Another spot that many are bruiting about as a position of need is inside linebacker. Everyone is concerned about replacing London Fletcher. While his performance waned a bit in 2013, it’s an obvious loss to the team in terms of leadership that needs to be filled.
The question is, who’ll step into that role? Riley? A free agent? An older player or a younger player stepping up?
Some people are fretting about the choices left on the team and how no one is available who might step up into Fletcher’s shoes.
It’s certainly easy to understand the concern as all but one of the Redskins players at this position are free agents.
I know everyone is itching to go out and spend nine or ten million on top dollar free agents, but with positions like linebacker, receiver and the secondary having almost no players on the current roster who weren’t hurt last year under contract, it’s obvious the Redskins need to address these holes before spending big.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some good inside linebackers we can employ during free agency, and then we’ll take a look at a few that might fall to us in the draft.
Nick BarnettPhoto Credit: CSN Washington
1. Nick Barnett – 6’2″ 228 32
That’s right – you recognize the name. But the question is, why would I bring this man up? He didn’t play that much for us last year, right?
Because, before you go out and pay someone 3 million who is 32 years old who knows how to make tackles, you might want to notice the guy who was on your roster who did the very same thing for years. Nick Barnett was a tackling machine in both Buffalo and Green Bay. He often recorded as many as 131 tackles for those teams, and even in very spotty play, managed to record 13 for the Redskins. This is a low dollar option player you can bring back instead of paying some other 130 tackle 30+ free agent. Keep in mind, this is a guy who signed with us for 550,000 last year – I expect we could bring him back for around the same amount. If nothing else, he could be a spot performer and mentor for the younger kids.
Donald ButlerPhoto Credit: Rantsports
2. Donald Butler – 6’1″ 242 25
Frankly, this is the person that I would like to see pursued along with Brandon Spikes. He’s young and up and coming, starting almost every game he’s played in. While he’s not necessarily a sack machine, he has produced forced fumbles and interceptions in his young career. I would expect him, coming off his rookie contract, to demand more than his 1.5 million dollar hit last year, however.
Brandon SpikesPhoto Credit: USA Today
3. Brandon Spikes – 6’2″ 255 26
Another younger player who also has nice size for pounding those running backs and punishing them for coming up the middle. Definitely hasn’t been known as a sack artist but has racked up nice tackle totals for not starting every game he plays in. A good young option to complement Riley. Probably will also demand more than his 870,000 hit last year, but could be a less expensive pickup.
Daryl SmithPhoto Credit: Fansided
4. Daryl Smith – 6’2″ 248 31
This is another option – a fill in while we bring in younger talent from the draft to develop. But he’d be anything but a “old man” having recorded 123 tackles last year. In fact, he came back from 2012 where he only played in 2 games with his best year ever. Not only can he tackle, but he defensed 19 passes last year and had 3 interceptions (maybe he can teach our secondary while he’s at it). Granted he might demand somewhere around his 1.1 million dollar cap hit again, but with his ability, it might be worth bringing him in and pairing him up with Riley or Barnett to stop gap while we train younger options for down the road.
Wesley WoodyardPhoto Credit: Fansided
5. Wesley Woodyard – 6’0 233 27
A smaller backer, similar to Fletcher, this is a little more middle of the road age wise. He is a proven tackler who hasn’t started every game he played in, so it might be interesting to see if he could do so for the Redskins. Looking at his numbers when he does get a higher number of starts, he can not only tackle, he can cover, intercept and force fumbles. He would be, however, one of the more expensive additions, having a 3.2 million dollar cap hit last year. He’s in his prime, so that number might likely go up.
Personally, I can see the Redskins resigning Nick Barnett and Perry Riley, possibly after letting Barnett test the free agent market. Then they might likely bring in a free agent such as Butler or Spikes. I would also assume they might likely bring back Bryan Kehl for his special teams play, also a free agent. Keenan Robinson is very much on the bubble due to two years of injury, but if he can come back from his second pec tear, he might be good depth to rotate in when the starters need a breather.
Likely though, we’ll also see the Redskins draft a linebacker. I’ve seen many people wanting to pick up a linebacker in the 2nd round, and whether I agree or not is moot if some of the linebackers that are available drop as far as they are projected to.
The linebackers like Shayne Skov, Chris Borland and Christian Jones are projecting out to the third and even fourth rounds – and if the Redskins want one of them they shouldn’t have to reach. If two of the three or four top linebackers not projecting in the first round start disappearing, they can make their move, but not before. Gathering in extra picks to fill more holes might be a very good draft strategy this year.
If the percentages play out, the Redskins could trade back with a very valuable 2nd round pick, snare a couple of later picks and still have a respectful pick to garner an offensive lineman to develop. 2nd round linemen have proven, over time, to be good risks for eventually becoming starters.
With the second pick in the third round, they’d be well positioned to take one of the young stars at middle linebacker at the correct point in the draft.
So let’s take a look at a few draft prospects:
Chris BorlandPhoto Credit: Knoxnews
1. Chris Borland – 6’0 245 4.76 40 yd dash
309 tackles in his career at Wisconsin have pole vaulted this youngster into national notice. His ability to garner the records for forced fumbles at 13 and tackles for loss at 41.5 show that his speed and size aren’t necessarily a downside to him. Will he likely be able to motor from sideline to sideline like a sprinter? No. Does that mean this kid doesn’t have a motor or the nose for the ball? Not at all. Certainly the same thing might have been said for players like London Fletcher, who only led the team in tackles for how many years?
Shayne SkovPhoto Credit: Zimbio
2. Shayne Skov – 6’2″ 245 4.95 40 yd dash
Tore his ACL in 2011, though most of the scouting reports do show that he regained his explosiveness in 2013. The second year back from knee surgery is often the telling point, and Skov’s 100 tackles for Stanford tend to tell the tale, don’t they? Always seems to be around the ball, has a ball hawk tendency. According to some, he has a tendency to take himself out of some plays by lunging or overreacting. Both he and Chris Borland are projecting in the third round.
Christian JonesPhoto Credit: Sportstalk Florida
3. Christian Jones – 6’4″ 234 4.64 40 yd dash
Has played outside and inside backer, moving to inside just the past year at Florida State. Tall and rangy – takes good angles of pursuit and can cover tight ends and backs out of the back field. Seems he was played more as a cover backer than before as his tackle totals dropped from 95 to 49 from his junior to senior year. He did record 2 sacks, 6.5 QB hits and 7.5 tackles for loss as well. Projected as 3rd to 4th round.
There are some of the options – two of which could be draft picks if the Redskins play their picks correctly. They could trade back, get an offensive lineman and pick up a third where they could even snag two of the prospects I outlined instead of looking too hard in free agency.
Remember, there will also be people available after June 1, since teams wanting to split cap penalties will release players then as well. The market might even be better for the Redskins, as the players will want to sign on to a team in a hurry for camp. They’ll know they were released at a bad time, and might be willing to offer bargain prices if released then. You’ll also have camp casualties that will be available to come in and learn on the fly as backups.
So while the cupboard may appear bare, don’t figure that they have to go out and sign 3-4 big free agent names right away at this position. This is not a panic position. Wide receiver and the secondary are likely to be far more expensive and points of worry.
The next few weeks will show if they intend to re-sign Riley and Barnett as well as Kehl, or if the players are wanting to test the waters to see if they can get better deals elsewhere. If they re-sign all three, expect them to move on only one player in free agency. They have too many holes to fill elsewhere to get spend happy here.