Lorenzo Alexander celebrates a fumble recovery - Larry French
With limited early round draft picks and the second year of the cap penalty in effect, the Redskins will need to use both creativity and caution to their maximum advantage in 2013 free agency. Washington has 19 players - more than one -third of their 53-man roster - entering free agency this year, some of whom are must-keeps, and need to weigh the value of each carefully. A couple key positions present particularly interesting challenges. Let's first take a look at the linebackers.
The linebacker corps is the heart and soul of the Redskins defense. With a lackluster secondary behind them, the linebackers carried much of the defensive load this season, with contributions from many different players.
One of the biggest concerns in free agency last season was the re-signing of LB London Fletcher, who is a leader both on and off the field. This off season, Fletcher is again in the limelight, but this time for the questions surrounding his possible retirement. While there are young players ready to assume greater responsibilities, Fletcher's retirement would certainly impact how the Redskins handle free agency.
Injuries also play into the situation, with both Brian Orakpo and rookie Keenan Robinson on the mend from pectoral injuries sustained in 2012. Both players should be healthy in time for camp, but this is a recurring injury for Orakpo, who is in the fifth and final year of his contract and scheduled cost $4.2M against the cap. After Rob Jackson's breakout year, some have suggested trading Orakpo, but a restructuring seems a more reasonable course at this point.
Speaking of Rob Jackson... Jackson is set to become an unrestricted free agent after playing his first five seasons in the league with Washington. His last contract was $1.6M for three years and he'll be looking for a raise after his spectacular 2012 season. Jackson played in all 16 games, making 37 combine and 26 solo tackles, deflecting seven passes, forcing two fumbles and recovering one. He also tallied 4.5 sacks (second most on the team behind Ryan Kerrigan), four interceptions (tied for second with DeAngelo Hall behind London Fletcher), and one touchdown. Jackson is a home grown talent and one the Redskins should try very, very hard to keep - within reason.
Brought in this offseason and cut before the regular season started, inside linebacker Bryan Kehl is a six year veteran who has previously played for both the New York Giants and St. Louis Rams. Kehl was re-signed by the Redskins on November 28, 2012 just prior to the Monday Night Football game against the Giants. He played in five games, registering six combine and five solo tackles. If Fletcher elects to return, Kehl might receive consideration in a back up capacity for a minimum contract. Otherwise, he is likely gone.
Fifth year linebacker Chris Wilson has spent his entire career with the Redskins, playing in 16 games every season. With nine solo tackles and .5 sacks, he had a mediocre year in 2012, a season for which he was on a one year contract that only cost $540,000 against the cap. Like Jackson, Wilson is home grown talent, a known quantity that the coaches have seen fit to keep around this long. He is a perennial back up, but a reliable one and one that the Redskins should probably keep if he's willing to stick around at his current rate.
Perhaps the only must-keep player of the bunch, Lorenzo Alexander is the most versatile player on defense, probably even on the team. He is also a fan, media and player favorite. Alexander is a special teams captain, two-time Walter Payton Award nominee and has been elected to the Pro Bowl twice, once in 2011 as an alternate and again in 2012 as the starter. In his six years in Washington, Alexander, who turns 30 in May, has played in at least 13 games every season and 16 games over the last four seasons. He is going to be an unrestricted free agent coming off a three year, $3.8M contract. Alexander is more valuable to the Redskins now, for both his on and off field contributions, than he can be to other teams going forward, and his re-signing should, accordingly, be made a priority. A blockbuster contract isn't necessary, or prudent, but he deserves to be paid.