By Jake Russell
After ending their fourth straight season in last place in the NFC East, the Redskins approach the 2012 offseason with a lot of decisions to make. Here is a list of key free agents and whether the Redskins should retain them or allow them to leave via free agency.
London Fletcher (UFA): In what is becoming an annual ritual, the 14-year veteran was yet again snubbed out of a well-deserving Pro Bowl bid. All he did was lead the NFL in tackles with 166 and put up 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, and three forced fumbles during the 2011 season. The 36-year-old has been perhaps the team's best free agent signing in the last 20 years and has been the most consistent, high-performing player since arriving in D.C. in 2007. Fletcher has started the past 183 games and has never missed a game since his rookie season in 1998, playing in 224 straight games. To this day, he plays with the caliber of a 25-year-old in his prime and is the heart and soul of the defense. The Redskins reportedly want him back and he wants to return as well. It's a no-brainer to re-sign him.
Fred Davis (UFA): With Chris Cooley's ankle not fully recovered from surgery and his placement on injured reserve mid-season, Davis took the reins as the Redskins top receiver and was on pace to break the franchise's all-time single season record for yardage by a tight end. In 12 games, he accumulated 796 yards and three touchdowns. Davis' season went downhill once word about his substance abuse got out. He was suspended the final four games of the season and dramatically reduced his impact on free agency, which actually helps the Redskins. The team was also able to spread the ball around more effectively without Davis on the field. The Redskins should be able to re-sign him in the offseason with strict responsibility clauses in the contract.
LaRon Landry (UFA): The Redskins' 2007 first-round pick rolled the dice when he opted to not have surgery on an injured Achilles that ended a potential Defensive Player of the Year bid nine games into the 2010 season. Without the aid of team trainers during the lockout, he hoped to recover in time for the 2011 season but that was not the case, as he missed half of the season dealing with the same injury. He now plans to have surgery after the season. After playing at an All-Pro level just a season ago, Landry has not been the same since. If the Redskins don't overspend on him, it would be smart to bring him back. If Landry asks for too much, his injury history would be enough for the Redskins to let him walk.
Adam Carriker (UFA): Another veteran who wants to stay, Carriker had a career year in his fourth season under Jim Haslett's defense and his second as a Redskin. With 5.5 sacks in 2011, he has almost doubled his career sack total of 3.5 and has almost matched his career-high of 37 tackles with 34 The Redskins defensive line greatly benefited from the additions of Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield and looks to improve next season with the return of 2011 second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins. If Carriker returns it will make the team’s strongest unit that much better in the foreseeable future.
Donte' Stallworth (UFA): Over the last few seasons, Stallworth hasn't put up the numbers he was accustomed to accumulating early in his career but he has come to be a solid, inexpensive target. Since joining the Redskins, Stallworth has been a team-first player and puts out a lot of effort when he is on the field. In 2011, he put up his highest totals in receiving yardage (309) and touchdowns (two) since he played for the AFC Champion New England Patriots in 2007. Wide receiver should be a position of high interest for the Redskins in free agency, the draft, or even both. The Redskins could target one of the high-profile receivers that are set to become free agents or even do what the Bengals did in 2011 by drafting a receiver and quarterback with their first and second round picks, respectively. Either way, it would not hurt to have Stallworth back for depth and affordable veteran leadership when training camp rolls around.
Tim Hightower (UFA): The Richmond product came to the Redskins as a steal when the Cardinals traded for Vonnie Holliday and a 2012 6th round pick last summer. He opened many eyes with an electrifying preseason and started the team's first four games but as the regular season wore on he looked more indecisive while running the football and was not able to make the plays he had before the season began. He unfortunately ended his year with a torn ACL in late October but to the Redskins' benefit, that allowed them to see the talent they had acquired in April with Roy Helu and Evan Royster at the end of the season. With running back now becoming a position of strength on this offense, Hightower's return would only benefit the Redskins at this point.
Kedric Golston (UFA): The six-year defensive lineman signed a one-year deal during training camp and registered 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in nine games in 2011. Despite having been placed on Injured Reserve after Week 10, he played most of the season injured and was able to contribute as a role player. He would be an inexpensive option to provide depth along the defensive line in 2012.
Kory Lichtensteiger (RFA): Lichtensteiger is not a Pro Bowler by any means but he was one of the most improved players upon making the jump from the 2010 to 2011 seasons. His knowledge of the zone blocking scheme from his 2008 season in Denver under coach Mike Shanahan is very helpful and he was gradually improving until tearing his ACL against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6. The Redskins need all of the offensive line help they can get so retaining Lichtensteiger at this point is a must.
Will Montgomery (UFA): The 28-year-old offensive lineman showed some positives this year as one of only two offensive players to start every game this season. While playing most of the season as a center, he showed his versatility by playing guard in a pinch after the line became decimated with injuries. He needs to improve his blocking on field goals but overall, was a serviceable member of the line. The Redskins still need to improve the offensive line this offseason but his 16 starts will help him whether he returns as a starter or as a backup in 2012.
Let 'em go:
Rex Grossman (UFA): In 2011, Grossman showed a severe case of quarterback amnesia. At times it was a good thing. Following a bad drive or an interception, he could make throws that John Beck couldn't and was not scared to attack defenses. He also was able to stand in the pocket at the last second to get off a throw before a defender clobbered him. But for the majority of his dropbacks, his quarterback amnesia was a bad thing. He would not learn from his bad passes and continued to throw passes with reckless abandon. He also did not have good pocket awareness and failed protect the ball well when a defender was close. He threw 20 interceptions and fumbled the ball eight times, losing it five times. His lack of scrambling ability, coupled with a hurt and underachieving line led to 20 sacks. If the Redskins happen to bring in a franchise quarterback in 2012, Grossman is not the right person to teach him simply based off his carelessness with the ball alone.
Graham Gano (RFA): Part of the reason why Graham Gano is still on the roster is the lack of talent available in the kicking market. Of the 21 kickers that made at least 24 field goals in the NFL this season, Gano ranks lowest in field goal percentage, having only made 75.6% of his attempts. Gano has his good moments, setting a Redskins record with a 59-yard field goal in Week 9 against the San Francisco 49ers and tied Chip Lohmiller with 31 field goals in a single season, good enough for second-most in team history. Nevertheless, Gano's biggest kicks usually come at inconsequential moments and he rarely comes up big when the pressure is on. If the Redskins can find a better kicker available, he should be signed immediately.
Rocky McIntosh (UFA): The Redskins' 2006 second round selection has never been a big playmaker in his six seasons in the NFL. His main job is to make tackles but this season he only achieved about 60% of his 2010 total. Despite playing in a defense that is predicated on quarterback pressure and turnovers, McIntosh only had one sack in 2011 and has only forced one fumble the last two seasons. His reported incident leading up to the season finale against Philadelphia on Sunday does not improve his case to return. Immaturity amongst the players has been a problem with the Redskins for years and this doesn't help. As the team continues to get younger, a strong precedent needs to be set going forward. Despite several coaches pleading McIntosh’s case, Shanahan’s decision to deactivate him in the final game is a step in the right direction towards continuing that mindset.
Byron Westbrook (RFA): In 2011 Westbrook had his best season statistically with 20 tackles, three passes defended and one forced fumble - all career highs. That could give coaches positive thoughts when evaluating him but cornerback is another position that needs to improve from top to bottom. As a restricted free agent, the Redskins have the first right to retain Westbrook but it would not be a big loss if he found a spot on another team.
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