1. Welcome to my annual Blueprint edition of the Ten Yard Fight. This is where I introduce a number of potentially harebrained (hairbrained is also an acceptable spelling of this I found out) ideas for the Redskins to take and use in preparation for the upcoming season. As with most of history's great ideas/plans, this one is also beard-inspired. It should be noted that I waited to write this until my beard advanced to the stage when strangers approach me and offer comments on it. I don't know what it is about beards, but social boundaries melt when a bushy beard is present. The question I get the most when I grow out my beard is, "Wow...your wife must hate you with that thing on your face." Okay...so not as much a question as an indictment of my beard. For the record, my wife hates the beard, not the beard-grower. Once I get to the point where strangers feel like it is okay to assert that I am likely not "getting any" as long as this beard is on my face, I know it is manifesto time. (I also love being able to use this title to pull out the old Jim Zorn picture we made up when he was hired. He was our J-Z.)
2. No matter what happens this offseason, we are likely going to see resources dedicated to both the linebacker and safety positions. This will (hopefully) lead to the kind of depth that improves our special teams unit. After losing Lorenzo Alexander in free agency, we lost some identity on special teams. I thoroughly enjoy watching teams who have at least one spot on their roster designated for a standout special teams player. I think of Matthew Slater in New England most recently, and guys like Eric Weems for the Atlanta Falcons and Brad Smith for a couple different teams over the years. It is the Brad Smith example I wish to follow the most. He was actually drafted to be a special teams player. Coordinators have figured out other ways to use him, but his value on special teams has been hard to ignore. The 2014 Washington Redskins need to have a spot on their roster reserved for a player that may do nothing else except lead the team in special teams tackles and perhaps kickoff return yards. One roster spot for a very valuable specialist. This is probably best filled in the draft, but however they do it, they simply need to get it done.
3. I have backed away from the ledge when it comes to our offensive line. That isn't to say there aren't paramedics on the ground still worried I might jump or fall off. I recognize that our line is likely better than I am prepared to say, but as I have been arguing, I don't want a line that just "isn't the problem," I want a line that is the strength of our team. If that is truly the goal, what we have now is truly not the answer. My boldest prediction and the nicest thing I can say about potentially three of our departing former starters on the offensive line: they will play for another team in 2014. I believe that. After all, didn't Tony Pashos suit up for Oakland Raiders last season? Didn't Jeremy Trueblood suit up for the Atlanta Falcons last season? (They both did.) Wasn't it Tyler Polumbus who beat them out in Washington, making them both expendable? (It was.) This is a classic "It's not you, it's me" situation. I need us to have an elite offensive line--the kind where the center comes up to the line of scrimmage and tells the defense what play we are running and they still can't stop it.
4. It is not unprecedented for a team to churn four starters on its line, but I don't think that is reasonable here, even given our ample resources this offseason. I think we will see a quality class of veteran free agent offensive linemen, especially at the guard spot. My original plan was to sign the best two and then target a starting right tackle at the top of the second round. I think I might need to adapt to the reality that the Redskins are going to target a skill position at the top of the second round. If that is the case, than I would sign the best right tackle and one of the top guards in free agency, and then try for a starting center at the top of the third round of the draft. This would give guys like Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis a chance to show up this summer with an opportunity to prove the Redskins were smart to invest in them. The only way the Redskins have four new starters on the offensive line in 2014 is if at least one of them comes from our current depth. I am not giving up on J.D. Walton as an option for us, but if there is a guy available at the top of the third like Weston Richburg for example (Shoup--check me...do we want him?), I would have a difficult time not taking him, especially if we are able to get a starting corner or wide out in the second.
5. This brings me to the use of our top two draft picks in general. I am convinced that we have to find guys who can start for this team next year with each of our top three picks, which is no easy task (more on that below). As for the picks at the top of the second and third rounds, those guys should absolutely be able to step in and contribute immediately. A lot will naturally depend on which free agents the Redskins sign. I can think of no better positions to allocate these precious draft picks on than cornerback, offensive line and wide receiver. Bringing in blue-chip youngsters at these spots can pay off for many years. None of them would be luxury picks
6. My number one priority is getting some fresh horses on the line (beating that drum). If we don't sign a free agent right tackle, I am sprinting to the podium (Mike Mayock-style) to draft the best offensive tackle on the board at the top of the second round as I said above. My second choice with the second round pick would be a cornerback. I know people see the signing of DeAngelo Hall as kind of eliminating the need for us to be aggressive in the draft, but not according to me (which shockingly matters to nobody). Whether Hall moves to free safety or not, putting another young corner--hopefully with some size--next to David Amerson would set our defense up for greatness. I do believe Richard Crawford will return, and I do believe he will be able to contribute meaningfully in 2014. I still wouldn't consider drafting a corner in the second round as a luxury pick.
7. The idea of drafting a wide receiver with our top overall pick scares me just a little. I understand that modern offenses are largely driven by the studliness of their wide receiver corps these days. Let's not kid ourselves into thinking there will be a Calvin Johnson or a Larry Fitzgerald available by the time we draft. Let's also not kid ourselves into thinking star receivers aren't drafted at the top of the second round. Jay Gruden, as Mike Mayock tells us, fancies moving the ball up the field (or is it down the field?) with a solid group of four or five wide receivers. Unless he finds one or two free agents to come to town that belong in that group, we can all safely assume he is going to target one at this point of the draft. Despite the fact that we have been burned Freddy Krueger-style by wide receivers in the second round as recently as the 2008 NFL Draft, we do need to upgrade the talent level at wide receiver.
8. Notice I did not suggest taking a safety at the top of our draft. (This likely means that is exactly what we will do.) I am not one of those guys who says that you can just throw any guy in the back of your secondary and the job will get done. We have employed that strategy heavily in recent seasons and...the job has been...ummm...this is where I just say I love Reed Doughty. Since we are talking Blueprint here and a plan of attack for safety is needed, let me say that I am willing to consider grabbing a safety in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. I need to see more of Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas. I need to see if the team is going to show any real intention to give Hall time at free safety. Most of all, I think we can help our safeties out most by getting to the quarterback faster and increasing the caliber of corners.
9. As you see in the title, this is only Part 1 of the Blueprint, but there is still a huge piece of Part 1 that we have to address: linebacker. First thing I do is make sure Brian Orakpo does not reach the free agent market. For all the reasons I have previously stated, we need to retain his services. Are you ready for this? I am not going to break the bank to keep Perry Riley. I would like to retain him. I would love to keep that institutional knowledge on our roster. He is our guy, but at some point, we have to decide where to spend a finite sum of money. Similar to my March Madness selection snubbing rule--if you think someone belongs in, you have to take someone else out--if it comes down to resigning Riley or signing a top-tier right tackle, I am choosing the right tackle. I am not certain we will have to make that choice, but I feel uncomfortable locking up Riley with top-dollar cap space. This is usually where Steve Shoup tells me I am an idiot, but I felt like I should at least plan to make a tough decision, and this is it.
10. As I said above, getting a starter out of the fourth round is not exactly a surefire endeavor. It is somewhat essential for us to accomplish this though, and I am PRAYING that an inside linebacker prospect is available for us here. Today's question: If this plays out the way I am suggesting/hoping, tell me which inside linebacker do you think has the best chance of being drafted in the fourth round and starting for the Redskins. Do we think guys like Shayne Skov, Christian Jones or even Lamin Barrow will be able to start for us? Will Al Borland's brother Chris fall? (Probably not.)
In Part 2, I'll engage the other writers to get their highest priority request for the 2014 Washington Redskins and see how they compare.