- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2014

Free from a $36 million salary cap penalty imposed over the last two years, the Washington Redskins will enter the start to free agency Tuesday afternoon with approximately $20 million available to spend.

That won’t be enough to immediately upgrade the talent at every position, but there will be some changeover in the roster. The contracts of 16 players who were under contract with the Redskins at the end of last season will expire at 4 p.m., and the changeover in the coaching staff means players who may have fit the team’s offensive and defensive schemes during the last four years under Mike Shanahan may not under new coach Jay Gruden.

Having money to spend isn’t always a luxury — especially for the Redskins, who have made plenty of questionable signings over the years. The team has made smart investments, such as the five years and $42.5 million handed to wide receiver Pierre Garçon in 2012, but others have been equally abysmal: Adam Archuleta in 2006, Albert Haynesworth in 2009, Oshiomogho Atogwe in 2011.

The Redskins won just three games last year, so much can be improved. And while the specifics of their plans remain guarded, there are five areas where they need immediate help.

CORNERBACK

On the Roster: DeAngelo Hall, David Amerson, Richard Crawford, Ryan Mouton

Pending Free Agents: Josh Wilson, E.J. Biggers

Potential Targets: Aqib Talib, Captain Munnerlyn, Vontae Davis

Hall signed a four-year, $17 million contract with the Redskins last month, and Amerson is poised to develop after playing 67 percent of the team’s defensive snaps during his rookie season. The Redskins know they need help in the secondary, however, and Talib, who played under current defensive backs coach Raheem Morris in Tampa Bay, has been their top target for the past two years. Munnerlyn, from Carolina, could fill in as a slot corner, and Davis could return to his native Washington as a low-cost signing.

SAFETY

On the Roster: Jose Gumbs, Bacarri Rambo, Phillip Thomas

Pending Free Agents: Brandon Meriweather, Reed Doughty

Potential Targets: Jairus Byrd, Mike Mitchell, T.J. Ward

This will be the one area the Redskins will target extensively — though, as previous years have shown, their signings haven’t always panned out. It’s also perhaps one of the most shallow positions in the draft, so an impact player (or two) will come from outside the organization. Byrd figures to price himself out of the Redskins‘ range, and Ward may be too expensive, too. Mitchell, a free safety who played last year in Carolina after four in Oakland, has been on the Redskins‘ radar for some time.

OFFENSIVE LINE

On the Roster: Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Chris Chester, Will Montgomery, Tyler Polumbus, Adam Gettis, Maurice Hurt, Tom Compton, Josh LeRibeus, Tevita Stevens, Kevin Kowalski

Pending Free Agents: J.D. Walton

Potential Targets: Anthony Collins, Geoff Schwartz, Alex Mack

With so many players on the roster — all five starters from last season will return, as well as all four reserves — there seems to be little reason, on paper, to address the offensive line. But Gruden is intent on incorporating more of a man-blocking, power scheme on offense, which would mean smaller linemen such as Lichtensteiger, Chester and Montgomery could be squeezed out. Mack, who was given the transition tag by Cleveland last week, is probably the best free agent available and is unlikely to end up with the Redskins, given their other concerns. But Collins, who was Cincinnati’s right tackle last season, and Schwartz, with Kansas City last season, could be more reasonable targets.

INSIDE LINEBACKER

On the Roster: Keenan Robinson, Josh Hull, Will Compton, Adrian Robinson, Jeremy Kimbrough

Pending Free Agents: London Fletcher, Perry Riley, Nick Barnett, Bryan Kehl

Potential Targets: Riley, Karlos Dansby, Brandon Spikes

Riley is, first and foremost, the Redskins‘ top priority at the position, though he and the team were unable to come to terms on the parameters of a contract in recent weeks. His departure would be tough for the Redskins, who would then have to fill another starting spot with Fletcher retiring. Dansby is the best player available at the position, but he’s 32, would command a multi-year deal and may not be a fit for a transitioning defense. Spikes has his own share of concerns — he’s brutal against the pass — but the market here is shallow.

WIDE RECEIVER

On the Roster: Pierre Garçon, Leonard Hankerson, Aldrick Robinson, Nick Williams, Josh Bellamy, David Gettis

Pending Free Agents: Joshua Morgan, Santana Moss, Dezmon Briscoe

Potential Targets: Kenny Britt, Hakeem Nicks, Andrew Hawkins

The big name available is Denver’s Eric Decker, but it’s unlikely the Redskins would pay Decker the money he’d command to be their No. 2 receiver behind Garçon. They’ll be looking for a taller, more physical target, which could take them to the 6-foot-3, 223-pound Britt, who spent his first five seasons in Tennessee but has had a plethora of off-the-field issues, or the 6-foot-1, 208-pound Nicks, who had a down year with the New York Giants in 2013. The Redskins also will need a slot receiver, and the 5-foot-8 Hawkins, who filled that role with the Bengals the last three seasons, could fill that role. He’s a restricted free agent, but Cincinnati merely has the right of first refusal on any offer heading his way.

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