Wading period: Redskins avoid big splash, make wise choices as free agency begins

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Entering a normal start to free agency for the first time in five years, the Washington Redskins began spending their $18 million in salary cap space fairly wisely Tuesday, eschewing the big splash in the early hours in favor of quality reinforcements for a team that went 3-13 last season.

Inside linebacker Perry Riley and wide receiver Santana Moss are slated to return on new contracts, while the Redskins agreed to terms on contracts for former Cleveland Browns right guard Shawn Lauvao, former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Andre Roberts and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Adam Hayward.

All five players address some of the Redskins‘ biggest needs, but as free agency wore on Tuesday night, several marquee players still remained on the market. New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, Buffalo Bills free safety Jairus Byrd and Cincinnati Bengals right tackle Anthony Collins all remained unsigned entering the evening hours.

Not since 2009 has Washington been able to take such a reserved approach to the start of the new league year — and that was the year it signed defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who played in 20 games for the team after signing a seven-year, $100 million contract.

The expiring collective bargaining agreement led to an uncapped season in 2010 and a lockout in 2011, which delayed the free agent signing period until the first several days of training camp. Then, the Redskins were hit with a $36 million cap penalty the day before free agency opened in 2012, and they elected to spread that cap hit evenly over the following two seasons.

Finally freed from that handicap, Washington began Tuesday by re-signing Riley, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent. The 25-year-old inside linebacker was one of four defensive players the Redskins had publicly identified as a priority earlier this offseason, yet it wasn’t until the eve of the new league year that reasonable proposals were exchanged.

By bringing back Riley, the Redskins can proceed with their plan to have him replace the retiring London Fletcher at mike linebacker. A fourth-round pick out of LSU in 2010, Riley took over as a starter midway through the 2011 season and has improved steadily as a run-stopper and as a pass defender while also mastering an understanding of the defense.

Moss, a popular player who ranks amongst the Redskins‘ all-time leading receivers, also returns to the team on what a person familiar with the agreement said will be a one-year deal. Set to turn 35 in June, Moss‘ return comes as somewhat of a surprise, but he has been a steady contributor since becoming a full-time slot receiver two years ago.

The new deal could give Moss a chance to play one last season with the Redskins, his 10th with the team, and embark on a retirement tour. He surpassed 7,500 receiving yards with the Redskins last season, when he moved into third place in team history with 571 catches.

Lauvao, 26, started 11 games at right guard for the Browns last season, missing the first four after sustaining a high left ankle sprain during the second week of training camp. An adept run blocker, the 6-foot-3, 315-pounder was drafted in the third round out of Arizona State in 2010 and started all 16 games in 2011 and 2012.

The agreement with Lauvao, announced by his agents on Twitter, is reportedly worth $17 million over four years. It now creates a logjam on the Redskins‘ offensive line: All five starters from last season remain under contract, plus all four reserves and two others who signed futures contracts in January, but new coach Jay Gruden said last month the team will look to incorporate more of a power running game into its offense.

Roberts, a slot receiver and part-time return specialist, agreed to a four-year, $16 million contract with a $4 million signing bonus and a total of $8 million guaranteed, according to a person familiar with his deal. The third-round pick out of The Citadel in 2010 caught 43 passes for 471 yards and two touchdowns last season, but had 64 catches for 759 yards and five touchdowns in 2012, when four different players started at quarterback for Arizona.

Hayward, who will turn 30 in June, will be at Redskins Park on Wednesday and will sign a three-year contract pending a physical, according to his agent, Derrick Fox. A sixth-round pick out of Portland State and a backup over seven seasons with the Buccaneers, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound inside linebacker was Tampa Bay’s special teams captain last season and should upgrade a unit that struggled mightily in many phases last season.

In addition, the Redskins reportedly are set to host two players — Houston Texans defensive end Antonio Smith and cornerback Corey Graham — at Redskins Park in the coming days. Smith would significantly upgrade the Redskins‘ pass rush, while Graham would provide the team with a solid No. 2 cornerback to partner with DeAngelo Hall.

One player Washington did not keep before the start of the league year was wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe, who missed all of 2013 with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Briscoe, a restricted free agent, was not tendered a contract by the Redskins, making him a free agent.

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