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The 5 O’Clock Club: Playing GM - assessing free agency targets (RB)

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

Free agency and trading begins: March 14, 4pm ET

Every year, the Hogs Haven writers (not me) put in a ton of effort to analyze potential draft prospects and discuss how they can fit with the Redskins franchise. Last year, the site posted 117 draft profiles -- a veritable gold mine of information.

But long before the Draft (this year, 26-28 April in Arlington, Texas), the league has its very important free agency period. While the Redskins used to be known as “offseason champs” for the habit of throwing big dollars at big-name-but-aging-players in failed attempts to find a quick fix winning formula, more recently, the team has used free agency in a more appropriate way — filling roster holes ahead of the draft.

With that in mind, I thought it would be good to take a look at some potential free agents over the next few weeks. Obviously, not every potential free agent will be available when the 14th of March rolls around. A lot of them will be re-signed by their 2017 team before they ever hit the open market. Still, with the Redskins not in the playoffs, it’s time to look forward, and free agency is the next big thing in the NFL Calendar after the Scouting Combine (Indianapolis, 27 Feb - 5 Mar).

Today, let’s look at the Running Back position.

Finding gold in the Fanposts

Chris in Manassas recently wrote a really solid Fanpost titled 10 Potential (and realistic) Free Agents that discussed... well... 10 potential free agents that the Redskins could target.

I liked his list.

Running Back

Chris in Manassas is recommending Isaiah Crowell from the Cleveland Browns as a free agent target for the Redskins.

The curse of Alfred Morris continues. Since he left the following guys have played running back: Matt Jones, Chris Thompson, Samaje Perine, Byron Marshall, Kapri Bibbs, Pierre Thomas, Rob Kelley, Mack Brown and Daryl Young. That’s just the last three seasons!

Of these it appears Perine and Thompson are the only keepers, but neither right now are that every down back. Crowell is a guy with a ton of potential and has put up some pretty good stats in his time splitting carries in Cleveland, including back to back 8 touchdown seasons. He and Perine would make a nice combo, which would free up Thompson to force all kinds of defensive mismatches.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Career Stats

Isaiah Crowell has just finished his 4th season in the NFL, playing his entire career in Cleveland. While his best year statistically came in 2016, he has been remarkably consistent.

The 25-year old from Alabama State has put together surprisingly good numbers as a running back on the NFL’s worst team. It was in some ways unsurprising that Pryor put up big numbers in 2016 as the team’s primary receiver, since they were constantly playing from behind. It is, however, more unlikely to see a running back on this type of crappy team having success. It may be an indication that Crowell is a better runner than his stats would suggest.

Perhaps the most surprising fact about him is that Crowell entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie. Little was expected of him, and in some ways you could argue that his entire career has been a 4-year long period of surprising over-achievment.

Maybe he can bring that over-achievement to Washington in 2018.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Why would Crowell leave the Browns?

Crowell earned $2.7m as a restricted free agent in 2017, meaning he was given a second-round tender - an indication that the Browns were keen to keep him on the team and thought there was a danger that another team might try to poach him.

One might wonder why the Browns would let him walk this season, after paying a small premium to protect him last year.

The answer may lie in the fact that the Browns hold the first and fourth overall picks in the draft, allowing them to select at least one game-changing player. Last year they went defense, selecting DE Myles Garrett. In 2018, many analysts are predicting that the Browns will take Saquon Barkley, making Isaiah Crowell largely redundant.

Given the choice between backing up a newly drafted rookie on a re-building franchise or jumping to a new team where he could start (and probably win a few games), it’s a good bet that Isaiah Crowell will be looking for a new team this off season. We all know that RBs have short shelf lives, and this may represent Isaiah’s only chance to land on a winning team.

The Redskins can probably offer him as good a situation as any NFL club that is likely to be looking for a veteran free agent starting running back this off season.

Contract

At 5’11, 225 pounds, Crowell has the size to be a punishing runner.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Still, he is probably only an average NFL talent, ranking 22nd in total yards in 2017, and 17th in yards per carry (min 100 rushes).

When it comes to statistically comparable veteran running backs, I’d point to Latavius Murray and Jonathan Stewart for guidance on Crowell’s value.

Jonathan Stewart has a fairly complex contract situation, having accepted a pay cut last March. He has an incentivized contract, but OTC reports his contract as being 2 years, $8m, with an APY of $4m.

Meanwhile, OTC reports Latavius Murray as having a 3 year, $15m contract, with a $5m APY.

I think that Crowell will be able to do slightly better a year later, but here’s a look at the running backs in the $3.5 - $5m price range where Stewart and Murray were in the 2017 off season:

OverTheCap is estimating that Crowell will command about $6.2m per year in the free agent market. Here’s what they had to say about him:

Crowell should be the least risky running back out there. He has run for at least 700 yards, has over 180 receiving yards, and hasn’t missed a game in the last three seasons. He is only 25 so teams should expect a few years out of him. He plays about 50% of the snaps which means he should be a feature player in a two or three man rotation.

Crowell is a bit of a boom/bust type on a weekly basis. While it’s always hard to judge anyone on the Browns, whose personnel and coaching staff are near the bottom of the league, he has had 7, 90+ yard games in the last three years while also having 8 games under 30 yards. I would expect teams to think that he will be more consistent outside of the Browns organization.

Crowell should be able to find an offer similar but a bit lower than the $6.5 million per year contract that Lamar Miller signed with the Texans a few years back. Miller may have looked a bit better in his smaller stint but its somewhat close and both have the age advantage which makes them more appealing.

How would Crowell fit with the Redskins?

Personally, I think Crowell fits the mold of what the Redskins need at Running Back to round out the existing group, if they want to stay with the current program.

He’s likely to cost around $6m per year.

I’d much rather see the team draft a young stud running back with good explosive burst in the second or third round, but if they don’t, I’d rather have a vet like Crowell than yet another late-round runner with limited talent.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Poll

Grade Isaiah Crowell as a free agent Running Back target for the Redksins

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    A
    (82 votes)
  • 46%
    B
    (283 votes)
  • 30%
    C
    (185 votes)
  • 6%
    D
    (41 votes)
  • 3%
    F
    (19 votes)
610 votes total Vote Now
NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports