ATLANTA — Football is almost back, and the Redskins are getting ready.
The collective bargaining agreement adopted Thursday by the NFL’s owners allows players with at least four years of league service to become free agents. That would result in the largest free-agent class in history and provide second-year coach Mike Shanahan plenty of options to jump-start the Redskins’ rebuilding effort.
Shanahan’s to-do list is long, given the roster deficiencies that contributed to Washington’s 6-10 record and last-place finish in the NFC East last season. General manager Bruce Allen has said the Redskins have the financial flexibility to “be as aggressive as any team” once free agency opens, and an enormous free-agent pool could help fill its needs.
And it will all happen in a period of about three weeks.
“We’ve had [our plan] on the blackboard since February, so the sooner we can get going, the better,” Mr. Allen told The Washington Times after Thursday’s vote.
Team officials have kept their plans secret, and Mr. Allen declined to characterize them Thursday, but the offensive line should be a priority after the unit’s long-standing struggles continued in Shanahan’s first season. Washington did not draft an offensive lineman until the seventh round, despite ranking 23rd in sacks per pass attempt and 16th in rushing yards per attempt. Shaky line play contributed to quarterback Donovan McNabb’s difficulties, and Shanahan benched the six-time Pro Bowl player for the final three games.
The NFL Network reported last week that the Redskins will attempt to sign Baltimore Ravens right guard/right tackle Marshal Yanda in free agency. Yanda, who will turn 27 in September, played his rookie season in Baltimore in 2007 under current Redskins offensive line coach Chris Foerster. His versatility would be a major asset as the Redskins decide which holes up front to patch.
Denver right tackle Ryan Harris is another potential target. When Shanahan was the Denver Broncos’ coach, he drafted Harris, now 26, in the third round in 2007. He is known for his agility and lateral range, which are required in Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme.
“I had a great experience with Mike Shanahan,” Harris said on Denver radio station 102.3 the Ticket on Tuesday. “We had the No. 1 pass offensive line [in sacks per pass] and the No. 3 rushing offensive line [in yards per carry in 2008] so I know he’s got a system that works. He knows how to put players together.”
Receiver and nose tackle also require attention. The Redskins first must decide whether to re-sign Santana Moss, 32, the team’s top receiver since 2005.
If they want to look outside the organization, New York Jets receiver Santonio Holmes and the Minnesota Vikings’ Sidney Rice are expected to be the best free agents. Last week’s NFL Network report, which cited anonymous team and league sources, said Holmes is the Redskins’ top priority in free agency.
“It will be pretty crazy if it ends up how they’re saying it will be, [a condensed period] of free agency and all these transactions going on,” second-year receiver Anthony Armstrong said. “I’m pretty interested to see what we’re going to do to improve the team.”
In addition to upgrading the roster, Shanahan still faces some major housekeeping issues. The lockout has prevented the Redskins from concluding their ugly divorce with McNabb and resolving defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth’s status.
The club hopes to trade both players in order to receive some compensation, according to sources familiar with the situation, but the trade market for them is unclear. It is well-known throughout the league that Redskins management has soured on both players, so interested teams might wait and hope they are released.
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder joined Mr. Allen, Vice President of Football Administration Eric Schaffer and Chief Financial Officer Nico Foris in Atlanta for Thursday’s meetings as NFL owners and executives continued the final stages of resolving the labor dispute that has postponed all league business since they locked out players on March 12.