For the first time in recent memory, it appears the Washington Redskins‘ long-term planning has affected their short-term success.
The team will enter Thursday, the second full day of free agency, still looking for a second starting cornerback and a pair of starting safeties after several marquee names headed elsewhere late Tuesday night.
And while the Redskins entered Tuesday’s start to free agency with $15.58 million available in salary cap space after they retained inside linebacker Perry Riley, they resisted the temptation of signing a top-tier player at a position of need at the expense of their future accounting.
Cornerbacks Aqib Talib, Alterraun Verner and Vontae Davis, and free safeties Jairus Byrd and Malcolm Jenkins all agreed to big-money, long-term contracts on Tuesday — some with new teams, some with their former teams.
The contracts handed to Byrd and Talib, each of whom had been linked to Washington in the past several days, would have been particularly onerous for the Redskins. Byrd, considered the top free safety available, agreed to a six-year, $54 million contract with the New Orleans Saints, while Talib agreed to a six-year, $57 million contract with the Denver Broncos shortly before midnight on Wednesday.
Complete details of each player’s contract have not yet been reported, but each could pose significant problem over the lives of the deals. New Orleans, which entered the start of the league year with only $2.4 million available, will have to make significant changes to its roster to accommodate the $4 million salary cap figure accompanying Byrd’s signing. Then, considering the relatively gentle salary cap hit this season, it’s plausible that Byrd could account for upwards of $10 million a year in the back half of his contract.
Those demands are something the Redskins could not match. The contracts of left tackle Trent Williams and wide receiver Pierre Garçon already count for a combined $19.6 million this season and will escalate in 2015, and the team will be eligible to enter into negotiations with the representatives of quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris for the first time next year.
They’re also moves the Redskins couldn’t justify making. The Broncos, for example, lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl last month because of a porous secondary, which they addressed by signing Talib and free safety T.J. Ward. Their other concerns, relatively speaking, are minor — unlike the Redskins, who need more than one significant fix after going 3-13 last season and making the transition to a new coach, Jay Gruden.
Only one player who had been in discussions with Washington over the weekend signed a contract that the Redskins could have matched. Mike Mitchell, a former Carolina Panthers free safety, signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers — one that reportedly includes a $2.2 million cap hit this season and approximately $5 million and $6 million over the next two.
By Wednesday evening, the Redskins had spent approximately $7.5 million of their salary cap room on five players, two of whom figure to have a chance at starting: right guard Shawn Lauvao and wide receiver Andre Roberts.
The Redskins did host two unsigned free agents at their facility Wednesday afternoon. Former Houston Texans defensive end Antonio Smith and former Baltimore Ravens cornerback Corey Graham were at Redskins Park to meet with the team’s personnel department. It’s unclear if Smith was offered a contract, while Graham, a Buffalo native, instead accepted a four-year, $16 million offer from the Bills, according to ESPN.
Three others stopped by to sign the contracts they agreed to on Tuesday. Roberts was given a four-year, $16 million deal with a $4 million signing bonus and $8 million guaranteed, while Lauvao signed a four-year, $17 million contract with $5 million guaranteed. Inside linebacker Adam Hayward also signed his three-year, $3 million deal.
And another will be in town Thursday. Ryan Clark, a free safety who played for the Redskins in 2004 and 2005, said during an appearance as a guest analyst on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” on Wednesday afternoon that he was scheduled to fly to Washington to visit Redskins Park on Thursday.
Clark, 34, would likely command a veteran’s minimum salary while tutoring some of the Redskins‘ young safeties, including Bacarri Rambo, Phillip Thomas and Jose Gumbs. He had 104 tackles last season, the most in his 12-year career, and intercepted two passes.
Joel Turner, Clark’s agent, said Wednesday night that several teams which had expressed interest in Clark over the three-day negotiating window that began Saturday ended up signing other players. He declined to share Clark’s plans after his visit to Redskins Park but said Clark would sign if he received a suitable offer.