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The 5 O’Clock Club: Playing GM - a look at free agent edge rushers

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

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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.

We all know that teams will announce most of the re-signings of their 2017 players in the week between the end of the Combine and the start of the new year, so I want to finish up the “a look at free agents” series before the list of available players starts changing hourly. The Redskins have already announced the re-signing of two of their players, and this week saw a high profile player tagged -- Jarvis Landry of the Dolphins. My plan is to publish a look at free agents daily from today through Saturday the 3rd in an attempt to highlight as many free agents as possible ahead of the new league year, which starts at 4 p.m. on 14 March.

Demarcus Lawrence, Cowboys

Seattle Seahawks v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Height: 6’3”

Weight: 265 pounds

Age: 25

Entry to NFL: 34th overall, 2nd round, 2014 , (Dallas Cowboys)

Career Stats

Contract

Lawrence is a tough player to value. In effect, the Cowboys are in the situation with him that the Redskins were with Cousins at the end of 2015, where he’s performed in the last year of his rookie contract, but the guy in charge is nervous about giving him a long-term contract for big money on the basis of that season in light of his lack of previous production.

Lawrence had one good year (‘15), one great year (‘17) and two pretty lackluster years (‘14 & ‘16). How do you pay that?

The answer according to Spotrac is that he should get paid 5 years, $70m, for an APY of $14m.

In real life, the Cowboys will most likely put the franchise tag on Lawrence, and see what he can do in 2018. The franchise tag will likely cost an estimated $17.2m.

How would he fit with the Redskins?

No way the Cowboys reach a deal with Lawrence by the March 6 deadline. I’ll give you three reasons: 1) He’s already had two back surgeries. 2) He’s going to want a deal that starts at $85 million over five years with a $20 million signing bonus and $40 million in guarantees. 3) The Cowboys aren’t 100 percent sure he’s not a one-year wonder because this is the first time he’s had more than eight sacks. Lawrence isn’t providing some hometown discount, so they won’t get a deal done before he gets tagged.

Stephen Jones has already said that the Cowboys are not letting Lawrence go in free agency.

In short, Lawrence isn’t gonna be a Redskin.

Julius Peppers, Panthers, Packers, Bears

Buffalo Bills v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Height: 6’7”

Weight: 295 pounds

Age: 38

Entry to NFL: 2nd overall, 2002, (Carolina Panthers)

Career Stats

Contract

Peppers is among the oldest players in the NFL now, and played last year for the Panthers on a one-year contract with a cap hit of $3.75m. He’s likely to earn $4m or less wherever he plays in 2018.

How would he fit with the Redskins?

Julius Peppers put up 11 sacks last season, proving that he’s one of the very few non-quarterbacks who can play at the age of 38 and still be a force. He’s likely to be in the Hall of Fame before Kirk Cousins retires.

It’s hard to imagine Peppers playing anywhere other than Carolina (where he was drafted in 2002), but if he becomes a genuine free agent in 2018, he would be one of the very few over-30 non-quarterbacks that I would be in favor of signing. As a low-price part-time pass rusher and a locker room leader, I’d make a place for Julius Peppers on the roster, even now.

But, personally, I think Peppers will either play with the Panthers or retire.

Panthers.com wrote a short article about Pepper’s future in January:

The Panthers brought Peppers back on a one-year deal, but they’d be estatic to have him around another season.

As friend and fellow defensive end Charles Johnson said, “Pep can play as long as he wants, clearly.”

But Peppers, who turns 38 in 10 days, is going to take some time before making a decision.

“I’m not sure right now,” Peppers said moments after Carolina’s season ended in a Wild Card playoff at New Orleans. “I want to have some time to reflect and think about everything. Spend some time with my kids and see where my heart takes me.

“The next couple weeks will be a time for me to sit back and look at the overall picture and assess what I’m going to do.”

This is another guy who I just don’t think will be a Redskin, no matter what.

Adrian Clayborn, Falcons, Buccaneers

Dallas Cowboys v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Height: 6’3”

Weight: 280 pounds

Age: 29

Entry to NFL: 20th overall, 2011 , (Tampa Bay Bucanners)

Career Stats

Contract

Spotrac estimates that if Adrian Clayborn were signed in free agency, he would get a 3 year, $28m contract ($9.3m APY).

How would he fit with the Redskins?

Clayborn wouldn’t necessarily make the Redskins pass rush stronger. With Kerrigan and Preston Smith under contract, the ‘Skins are really looking for rotational depth, which Clayborn would provide, but the reality is, for this kind of money the Redskins can probably re-sign Murphy and Galette and get similar or better production.

I wouldn’t complain about this signing, but I’d wonder why the Redskins didn’t just bring back their own players instead. The only reason I can see for a guy like Clayborn over Galette would be if Junior simply felt he had to play on a team where he would get more snaps. Clayborn would have the same reason to sign elsewhere, if he doesn’t stay in Atlanta.

Pernell McPhee, Bears, Ravens

Chicago Bears v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Height: 6’3”

Weight: 269 pounds

Age: 29

Entry to NFL: 5th round, 2011, (Baltimore Ravens)

Career Stats

Contract

Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, the first big free agent signed by Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace in 2015, and safety Quintin Demps were released by the team on Monday.

McPhee, 29, was scheduled to earn a base salary of $7.2 million in 2018, which was too high for a player with only 14 sacks over three seasons in Chicago. By releasing him, the Bears will open up $7.075 million in salary-cap space.

McPhee played extremely hard on defense, and he was also a forceful and entertaining presence in the locker room. However, he missed 12 games with a variety of ailments, including chronic knee issues, since joining the Bears. He was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 21 after trying to battle through a shoulder injury.

Injured and unproductive, McPhee was released by the Bears this week, opening the opportunity for him to catch one with another team. The Bears didn’t think he was worth $7m per season. He’s going to find it hard to score big as a 29 year old taking his 2nd run at free agency. The bottom of the market for veteran edge rushers is around $3.5m, so let’s assume his range is probably $3.5-5m, and that McPhee is likely to get only a one-year or two-year contract with low guarantees and heavy on incentives.

How would he fit with the Redskins?

McPhee would be similar to the McTwins signed last year — a veteran player brought in as a relatively low-cost rotational player. I actually think he might fit well with the Redskins, though I imagine the fan base wouldn’t be enamored with the signing. He has the same kind of flexibility that Trent Murphy offers to play as an edge rusher or with his hand in the dirt like a DE, and the Redskins are always looking for flexibility across the defensive front seven.

Here’s a profile from 2015 when McPhee had finished his rookie contract with the Ravens, before he signed with the Bears:

McPhee was a fifth round pick for the Baltimore Ravens out of Mississippi State in 2011. At 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds he could have potentially filled the role of a situational inside pass rusher or bulked up to play 3-4 end. He ended up providing them with a balance of both roles. He played with his hand on the ground for most of his first two years, lining up at end and tackle in 4-3 looks and also lining up as an end in 3-4 looks. He finished his rookie year with a +20.8 overall grade including a +20.5 pass rushing mark. McPhee also led all interior lineman with a 9.2 Pass Rush Productivity rating.

This past season [2014] was McPhee’s breakout year, a year in which he was able to rank second out of all 3-4 outside linebackers with a +26.0 overall grade (and +28.4 including the playoffs), even though his 540 total snaps were half as many as some of his counterparts. His pass rushing grade of +23.1 ranked him third behind only Justin Houston and teammate Elvis Dumervil, and he managed a solid +3.2 grade against the run.

He not only provides value as an edge rusher but can also do damage from inside. He could fit with either a 4-3 scheme or a 3-4 scheme. The best fit for him would be with a team that embraces his versatility (like the Ravens did) and that shows the willingness and creativity to move him around and maximize his pass rushing ability. Expect McPhee to garner plenty of interest if he hits the open market.

Personally, I wouldn’t object to McPhee as a low-cost signing, and he would fit in as a front-7 McTriplet, along with McClain (if he’s not cut) and McGee.

Alex Okafor, Saints, Cardinals

Detroit Lions v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Height: 6’4”

Weight: 261 pounds

Age: 27

Entry to NFL: 4th round, 2013, (Arizona Cardinals)

Career Stats

Contract

This estimate looks wildly high to me. Okafor signed a one-year “prove it” deal with New Orleans a year ago for $2m then tore his Achilles in Week 11.

At this point, he looks like a $1m a year player, or even a vet minimum signing; someone similar to Junior Galette in 2015-16, but without the pedigree.

How would he fit with the Redskins?

Okafor has been a part-time and oft-injured player with both the Cardinals and the Saints.

He was a free agent this time last year, and this was written by a New Orleans writer at the time:

A fourth-round pick in 2013, Okafor played just 23 percent of Arizona’s defensive snaps in 2016, but there were a couple factors involved. The Cardinals traded for Chandler Jones before the season, and Okafor was playing through a torn biceps.

As a backup, Okafor still had 3.5 sacks last season, but the Saints would obviously be hoping he could match his performance from 2014 when he had a career-high eight sacks.

In Arizona, Okafor primarily played strong-side linebacker in the Cardinals’ 3-4 defense. At 6-foot-4, 261 pounds, Okafor could play defensive end in the Saints’ 4-3, which would be a similar switch to what Paul Kruger made last season after arriving in New Orleans.

New Orleans actually got 10 games and 4.5 sacks from Okafor in ‘17 before he tore his Achilles in Week 11.

He’s looking like a player who may or may not get another chance to play in the NFL. His best opportunity may be to sign a vet minimum deal with the Saints and try to show that he can stay healthy for a year.

I don’t see him as a Redskins in 2018 at all.

Connor Barwin, Rams, Eagles, Texans

Houston Texans v Los Angeles Ram Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Height: 6’4”

Weight: 255 pounds

Age: 31

Entry to NFL: 46th overall, 2nd round, 2009 , (Houston Texans)

Career Stats

Contract

Barwin earned $7m per season with the Eagles in 2015 & 2016 before signing with the Rams for $3.5m last year.

It’s hard to see him earning more at this point, so he’s likely to earn a contract in the $3m to $4m per year range.

How would he fit with the Redskins?

Barwin missed two games last year after missing only one game in the previous six seasons. He’s a durable player, familiar with the NFC East, and — at age 31 — a fairly inexpensive veteran player.

Barwin could slot into a rotation along with Smith, Kerrigan, Murphy and Anderson (or a rookie if Anderson moves inside), likely on a one-year deal. The Redskins could tap into the Rams connection to get any inside info needed on him.

Trent Murphy, Redskins

Washington Redskins v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Height: 6’6”

Weight: 259 pounds

Age: 27

Entry to NFL: 47th overall, 2nd round, 2014, (Washington Redskins)

Career Stats

Contract

Especially after seeing the other free agent options available, I feel like the best free agent fit for the Redskins in 2018 is to re-sign Trent Murphy. The team drafted & developed him. He has demonstrated a great attitude with the coaching staff, seemingly willing to do anything asked of him. He knows the system and has developed his skills.

His injury dates back to last year’s preseason, so he’s looking at a full year of available recovery time before he needs to get back out on the field.

The Redskins know his skills and health better than anyone. They should want to re-sign him and Murphy should want to return. It seems like it’s just a matter of hammering out the right contract. I suspect that both sides may want a short term 1-year deal though with Preston Smith’s contract ending in ‘18, and both Kerrigan and Anderson in ‘20, a 2-year or 4-year deal (ending in ‘19 or ‘21) could also make sense.

Especially after listening to Doug Williams’ interview from the Combine this week, I feel very confident that Murphy will be back in burgundy and gold, with his new contract being announced sometime in the next week to ten days.

Junior Galette, Redskins, Saints

Washington Redskins v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jason Hanna/Getty Images

Height: 6’2”

Weight: 254 pounds

Age: 29

Entry to NFL: Undrafted Free Agent, 2010, (New Orleans Saints)

Career Stats

Contract

After two years missed with two separate torn Achilles tendons, Galette played his way back into form last season.

The Redskins and Galette shouldn’t have any trouble coming to agreement on compensation; they know each other well and have negotiated three contracts in the past.

The issue for Junior seems to be playing time. Last season, Galette got 219 snaps, while Smith got 309 and Kerrigan got 380. I get the feeling that Galette’ll be looking for a team that will give him the opportunity to get more snaps, and where he can achieve more production by simply being on the field more. You can see from the table above that Junior was one of the most effective pass rushers in the league.

There’s really no reason for the Redskins not to want Junior back on the squad. The ‘Skins probably just have too many Outside Linebackers to make the situation attractive enough for Galette.

Poll

Will Junior Galette be a Redskin in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    Yes
    (138 votes)
  • 45%
    No
    (117 votes)
255 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Will Trent Murphy be a Redskin in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 89%
    Yes
    (233 votes)
  • 10%
    No
    (26 votes)
259 votes total Vote Now

Poll

If the Redskins signed a veteran free agent from another team this off-season, which of the players highlighted in this article would you most want the front office to sign?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Demarcus Lawrence
    (32 votes)
  • 17%
    Julius Peppers
    (37 votes)
  • 8%
    Adrian Clayborn
    (17 votes)
  • 18%
    Pernell McPhee
    (39 votes)
  • 14%
    Alex Okafor
    (30 votes)
  • 26%
    Connor Barwin
    (55 votes)
210 votes total Vote Now

Poll

On a scale from 0-5, with 5 being "very high" and 0 being "not at all", how highly do you rate OLB/EDGE as a Redskin draft need?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    5
    (11 votes)
  • 8%
    4
    (21 votes)
  • 24%
    3
    (60 votes)
  • 27%
    2
    (68 votes)
  • 22%
    1
    (54 votes)
  • 11%
    0
    (29 votes)
243 votes total Vote Now