Since the Hogs era came to an end in the mid 90’s, Redskins fans have been busy packing up the Delorean. Each offseason, the team’s faithful make their annual pilgrimage Back to the Future in hope of re-living those glory years when the Redskins offensive line was a thing of beauty. Much like Uncle Rico, the diehard fanatic would love nothing more than to return to 1982.
In 1994, the NFL introduced the salary cap. Designed to control team spending and promote parity, the salary cap is really a tool designed to prevent wealthy teams from attempting to ensure victory through superior economic power. By putting a cap on team spending, the NFL gives the small-market teams a chance to compete equally with the large-market teams.
The salary cap has greatly changed the dynamics of the NFL today. In this age of the superstar, teams are forced to make frugal decisions on many players in an attempt to keep their core intact. Even more than before, certain positions have the highest importance on most NFL teams.
First, let’s recognize that the NFL is a pass-first league. In 2017, teams passed the ball on average nearly 61 percent of the time. That number is up over 5 percent from 10 years prior. Because of the focus on the pass, teams have prioritized the following five positions based on average anual salary:
Quarterback - They are the players who, you know, actually PASS the football
Left Tackle - They protect the player who passes the ball
EDGE Rusher - They pressure the player who passes the ball
Corner Back - They shut down the pass
Wide Receiver - They are at the receiving end of that pass
When heavy resources are spent in certain areas of the team, other areas become much less prioritized. The following five positions are considered the least prioritized in the NFL (not counting punter, long snapper and kicker).
Strong Safety - Teams today want a versatile safety, not just a box player
Center - I don’t agree with devaluing this position, but the NFL does
Nose Tackle - If you can’t play all three downs, your value decreases significantly
Left Guard - This is where teams can afford to hide their weakest linemen
Fullback - Not many true fullbacks exist in the game today
The Redskins have four of the five most important positions in the NFL taken care of for the immediate future, with a true number one receiver being the one area that currently eludes this team.
The one position that fans are screaming for an upgrade is left guard.
last month, during the NFL draft, many wanted the Redskins to spend a high pick on a left guard. Despite being a non-premium position, fans felt a quality left guard would help improve a poor rushing attack; even over an upgrade at running back.
Thankfully, the Redskins chose to go in the opposite direction, choosing the draft’s second best defensive tackle in the first round, and the second best collegiate running back in the second round. After trading back in the second round and aquiring a third round selection from San Francisco, many hoped the team would use that pick on a left guard. Instead, the team chose to bolster its depth at offensive tackle, and picked up a future starter in Garon Christian. The fourth and fifth rounds still held some hope - but the Skins front office prioritized more important positions by adding depth at free safety and defensive tackle.
The draft came and went without a guard being selected, showing that the front office felt we have pieces already on the squad capable of playing the position. This should come as no surprise for anyone who listened to Doug Williams’ or Jay Gruden’s pre-draft press conferences.
Our left guard is already on the roster - yes, I said it, and I feel confident it’s true, and not as weak a position as some on here may think.
Competition often brings out the best in players, and the training camp battle at left guard is setting up to be a good one.
The Front Runners:
Ty Nsekhe - The massive swing tackle stepped in and played some left guard last year, and he did a nice job. With a full camp to hone his skills inside, Nsekhe could become a force at the position. Although Nsekhe is 32 years old, he doesn’t have a ton of NFL wear and tear on his body. If the goal of offensive line coach Bill Callahan is to get his best five linemen on the field together, Nsekhe makes the most sense. The selection of Christian makes this move a lot more realistic, as he can immediatly step in as our swing tackle (most likely scenario) allowing Ty to kick inside to left guard.
Arie Kouandjio - Kouandjio was realeased last summer, but wound up back on the team after injuries hit the unit hard. Some beat writers have mentioned Arie’s dedication to improving this offseason, and he should be firmly in the discussion to win the spot with a good camp.
Shawn Lauvao - The Redskins re-signed the veteran left gaurd shortly after the draft, and this should come as no surprise, as many close to the team hinted about his potential return. Lauvao was playing good last year before he was injured. Even if he doesn’t win the position outright in camp, he could provide solid depth.
T.J. Clemmings - The former Vikings offensive tackle may actually be a better fit inside at guard. He’s young, strong and athletic, and can possibly thrive with a position change.
Kyle Kalis - Kalis played well at guard last preseason, and many were surprised when he was released. He was signed by the Colts, and started some games for them before being waived/injured. With an offseason to improve his game, he could push for the spot.
Tyler Catalina - Catalina struggled when injuries forced him into action as a rookie. With a full offseason to get stronger and quicker, he has the potential to take a big step forward this training camp.
The Dark Horse:
Sean Welsh - The Redskins signed Welsh as an undrafted free agent. The former Iowa standout has the ability to play all three interior offensive line positions. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he can come in an immediately compete for the starting left guard or center position as a rookie.
Not every position on this football team is going to get the same attention as others. The team has obviously prioritized some positions over others, but that doesnt mean that all hope is lost at guard.
It is my belief, and it has been this way since the season ended, that we have players already on this team who are capable of playing left guard at a high level. It is also my belief that the team didn’t need to address high draft capital, or spend big money in free agency on the position, when we had so many other more pressing needs.
It is also my belief that the issues we have seen over the past three years in our running game stem much more from the lack of a quality running back, than they do from the left guard position.
The highest paid guard in the league was an undrafted free agent. We have three very good players on our offensive line at the three most important positions among the front five - left tackle, right tackle and right guard, who either currently are, or will be, getting paid a lot of money. There is no problem going with a proven veteran or developmental younger prospect at left guard who wont break the bank or cost the team a high, valuable draft pick.
What was the biggest reason for the Redskins struggles in the running game over the last three years?
This poll is closed
Lack of a quality running back
Lack of a good left guard
Poor tight end blocking