This is unit is probably the strength of our team, not just because we have multiple Pro Bowl caliber players, but also because it has more depth than any other unit. However, there are definitely some huge decisions to be made on this unit. Lets take at look at what we have going into the offseason:
OLB: Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Rob Jackson, Lorenzo Alexander, Markus White: Strength of the team. We literally do nothing here besides maybe a practice squad guy to push White. Jackson has made the most of his time and always seems to have a knack for being around the ball. Lorenzo is just an awesome Redskin who plays the OLB well, but could probably play any position on the front 7 in a pinch. He is a great special teamer. There aren't enough great things to say about Zo. Markus White is too young and raw to tell anything at this point, but he showed flashes in the preseason. I'm actually very intrigued by him and look forward to following his growth as a Redskin. And oh yea, those Orakpo and Kerrigan guys are pretty good too. They could both be Pro Bowlers this year.
ILB: London Fletcher (FA), Perry Riley, Rocky McIntosh (FA), Keyaron Fox (FA): Fletcher is a free agent but it looks like the Redskins have every intention of making him them top priority in free agency. Hopefully inking Fletcher to a 2 or 3 year deal (or a backloaded 4) is just a mere formality at this point. Every Skins fan should want to see this man retire a Redskin. Riley was a pleasant surprise in his second year, proving himself a capable starter in the NFL. The best part is that he is only 23 right now and can only get better. McIntosh seems expendable now that Riley is fit for the job and always had at least one foot in the Shanahan (or Haslett) doghouse. He is probably a better fit for a 4-3 OLB. The divorce works on all levels. I would like to see Fox back as depth capable of manning the position in an emergency and for his special teams prowess. With McIntosh likely out, the Redskins will look to add depth here. Lets take a look at the most reasonable options:
There are better free agency options out there, but we already have our starters. They guys I listed seem like they could potentially sign as third stringers and be within our price range, but they could also find starting jobs somewhere, besides Tatupu. Honestly, I am not interested in this crop of free agent linebackers and feel that with the state of the depth chart, drafting a ILB is an ideal option. Marve is a name that I've heard thrown around a bit and Williams is another potential option that both fall within the 4-7 round range where we will probably be looking at an ILB. James-Michael Johnson, however, is a guy I truly hope we get. I watched some of his tape and noticed a few things. He moves very well. He has incredible instincts. Every play he seemed to know exactly where to be on the field. If he had coverage responsibilities, he blanketed his man. He is a little small, but has great pursuit. If larger defenders can tie up the other teams blocker, he gets to ball carrier very efficiently. His coverage skills are what really stand out. That is special for an ILB. Almost anyone in the league can fill the gaps and stop the run, but Johnson's potential to be effective in pass coverage makes him a special prospect. I would be thrilled to get him in the 5th. Hell, I would be thrilled to get him in the 4th.
Potential 2012 Linebacker Depth:
OLB: Orakpo, Kerrigan, Jackson, Alexander, White
ILB: Fletcher, Riley, Johnson, Fox
Elite unit. Stays pretty much the same, but replace Rocky with a developmental project in Johnson.
Review of my current offseason projections (based on Offensive Line, Defensive Line and Defensive Backs Primers):
1- Ryan Tannehill (QB - Texas A&M)
2- Mike Adams (OT - Ohio State)
3- Kevin Zeitler (G - Wisconsin)
4- Brandon Taylor (S - LSU)
4- Michael Brewster (C - Ohio State)
5- James-Michael Johnson (LB - Nevada)
7- (Not used yet)
FA (significant cap figures only):
ILB London Fletcher - 3 years, 18 million
C Chris Meyers - 4 years, 25 million
NT Paul Soliai - 5 years, 28 million
CB Terrell Thomas - 5 years, 25 million
DE Adam Carriker - 3 years, 9 million
S Sean Jones - 3 years, 6 million
G Kory Lichtensteiger - 1 year (RFA tender), ~2 million
Only about 30 million against the cap here and we are going in 45 million under, before releasing any players or counting our cap bonus from last year. That gives us enough room to sign our rookies and add 1 or 2 more free agents, including one of the marquee WR on the market. Am I in favor of a big splash like that? Stay tuned for my Offseason Position Primers: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends. Coming tomorrow.