OLB Trent Murphy
Murphy’s market is going to be a fascinating case study this spring. The last time teams saw him on the field, he was flourishing at one of the most valued positions in football. But in the year since, he’s been suspended for performance-enhancing drugs and missed an entire season with a torn ACL. Needless to say, Murphy’s going to make less money than it looked like he might be able to last winter.
But how authentic was Murphy’s nine-sack 2016 campaign? If he can be an eight-to-ten sack second pass-rushing option, coupled with the way he plays the run, he’s well-worth keeping around. Murphy is big, stout and strong at the point of attack. He got rave reviews at times for how he set the edge early in his career, well before he ever showed that he had pass-rushing skills a year ago.
I wouldn’t pay Murphy a ton. Not with perennial pro bowler Ryan Kerrigan and former second round pick Preston Smith both under contract next season. If you are going to invest in the outside-linebacking spot, you need to try to draft a game-changer in the first round or sign a guy who can be more like Kerrigan than Smith. But the Redskins could do a lot worse than bringing Murphy (and Junior Galette) back and keeping the band together as a slightly above serviceable position group.
My philosophy on pass rushers has always been that if you have three you need four. If you’ve got four that you like you should find a fifth. You just can’t have enough. They are like starting pitchers. But unless you’re going to acquire a game-breaker, which is probably only going to happen in the draft, you should just stress quantity.
TE Niles Paul
Paul is the kind of guy you never think about until he’s not around. But he’s also a player the likes of which Bill Belichick spends months of the offseason overturning stones for. He’s versatile, hard-working, quiet, team-first, loves playing special teams and cares more about football than anything else.
A wide receiver at Nebraska who was converted to tight end by Mike Shanahan, Paul has been used as a blocker and as a receiver over the years. He’s the Redskins’ best lead-blocker out of the backfield. He can also be used as a receiver, split out away from the line-of-scrimmage to box out smaller defensive backs on in-breaking routes.
Paul’s greatest value is on special teams, where he has long been of the Redskins’ better coverage options. He’s replaceable as a guy with a level of production that can be found elsewhere, but the’s the kind of player you want as many of as possible in your building. Keep him around on the cheap and don’t waste time on a decision that doesn’t need to be made. “Glue guys” like him are easy to take care of as an item to check off of your to-do list.
I did not list Kirk Cousins on this list. He and the team aren’t allowed to negotiate in season so he isn’t an option to get a deal done with before January. But even if the Redskins could make him an offer right now, I don’t see a long-term deal happening. The Redskins don’t want to pay him what it will take and Cousins has no reason not to try to test the market and possibly find a better home at this point.
Also, I excluded the name Bashaud Breeland as well. I think Breeland is having a terrific contract year and I’ve long considered him to be a future No. 1 cornerback. He’s physical and covers well often enough to show massive upside. The reason I kept him off this list is because I don’t think the Redskins can afford to pay him what it will take to keep him, especially when considering that position-mate Josh Norman’s cap number will be $17 million next year.