While coach Mike Shanahan and the Washington Redskins‘ coaching staff squirm over the status of quarterback Robert Griffin III’s right knee, they turn their attention this week to improving the quality of a roster that entered the offseason with the unfamiliar title of NFC East champions.
The first step in that process involves re-watching every game to determine which players the team wants back next season and what its greatest needs are. The contracts of almost two-dozen players expire at the end of the league year in March, including those of four first-stringers on offense, one Pro Bowler and several key reserves.
“The offensive coaches will look at their players and evaluate their players and put them in a pecking order,” Shanahan said. “The defensive coaches will do the same, and we’ll do the same with special teams.
“Then, we’ll cross-check. Defensive coaches will look at all 16 games for the offense. The offensive coaches will look at all 16 games for the defense. We’ll do that every year to kind of get a cross section of different opinions.”
Here’s a look at the most important of the Redskins‘ expiring contracts:
TE Fred Davis, age 27 on opening day 2013: The Redskins last offseason used the franchise tag (at $5.45 million) on their first-string tight end instead of re-signing him to a long-term deal because they wanted to see whether he could stay out of trouble following his drug suspension in 2011. Davis, a capable blocker and one of the Redskins‘ greatest pass-catching threats, behaved well, but he ruptured his left Achilles tendon Oct. 21. His health could determine whether he gets franchised again. It would cost the Redskins $6.54 million to tag him.
ILB Lorenzo Alexander, 30: The pending unrestricted free agent will represent the NFC in the Pro Bowl as a special teamer. He led the NFL with 21 special teams tackles, according to Stats LLC. He also demonstrated versatility in defensive sub packages, pressuring the quarterback at times and making plays in space. Alexander wants to stay in Washington because he is involved in community service here, he has a family and he owns a Pilates studio in Ashburn. “If they’re close [to my salary demands], I’ll be back,” he said after the season.
FB Darrel Young, 26: Young is one of the Redskins‘ several restricted free agents who entered the NFL on three-year deals when Shanahan became coach in 2010. He can catch (2 TD receptions), he’s a powerful runner in the triple option, and he had five special teams tackles. Most importantly, he’s a major contributor to the NFL’s top running attack. The Redskins could tender him at a midround level for $1.95 million over one year, or, to ensure stability in the backfield, they could sign him to a long-term deal and save money in the long run by preventing him from hitting the open market in 2014.
LG Kory Lichtensteiger, 28: He started all 16 games despite right knee ligament reconstruction surgery in late 2011. He’s one of the Redskins‘ most athletic linemen, which is why Shanahan drafted him in Denver in 2008. Lichtensteiger also can play center. He’s an unrestricted free agent.
RT Tyler Polumbus, 28: Polumbus started all 16 games at right tackle after Jammal Brown aggravated his left hip injury on the first day of training game. Unrestricted.
OLB Rob Jackson, 27: He proved to be a playmaking replacement for injured Brian Orakpo. He had 4.5 sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. He improved setting the edge against the run. Restricted.
TE Logan Paulsen, 26: The reserve tight end started 10 games after Davis tore his Achilles. He’s not the pass-catching threat Davis is, but he did catch a touchdown in Washington’s playoff loss. Inconsistency blocking is problematic, but when he’s on, he’s very good. Restricted.
QB Rex Grossman, 33: One of Griffin’s mentors could be re-signed if Griffin’s knee injury jeopardizes his availability for 2013. Unrestricted.
WR Brandon Banks, 25: The return specialist fell out of favor and was inactive for the last five games, including the postseason. Restricted.
LS Nick Sundberg, 26: Sundberg would want you to know the Redskins went 8-1 when he played this season (broken left arm). He’s a reliable, smart snapper. Restricted.