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NFL Trade Rumors’ Top-50 free agents list for 2019: Inside Linebackers

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The Redskins have depth at ILB, but lots of questions as well. Mason Foster criticized the fans and the team publicly; Zach Brown said ‘the writing is on the wall’; Reuben Foster is not eligible to play at the moment and may yet face suspension in the regular season; Shaun Dion Hamilton hasn’t yet proved himself in the NFL. Should the Redskins look for answers in the free agent market?

Philadelphia Eagles v New Orleans Saints Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Looking at veteran free agency

I plan to spend much of the next 4 weeks taking a look at veteran free agents for 2019 with help from the Top-50 list from NFL Trade Rumors; the plan is to review positions of need on the Redskins roster, one position per article, over the course of last week and this, and then to revisit the position lists as we get closer to the start of the new league year.

Veteran free agent lists will be highly fluid once the Super Bowl has finished, and teams start to talk to their own players. Many of the top free agents will be re-signed by their teams during, or in the week following, the Scouting Combine, which will be held from 26 February to 4 March.

I plan to revisit lists of key available free agents again ahead of the beginning of free agency when it becomes clearer which players have decided to stay with their current teams, and which ones seem committed to testing their value in the open marketplace. Consider this a ‘warm up’ as we look at the very top tier - a selection of positions from a top-50 list. This is just the opening act.

Free Agent Frenzy starts 13 March

The league year ends at 4:00 p.m. ET, on 13 March, which is when teams are free to sign veteran free agents to new contracts. There is a two-day ‘legal tampering period’ prior to the end of the league year when players’ agents are allowed to talk to any team in the league to arrange contracts on behalf of their clients.

Cap Space

According to OverTheCap, the Redskins are projected to have $21.56m in cap space available this off-season. Using some ‘rule-of-thumb’ numbers, the team probably needs to allow about $2.6m for draft picks, and keep another $5m or so available to sign players as injuries occur during the season.

That would leave around $14m in available 2019 cap space to spend on veteran free agents in the upcoming off-season.

Remember that the first year of most NFL contracts typically has the lowest cap hit, so the Redskins would be able to sign one or more players with a cumulative APY that is greater than the available 2019 cap space due to the accrual accounting methods used in accounting for the salary cap.

To put a fine point on that, because the APY numbers are average numbers for the life of the contract, while the 2019 cap hits generally represent the lowest year of those contracts, it might be possible for the Redskins to, say, sign four veteran free agents whose APYs are $7m, 5m, $4.5m and $4m (a total of $20.5m) even though they have only around $14m available for 2019.

Of course, the team can clear space by cutting or trading players or ‘create’ space by re-structuring contracts in an effort to have more money available for free agency in 2019 and beyond.

Potential cap casualties

Here are the top-ten Redskins players who would have a significant effect on salary cap:

  1. Alex Smith - Restructure of contract could reduce 2019 cap hit by an estimated $9m by shifting cap dollars to the remaining 3 years of the contract. This is not a cap savings, but a mere deferral to allow more flexibility in roster construction in the short term. This idea was discussed in some detail in an article published in early December.
  2. Trent Williams - Trading Williams could reduce the 2019 cap hit by $9.34m, with and additional $12.75m reduction in 2020.
  3. Josh Norman - Trading Norman could reduce the 2019 cap hit by $8.5m, with an additional $12.5m reduction in 2020.
  4. Ryan Kerrigan - Trading Kerrigan could reduce the 2019 cap hit by $10.75m, with an additional $11.75m reduction in 2020.
  5. Jordan Reed - Cutting or Trading Jordan Reed could reduce the 2019 cap hit by $6.07m, with an additional $17.5m reduction in the remaining years of his contract (‘20 & ‘21). Alternatively, renegotiating Reed’s contract could probably create an estimated savings of $2m to $3m per season, while keeping Reed on the roster.
  6. Zach Brown - Cutting or Trading Zach Brown could reduce the 2019 cap hit by $5.75m, with an additional $8m reduction in 2020.
  7. Vernon Davis - Cutting Vernon Davis would save reduce the 2019 cap hit by $5m.
  8. Stacy McGee - Cutting or Trading Stacy McGee would reduce the 2019 cap hit by $2.275m, with an additional $10.5m reduction in the remaining years of his contract (‘20 & ‘21). With a 2019 salary & roster bonus of just $4m, 3 years remaining and no guaranteed money, it’s not crazy to think that the Redskins might be able to trade McGee for a 6th or 7th round draft pick, or swapping picks to move higher in the draft order.
  9. Chris Thompson - Cutting or Trading Chris Thompson would reduce the 2019 cap hit by $3m.
  10. Mason Foster - Cutting Mason Foster would reduce the 2019 cap hit by $2m.

As you can see, the Redskins have a wide range of options available for attacking the salary cap and roster.

  • They could simply stand pat on the existing roster and focus the draft and limited free agency;
  • they could make selected salary cap moves, giving them sufficient room to make one or two key signings, or
  • they could really clear out the roster, load up on draft capital and perform a complete roster teardown & re-build over the next two off-seasons.

Roster needs

The Redskins have a very large number of players under contract currently, as they ended the year with 24 players on IR, one player on Reserve/NFI, and one on the Commissioner’s exempt list in addition to the regular roster, practice squad players and futures contracts.

Still, the team will have holes in the roster, partly due to injury, partly due to expiring contracts, and partly due to the need to upgrade positions.

The front office expects to have 8 draft picks April in addition to the cap space available to sign veteran free agents starting 13 March.

Allotment of compensatory draft picks should be announced on 22 February.

Upcoming Redskins veteran free agents

Here is the list of 2019 Redskins veteran free agents, according to OverTheCap

The team can bolster the roster in a number of ways:

  • Re-signing its own free agents
  • trading for veteran players
  • Drafting player in Nashville from 25-27 April (The Redskins will probably have 8 draft picks, the first being 15th overall)
  • Signing veteran free agents, starting from 13 March
  • Signing undrafted college free agents, starting the moment the draft ends on 27 April

Today’s article will focus solely on veteran inside linebackers, and today I plan to only look at the two ILBs that appear on the Top-50 veteran free agents list published this week by NFL Trade Rumors.

Click here to read the full Top-50 list from NFL Trade Rumors

I’ve scanned the fifty names and found two inside backers on the NFLTR list

#27 C.J. Mosley, Baltimore, 27 years old

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The 17th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Mosley earned his fourth Pro Bowl selection in 2018. He finished the season as the Ravens leading tackler with 105 combined tackles, along with half a sack, five passes defensed, and an interception, which was actually a slight step back from his 2017 numbers.

Spotrac projects Mosley’s contract at 5 years, $48.8m (APY of $9.7m):

According to OverTheCap, Baltimore will have an estimated $28.4m in available cap space this coming off-season, which is slightly more than the Redskins. The Ravens have a few key players entering free agency: 37 year old Terrell Suggs, WR John Brown, Mosley, Brent Urban, RG3, TE Maxx WIlliams, and 5 running backs.

Looking down the list, I would guess that the highest priority free agent on that list for the Ravens would be Mosley, who seems unlikely to get to the open market in free agency.

The former Alabama player would undoubtedly be a strong addition to the Redskins defense, but I don’t think the Redskins will ever get the chance to talk to him. I expect that the Ravens will announce his re-signing in about 5 weeks.

Jordan Hicks, Philadelphia, 27 years old

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at New England Patriots Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Hicks was healthy for the first 11 games this season for the Eagles, played practically every snap and was pushing toward a new contract this offseason as a free agent. Then, he injured his calf in Week 11 against the Saints, missed four games and was limited to 43 (of 65 possible) snaps in Week 16. He led the Eagles in tackles before going down, and finished the season with 91.

Hicks is an especially interesting case because when he was been totally healthy, he’s certainly been impactful. In 2016, he was stellar, amassing 86 tackles, six tackles for loss, five interceptions, one sack, one fumble recovery and 11 pass deflections.

In his three other season (2015, 2017, 2018) he’s only played 26 of a possible 47 games due to various injuries. This season, clearly, he’s failed to shed the injury-prone label that’s followed him throughout his NFL career.

Going back to his days in college at Texas, Hicks has missed at least four games in five of the last seven seasons, and suffered season-ending injuries in four of his last seven seasons:

• 2012 (Texas): Hip flexor, missed final 10 games.

• 2013: (Texas): Ruptured Achilles, missed final 9 games.

• 2015 (Eagles): Torn pectoral, missed final 8 games.

• 2017 (Eagles): Ruptured Achilles, missed final 9 games, plus the playoffs.

• 2018 (Eagles): Calf injury, missed four games.

Because of his durability concerns, as well as production that has has fallen off considerably over the last two seasons, Hicks is unlikely to find any teams backing up the Brinks truck for him.

According to OverTheCap, Philadelphia is projected to have the worst salary cap situation in the league this off-season.

The current OverTheCap estimate is for the Eagles to be $14.4m OVER the 2019 salary cap, which means that the front office will have to do quite a lot of roster shuffling to be able to sign or re-sign players in free agency.

Of course, Howie Roseman will have chances to add to the available cap space, but many of those opportunities will come at the cost of roster depth, which was already sorely tested by salary cap cuts and limited draft picks last off-season. The most widely expected move is for Philly to part ways with Nick Foles, which could save them $18.8m in 2019, but one has to wonder where the Eagles would have been without Foles in each of the past two seasons, and where they might be in the future without their reliable sometimes backup, sometimes starting quarterback.

Unlike last year, when most of the Philly free agents were backups and depth players, this season sees some front line players approaching free agency, with Jordan Hicks being among them. Others include Brandon Graham, Golden Tate, Haloti Ngata, Ronald Darby, Paul Warrilow, Richard Rodgers, Jordan Matthews, Jay Ajayi and others. The team has 19 veterans who are upcoming free agents, with very few of them anything less than starters or key backups on the team. With Carson Wentz entering his 4th season, Roseman will need to be mindful of his young QB’s upcoming contract situation in Philly’s other contract negotiations as well.

The Philadelphia front office will be forced to remake the roster, and will have to exercise a lot of creativity just to re-sign some of its own veteran free agents. Most teams in that situation rely on the draft as much as they can. The Eagles have only 6 draft picks in ‘19, though, like the Redskins, they are expecting to be awarded 3 compensatory draft picks. They have two 2nd round picks, but none in the 3rd.

All this is to say that — as important as Jordan Hicks is for the Eagles defense — salary cap limitations may mean that the team won’t be able to keep him, and Philly may turn to the draft to replace him.

Hicks’ talent on the field will put him in demand in free agency, but his market value might well be suppressed by the ‘injury prone’ label that some have given him. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sign a one or two-year deal aimed at proving he can stay healthy, or an incentive-laden deal with a fairly limited floor but lots of upside based on playing time.

For the Redskins, who face an uncertain situation with Reuben Foster, and the opportunity to upgrade the ILB position by replacing Mason Foster or Zach Brown (or both), signing Hicks away from their division rival could offer an intriguing opportunity.

Here’s a look at the current Redskins depth at ILB:

  • Mason Foster
  • Zach Brown
  • Josh Harvey-Clemons
  • Shaun Dion Hamilton
  • Reuben Foster (Commisioner’s exempt list)
  • Zach Virgil

Poll

What should the Redskins do at ILB in the 2019 off season?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    Stand pat with the 6 ILBs currently on the roster; maybe cut Foster or Brown
    (77 votes)
  • 38%
    Cut Foster and/or Brown and sign at least one veteran free agent
    (147 votes)
  • 41%
    Draft at least one linebacker
    (161 votes)
385 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who is most likely to line up as the starting ILBs for the Redskins on opening day in 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Mason Foster & Zach Brown
    (8 votes)
  • 59%
    Reuben Foster & Shaun Dion Hamilton
    (244 votes)
  • 6%
    Mason Foster & Reuben Foster
    (26 votes)
  • 11%
    Mason Foster & Shaun Dion Hamilton
    (45 votes)
  • 8%
    A different combo of current players
    (36 votes)
  • 12%
    At least one of the starters isn’t yet on the roster
    (50 votes)
409 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Considering age, likely contract demands, on-field performance, off-field issues, etc, which of the 2 profiled players would you want the Redskins front office to prioritize if they pursued a UFA ILB this off season?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    C.J. Mosley
    (119 votes)
  • 13%
    Jordan Hicks
    (51 votes)
  • 54%
    The Redskins shouldn’t pursue either of these two players
    (206 votes)
376 votes total Vote Now