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How is the Redskins 53-man roster shaping up?

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There’s a long way to go

NFL: Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

We’re starting to get some answers to questions about how the Redskins front office would approach the roster this offseason, which is a bit unique because of the injury and salary cap issues connected to Alex Smith.

  • Both of the Redskins Restricted Free Agents were allowed to leave without being tendered.
  • Two free agent running backs are coming back: Adrian Peterson and Byron Marshall.
  • The front office made one ‘splash’ free agent signing at safety, bringing in yet another guy who idolized Sean Taylor growing up. They also picked up a 33-year-old veteran cornerback who may or may not start and may or may not switch positions to free safety.
  • The Redskins may be the only team that has two potential starters on the Commissioner’s Exempt list — Reuben Foster and Montae Nicholson (edit: Nicholson in on the team’s NFI list, not the Commissioner’s Exempt List).
  • As it stands, and at least until the details of the DRC contract are known, the Redskins are in line to pick up 3 compensatory draft picks in 2020; per OTC those would be a 4th, 5th and 6th.
  • A swap of picks between the Redskins and the Broncos brought Case Keenum to the team. He could be the intended starter, or he could be backup/depth, allowing the Redskins to draft a signal-caller in April. Jay Gruden could make the decision to start Colt McCoy.
  • There are a number of players who could yet become salary cap casualties. Vernon Davis, Josh Norman, Jordan Reed and Mason Foster top the list, though all 4 players have important roles on the roster as it stands now.

In short, there are a ton of unknowns about the Redskins 2019 team.

Norman, Reed & Foster could be starting for the Redskins, or they could be playing in 3 other cities.

Nicholson and Reuben Foster could be lining up on opening day, or they could both be serving suspensions.

Case Keenum could be the man, or the Redskins could line up Colt McCoy or a rookie draft pick behind Chase Roullier.

Tyler Catalina could be the 2019 starting left guard. Before you laugh at that idea, think about whether, on St. Patrick’s Day last year, you thought that Shawn Lauvao would be the starting guard last opening day.

DRC could be the starting free safety, nickel cornerback, or just a flexible all-purpose back up DB.

Today, I want to take a look at the roster and try to look ahead to the September 53-man roster. I wonder who on the roster will still be here. Who will be starting, suspended, cut, traded? Which positions are likely to be filled with draft picks? Are the Redskins done signing veteran free agents?

Quarterback

I suspect that the Redskins will carry three quarterbacks into the regular season after last year’s disastrous experience.

I have no doubt that McCoy and Keenum will be on the roster. If the third QB is a guy like Josh Johnson or a Saturday draft pick, then I imagine Jay Gruden will let the two veterans compete for the starting spot.

However, if the ‘Skins find a QB they like in the first round of the draft, I think he’ll be the presumed starter, either in Week 1, or as soon as he seems ready to take over.

Running Back

Following the injuries at RB in 2017, the ‘Skins committed to a 4-man depth chart for 2018, though in previous years Jay Gruden had opted for just 3.

Now, with the ‘18 issues at QB and OL, the Skins will eventually go back to a 3-man unit; after all, it’s easier to pick up a 4th running back mid-season than a 3rd QB or 10th OL.

That said, the team will likely have two defensive players serving suspensions on opening day (Reuben Foster and Montae Nicholson), so there’s a good chance that the team starts the season with a 4th player on the running back depth chart (likely either Byron Marshall or Samaje Perine). I think both running backs play the full pre-season, but only one of the two will make the opening day roster. If the Redskins can trade Perine for a ham sandwich, I think they will; his future with Jay Gruden appears grim, but he’ll stay on the roster as injury insurance for now.

Derrius Guice hurt his knee in the preseason opener last year, so he’ll likely still be rehabbing when training camp comes around. I think we’ll see Adrian Peterson lined up behind center for the first offensive play of the 2019 season, taking the pressure off of Derrius Guice and the coaching staff to hurry him back onto the field. Once Guice is full speed (and Foster or Nicholson returns from suspension) I see the team shedding the 4th man from the depth chart.

By mid-season, I expect to see the coaching staff getting Guice more and more snaps.

This has the potential to be an extremely talented and multi-faceted backfield that may allow the Redskins to successfully do what they did for most of the first half of the ‘18 season — control the clock with a strong running-back based attack, shortening the game and allowing the defense to stay fresh and play aggressively.

Tight End

Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis are both highly paid, and possibly overpaid; Reed due to his recurring health issues that keep him off the field; Davis due to his age.

When I saw the Vernon Davis contract when it was signed in 2017, I thought it was too much money, and I always assumed that he would be cut prior to the ‘19 season. At the end of the ‘18 season, I still thought that the Redskins — in an effort to get enough cap room to fill the QB position this season — would cut him.

Following the trade for Case Keenum, I no longer see the Redskins as being desperate for salary cap space at all costs, so my expectations have changed.

If the team falls in love with a TE (T.J. Hockenson?), then they’ll draft him and say goodbye to Vernon Davis. However, I think the team is reluctant to cut Davis, so they’ll hold on till after the draft. If the ‘Skins don’t draft a TE, then it’s likely that future hall-of-fame tight end Davis will finish his contract (and probably his career) in Washington in 2019.

Right now, I see more roster needs than top-of-the-draft picks, which means that, likely, for three positions of need (out of QB, OLB, ILB, S, WR, TE), the Redskins will need to enter the season with the status quo (I’m assuming, here, that the team uses a Friday draft pick to get a starting LG).

Which specific positions will get filled (or be left unfilled) depends on how the draft unfolds, but I wouldn’t be unhappy to see Davis play another season in DC.

I think there’s a good chance that — due to lack of resources — Washington may stand pat with the current TE unit.

Wide Receiver

In my opinion, wide receiver is the Redskins’ single biggest area of need. This is a far cry from just three seasons ago when the team had Crowder plus two 1000-yard receivers in Garcon and Jackson.

There are only two players that I think are locks for the WR unit in ‘19: Paul Richardson and Josh Doctson. Doctson may not start, but his contract is guaranteed, and he is as good as any receiver likely to fill the 4th or 5th spot on the depth chart, so I don’t think he is going anywhere.

Other than that, the unit looks wide open.

Trey Quinn will be in training camp, but — depending on the competition — he could easily get knocked off the roster. Remember that last year he was on IR twice. He missed the opportunity to secure a job as a rookie.

One advantage Quinn will have is his ability as a punt returner. If the Redskins don’t draft a returner, it will be an indication that they are counting on Quinn to be healthy and contributing.

Likewise, Cam Sims, who has good measurables but only a season on IR to show for it all, could make the roster, or he could get knocked off by a draft pick or veteran free agent.

I feel very sure that one spot on the roster will be filled by a draft pick.

The Redskins need a reliable receiver (or two), so if they don’t get who they want in the draft, then I think they’ll re-visit veteran free agency in May. If I could pick one receiver to add to the roster, my choice would be Randall Cobb, but there will undoubtedly be a guy or two available post-draft who could help stabilize the Redskins’ receiving crew without destroying the salary cap.

I feel like we’ll be re-visiting the question of the receiving group several times between now and opening day.

Offensive Line

After the past two years, I imagine the Redskins will enter the season with at least 9 linemen and maybe ten. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them open the season with ten players in the unit, especially if they have both Nicholson and Foster on suspension or a lingering injury issue among the starters.

Every Redskins fan in the world knows that the team needs a left guard. The only question is where that player is gonna come from. Right now, the depth chart says Tyler Catalina, an undrafted 2017 college free agent. Catalina may be a good story, but probably not the guy that the fans, front office or coaches want to see lining up next to Trent Williams on opening day.

Of course, Brandon Scherff suffered a torn pectoral muscle in the 9th game of the season last year, so he may miss most of the off-season training while he rehabs.

Jay Gruden actually mentioned in a Combine interview that he wasn’t sure he’d have any linemen available this off-season.

The list of veteran free agent interior linemen across the NFL this off-season is uninspiring. I think the Redskins need to draft a player here, and — short of an unexpected trade — I don’t think there’s much of a choice in that.

But the Redskins OL depth is an issue as well. They probably need to fill two additional interior OL positions. There are a few options; the front office might well draft a second lineman on Saturday, but that would still leave a spot open.

Free agent options come in at least three flavors: a returning veteran agent from the 2018 Redskins roster, a veteran free agent from another team, or an undrafted college free agent.

Any of these could help the Redskins fill out this unit. Jonathan Cooper, Arie Kouandjio, Tony Bergstrom, and Zac Kerin are all players who were on the Redskins squad last year and currently free agents. Casey Dunn is a 2018 UDFA C/G who spent last season on the Practice Squad and could provide depth after a season of NFL training.

All-in-all, it looks like we know no more than five OL positions for 2019, and the front office has a lot of work to do here.

Defensive Line

The top four names on this list are written in stone in my opinion. They represent draft picks from 2016, 17, and 18. The team should maintain the pattern with a Saturday DL draft pick.

Caleb Brantley is a former Cleveland 6th round pick whom the Redskins added to the roster last year. He is scheduled to earn $645,000 this season and did not record a statistic for the ‘Skins last year. At this point he’s Just A Guy who can be replaced by Just Another Guy.

Outside Linebacker

Having let Preston Smith walk in free agency, the Redskins, both for 2019 and for succession planning, need to draft a quality player to line up opposite Ryan Kerrigan. I just don’t see any real option.

Assuming the Redskins prioritize the position with an early draft pick, the two starting positions will be set, but there will still be flexibility at the backup spots..

Ryan Anderson is unlikely to lose his roster spot this year, but Cassanova McKinzy is really just a placeholder. There is every opportunity for the Redskins to draft a player on Saturday, sign a veteran free agent, or add a UDFA to fill the fourth spot in the unit.

Junior Galette, anyone?

Inside Linebacker

My opinions on this unit are likely to be contentious. There are some strong feelings about Mason Foster’s role on the team, both with regard to his salary cap and on-field performance.

I don’t see him going anywhere. With the questions surrounding Reuben Foster, the Redskins need some stability; Mason can call the defense and his $4.25m price tag isn’t too expensive, even if he spends some or all of the season as a backup, which may happen once Reuben’s situation is cleared up.

This unit is not so strong that it can’t be improved, but it’s not so weak that the team can’t get through the season with this group of players.

As I said early in this article, I think the Redskins are going to have to stand pat on at least three position groups due to limited salary cap space and more roster holes than draft picks. I just see too many areas of greater need. I think the Redskins will need to devote their draft and salary cap resources to other areas.

Zach Vigil could get knocked off the roster, but otherwise, I think the list above is the 2019 linebacker unit for the Washington Redskins. edit: As pointed out in the comments, Vigil is already a free agent.

Cornerback

There are two names from the 2018 roster not on this list yet - Joshua Holsey and Danny Johnson. I put Stroman in the last position because he seems to have the best combination of defensive skills and return ability, but, really, any of those three names could fill that final spot.

Now that DRC has been signed by the Redskins, I expect the cornerback unit coming out of training camp to probably comprise five or six of the players above. Again, it’s not that the unit can’t be improved, but that this unit should be able to hold its own while draft picks and salary cap dollars are used elsewhere.

I don’t really see the front office investing salary cap or a draft pick on this unit this off-season, but what might be in the cards is that DRC or Adonis Alexander could find his way to free safety, opening up a spot in the CB unit.

Safety

Only one player is locked into the safety roster this season — the new $84m man, Landon Collins.

Montae Nicholson will almost certainly be suspended for at least 6 games this season; his career may be over.

Apke’s status as a former draft pick will only keep him on the roster for so long; if fourth-rounder Samaje Perine can get stashed in the doghouse, then so can Apke. He needs to make a superman-type leap if he wants to finish his rookie contract in the NFL.

Deshazor Everett is a good Redskin who was a UDFA in 2015, but he could be pushed off the roster if the front office finds someone better.

The Redskins have options at free safety:

  • A returning 2018 player like Nicholson or Apke
  • A re-positioned CB like DRC or Adonis Alexander
  • An unrestricted veteran free agent like Tre Boston or Johnathan Cyprien
  • A 2019 draft pick

Whatever they do, the Redskins need to do something.

Special Teams

No surprises here.

Summary

Unless I’ve miscounted, I’ve got 54 players listed here (including Reuben Foster, Montae Nicholson, 4 or 5 draft picks, and a few more free agents). I figure one or two guys will be on suspension to start the season, and at this point, I’m not worried about being at exactly 53 names... this is all written in wet cement right now - not stone.

There’s a long way to go between now and the opening day roster. To be honest, none of us really even knows who our starting quarterback is going to be yet. There are tons of questions to be answered, but with the first week of free agency in the books and the draft just over a month away, the 2019 roster is a little less fuzzy than it was a week ago.

Poll

Is the Redskins’ opening day quarterback currently on the roster?

This poll is closed

  • 79%
    Yes
    (1339 votes)
  • 20%
    No
    (338 votes)
1677 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How many running backs will the Redskins carry on the roster on opening day?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    3
    (408 votes)
  • 72%
    4
    (1160 votes)
  • 2%
    5
    (34 votes)
1602 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Will Vernon Davis be on the opening day roster?

This poll is closed

  • 68%
    Yes
    (1097 votes)
  • 31%
    No
    (493 votes)
1590 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Will Cam Sims make the opening day roster?

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    Yes
    (1287 votes)
  • 18%
    No
    (297 votes)
1584 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Will Mason Foster be on the opening day roster?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    Yes
    (1028 votes)
  • 34%
    No
    (541 votes)
1569 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who will line up as the second safety on the first defensive play on opening day?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Troy Apke
    (96 votes)
  • 12%
    Montae Nicholson
    (195 votes)
  • 9%
    Draft pick
    (156 votes)
  • 12%
    Deshazor Everett
    (202 votes)
  • 34%
    Dominique Rogers-Cromartie
    (547 votes)
  • 9%
    Adonis Alexander
    (152 votes)
  • 15%
    A different veteran player
    (241 votes)
1589 votes total Vote Now