- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bruce Allen said Tuesday that the Washington Redskins have begun contract talks with the representatives of three players — outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, inside linebacker Perry Riley and cornerback DeAngelo Hall — before they become free agents when the league year begins in March.

The Redskins’ general manager said he began casually speaking with the players’ agents during practices leading up to the East-West Shrine Game in Tampa, Fla., and the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., late last month. Exact proposals won’t be made until toward the end of this month, when the coaching staff has adequately evaluated all 22 of the Redskins’ pending free agents.

“I think it’s a little early, because they are just starting to evaluate,” Allen said. “We’ll have some fresh ideas and some fresh eyeballs looking at players. We, obviously, can fill them in on the character of various guys, but I’d be interested to hear their opinions on who they think really fits in here and who might not.”

Tuesday was the first day new coach Jay Gruden’s entire coaching staff was at Redskins Park. The team announced the hiring of three coaching assistants early Tuesday: Bradford Banta, who will assist the special teams; Shane Day, who will assist the offensive line; and Jake Peetz, who will assist on offense.

The goal is for the coaching staff, which has some holdover from former coach Mike Shanahan’s staff, to have a solid idea about the state of the roster when it departs for Indianapolis and the NFL combine in two weeks. That will be the first opportunity for many of the assistant coaches — only three traveled to the Senior Bowl — to meet with and interview college players in person.

Gruden is nearing the completion of his first month as the Redskins’ coach after being hired to replace Shanahan on Jan. 9. His top two assistants, offensive coordinator Sean McVay and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett — were retained by the team after Shanahan and several other assistant coaches were fired Dec. 30.

Allen said the Redskins are committed to sticking with a 3-4 defensive scheme, but they will run a hybrid offense that will likely deviate from the zone-blocking running scheme of the last four seasons. Special teams, which was the Redskins’ biggest weakness a year ago, will be completely revamped under new coordinator Ben Kotwica.

“It is stimulating to hear some of the [coaches’] ideas,” Allen said. “It’s recalculating everything — not just on the coaching side, but some of the personnel specifications for different players.”

By staying with a 3-4 defensive scheme, the team will find itself better able to evaluate a player like Orakpo, whose five-year rookie contract is set to expire. Orakpo, 27, was named to his third Pro Bowl last month after a season in which he had a career-high 60 tackles, including 10 sacks.

Riley, 25, led the Redskins with 115 tackles and will be a free agent for the first time after his rookie contract expires. And Hall, who has been with the Redskins for parts of the last six seasons, is among the team’s priorities after a season in which he had 78 tackles, four interceptions and forced a career-high four fumbles.

The contracts could be costly. The Redskins, finally free of the burden of two consecutive years of an $18 million salary cap penalty imposed by the league in March 2011, project to have approximately $28 million available to entice free agents.

Allen insisted Tuesday that the while the penalty itself will no longer exist, the team will still feel its ramifications. Because of the penny-pinching nature of their spending the last two years, the Redskins’ positions of need, and their requisite depth, have suffered.

“We have the same number everybody else does this year, which is different, but if you look at the cap room around the league, that’s because everybody carried room over from the previous year, so we don’t have that,” Allen said. “We have a lot of free agents. We have a lot of holes on the team that we need to fill, and the key is to look at our guys first and then we’ll look around, but having an understanding of what’s also in the draft.”

One player who Allen expects to have with the Redskins next year is Kirk Cousins. ESPN reported last week that the quarterback had asked for a trade in the wake of Gruden declaring Robert Griffin III as the team’s starter, but Allen said that never happened.

Cousins, drafted the same year as Griffin, has often said during the last two seasons that he believes he is constantly auditioning for a role on other teams. He played in five games this season, starting the final three after the team benched Griffin.

“There’s no change from our perspective on Kirk,” Allen said. “That’s it. We’re comfortable with Kirk.”

• Zac Boyer can be reached at zboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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