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More 2019 free agents: What will the Redskins do at outside linebacker in free agency?

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The Redskins own Preston Smith is probably the best veteran OLB likely to be available in free agency this off season. What are the Redskins options if they don’t re-sign him before 13 March?

NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In January, I posted an article that looked at the top three free agent outside linebackers due to become free agents this offseason. That article looked at Dee Ford, Jadeveon Clowney, and the Redskins own Preston Smith. It has been widely reported this week that the Chiefs will use the franchise tag on Dee Ford and Houston will do the same thing with Jadeveon Clowney.

The Redskins are expected to let Preston Smith test free agency — especially in light of the team’s current salary cap situation.

That means that if the Redskins want to replace Smith with a free agent, the options will be limited.

The current Redskins Depth Chart at OLB

The depth chart doesn’t look terrible as long as Ryan Kerrigan is playing, but it certainly looks thin.

Ryan Kerrigan

For Redskins fans, Kerrigan may be the most consistent ‘face of the franchise’. The consummate professional, and a player who never misses a game, Kerrigan’s career achievements have probably been diminished in number because he has played for the Redskins. Kerrigan’s statistical production has been comparable to all-pro players and future hall-of-fame contemporaries at the same position. Kerrigan has been a locker room and on-field leader. He is probably the most under-rated linebacker in the NFL. That said, Ryan Kerrigan will be 31 years old when he next lines up in a regular season game for the ‘Skins. He is closer to the end than the beginning, and the Redskins probably need to draft his replacement very soon.

Preston Smith

As noted above, Smith will be a free agent come 13 March unless the Redskins re-sign him, and reports indicate that the team is unlikely to let him test the market. At least one national organization has Smith ranked as the third best OLB in this season’s free agency — but with Clowney & Dee Ford likely to be franchise-tagged, Smith seems set to be the premier 3-4 OLB in available this off-season.

Ryan Anderson

The 2017 second-round pick has been something of an enigma for the team since being drafted. Some fans have labeled him a draft ‘bust’, while others think he may break out this season. The Redskins certainly need their investment in the former Alabama linebacker to pay bigger dividends than it has so far in his career.

Pernell McPhee

The 30-year old, eight-year veteran was signed by the Redskins last off-season to a one-year contract in an effort to round out the depth chart after failing to re-sign Junior Galette and Trent Murphy. McPhee played on a $1.7m contract, and made only limited contributions. It would be a surprise to see him back on anything much more than a vet minimum contract.

Cassonova McKinzey

This 2016 Undrafted Free Agent has only one tackle on his career stats sheet, but he looked good turning the corner on a speed rush in which he almost got to the quarterback in one of the few NFL regular season snaps he had before going on IR last season. He is under contract for the ‘19 season on a vet min deal for $570,000.

Redskins team needs

The Redskins need at least one top-tier OLB, whether that means re-signing Preston Smith, signing another veteran free agent or using a high draft pick, the team needs someone to play opposite Kerrigan, and, perhaps, even replace his role as team leader in the coming seasons.

Here’s a table, for reference, showing the top 3-4 OLBs in order of APY, sourced from OverTheCap:

Shane Ray

  • Height: 6’3”
  • Weight: 245
  • Age: 25
  • 2018 team: Broncos
  • Entry to NFL: 2015, 1st round (23rd overall), Denver
Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Dante Fowler

  • Height: 6’3”
  • Weight: 255
  • Age: 24
  • 2018 team: Rams (October trade from Jaguars)
  • Entry to NFL: 2015, 1st round (3rd overall), Jacksonville
Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Za’Darius Smith

  • Height: 6’4”
  • Weight: 272
  • Age: 26
  • 2018 team: Ravens
  • Entry to NFL: 2015, 4th round, Baltimore
Denver Broncos v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Markus Golden

  • Height: 6’3”
  • Weight: 260
  • Age: 27
  • 2018 team: Cardinals
  • Entry to NFL: 2015, 2nd round, Arizona
Arizona Cardinals v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Eli Harold

  • Height: 6’3”
  • Weight: 243
  • Age: 25
  • 2018 team: Lions (acquired in trade prior to season for conditional pick)
  • Entry to NFL: 2015, 3rd round, San Francisco
New England Patriots v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Anthony Chickillo

  • Height: 6’3”
  • Weight: 255
  • Age: 26
  • 2018 team: Steelers
  • Entry to NFL: 2015, 6th round, Pittsburgh
New York Jets v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The big question

The question that jumps to my mind is why the Redskins would sign any of these free agent linebackers in favor of Preston Smith.

I’ve prepared this chart for comparison.

As you can see, when these 7 free agent OLBs — all drafted in 2015 — are compared head-to-head, one thing jumps off the page: Preston Smith is the cream of the crop.

  • The most games played (64 vs 61 for Eli Harold)
  • The most tackles (107 vs 98 for Markus Golden)
  • The most sacks (24.5 vs 19 for Golden, 18.5 for Z. Smith)
  • The most passes defended (13 vs 6 for Dante Fowler)
  • The most interceptions (4) no other player on the list has a pick

It seems clear to me that if the Redskins want a free agent in the position in 2019, that player should be Preston Smith.

This screams out that the Redskins will use a draft pick to select a replacement for Smith. Failing a success in drafting a replacement, the Redskins would need to either sign a cheap free agent or trade for a player still on his rookie contract to have the needed depth within the salary cap restrictions they face this season.

Poll

What should the Redskins do this off-season?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Re-sign Preston Smith
    (263 votes)
  • 9%
    Sign a veteran free agent to replace Smith
    (73 votes)
  • 55%
    Select a player to replace Smith using a 1st, 2nd or 3rd round draft pick
    (419 votes)
755 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Of the players listed in this article, which one would you be happiest for the Redskins front office to sign as a replacement for Preston Smith?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Markus Golden
    (78 votes)
  • 15%
    Za’Darius Smith
    (96 votes)
  • 37%
    Dante Fowler
    (241 votes)
  • 30%
    Shane Ray
    (195 votes)
  • 1%
    Eli Harold
    (11 votes)
  • 2%
    Anthony Chickillo
    (14 votes)
635 votes total Vote Now