Chris Baker was cut by the Denver Broncos and the Miami Dolphins before signing with the Washington Redskins’ practice squad in 2011, leaving him well aware that intangibles such as heart and desire are rarely factors in contract negotiations.
“You play the games, but at the end of the day, the NFL, every team, is a business,” Baker said. “If they want you, I’ll gladly come. If they don’t want you, you have to go somewhere else where you’re wanted.”
Twenty-two players will find that out after the season, which, for the Redskins, will end Sunday with a road game against the New York Giants. Many of them will do so for the first time; several of them are also on defense, where seven starters, including the entire defensive backfield, face an uncertain future.
The Redskins should have approximately $25 million available under the salary cap when the new league year begins in March, and that amount should be enough to address many of their concerns.
Those at Redskins Park who will make personnel decisions will need to take a discerning eye to the film and the figures to ascertain the merits of offering each player a new contract.
“It’s gonna be a lot of holes to fill,” said cornerback DeAngelo Hall, one of those seven starters. “But this front office and this staff, I think they know what direction they want to go in. I think they’ll reassess that, obviously, when the season ends, get a better understanding and we’ll figure where a lot of us guys land.”
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Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo will, predictably, be the focus of the Redskins’ offseason budgeting. Orakpo, coming off his five-year rookie contract, has 10 sacks and 60 tackles this season and will want to be paid as one of the best pass rushers in the league. Questions about his talent and his durability could push down whatever his desired salary may be.
Other similar decisions will need to be made. Hall had one of the better seasons of his career with four interceptions and four forced fumbles, but in what’s shaping up to be a deep, talented pool of cornerbacks, he may not have done enough to demand more than yet another one-year contract.
Inside linebacker London Fletcher removed one of the variables last week when he said he is 99 percent sure he will retire after this season. But his partner inside, Perry Riley, presents another curious case. Is Riley, wrapping up his fourth season, more than a solid run stopper? He can drop into coverage and, on rare occasions, can rush the quarterback, but shouldn’t many players at his position be able to do that?
“I pretty much did my job, and now, this is where my agent kicks in,” Riley said. “I’ll let him worry about everything else. I’ll pretty much just sit back and kind of talk to him, see what he’s hearing from other teams and other people. Hopefully, I’ll get a deal done here. If not, it’s part of the business. There’s no hard feelings – nothing like that.”
The Redskins’ pass defense has been woeful for several seasons, which could facilitate the decision to clean house and start anew. Free safety Brandon Meriweather’s continued reckless play has made him a liability. Strong safety Reed Doughty has been as reliable as they come, though he’s 31. Cornerback Josh Wilson has shown versatility in run support and blitzing off the edge, but his coverage skills have trailed off considerably.
There won’t be as many changes on offense; before the season, the Redskins’ biggest question seemed to revolve around tight end Fred Davis. But Davis was replaced early in the season by rookie Jordan Reed, and, dogged by questions surrounding his work ethic and desire, no player may be more certain to end up elsewhere.
Wide receiver Joshua Morgan, who grew up blocks from RFK Stadium, was thrilled to return home when he signed a two-year contract before last season. He may be forced to come to the painful realization that he’ll have to seek work elsewhere.
Then there’s wide receiver Santana Moss, who has arguably been the team’s most popular player since his arrival prior to the 2005 season. At 34, Moss’s responsibilities have diminished the last two seasons, and when asked about his future on Tuesday, he grew surly.
“I don’t like to even talk about it,” Moss said. “It is what it is. Nothing I can control, so at the end of the day, all I got to do is go out there and control what I can control, and that’s to go out there and play ball come Sunday.”
Looming in the backdrop of it all, of course, is who will be making those decisions. Should coach Mike Shanahan, who has one year remaining on his contract, not return to the Redskins next season, the new regime will undoubtedly be evaluating players on a different scale.
“Whether we’re playing for the Washington Redskins or another one of these 32 teams in the National Football League, we’ll see,” Hall said. “We’ll see. That’s all we can do.”
• Zac Boyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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