The start of free agency has, in recent years, led to a flurry of moves for the Washington Redskins.
They signed defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth to a seven-year, $100 million contract with $41 million guaranteed in 2009. They added Pierre Garçon on a five-year, $42.5 million contract in 2012. Even last season, when they did not add a marquee free agent on the first day, they still picked up left guard Shawn Lauvao, wide receiver Andre Roberts and inside linebacker Adam Hayward.
Those moves made the Redskins’ approach to the new league year on Tuesday all the more noticeable. In what may be as much of a reflection of the current free agent market as it is the direction of the franchise under new general manager Scot McCloughan, Washington agreed to terms with only one player, Stephen Paea, adding the former Chicago Bears defensive tackle on what is reportedly a four-year, $21 million contract with $15 million guaranteed.
Exactly where the 6-foot-1, 300-pound Paea will fit with the Redskins remains uncertain. Paea, 26, started all 16 games last season as a defensive tackle in the Bears’ 4-3 scheme, finishing with career highs of 24 tackles, six sacks two forced fumbles.
Regarded as more of a pass rusher than a run stopper, he would seemingly mesh with the blueprint coach Jay Gruden began to lay out for Washington’s defense at the Senior Bowl in January. This season, Gruden said, the Redskins’ defensive linemen would be asked to shoot the gap and rush the passer more frequently under new defensive coordinator Joe Barry, mixing in more one-gap responsibilities in their 3-4 defense than in previous years.
Paea lined up as more of a nose tackle during his first two seasons in Chicago, which drafted him in the second round, No. 53 overall, out of Oregon State in 2011. According to ESPN, Paea also drew interest from Dallas, Detroit and Tampa Bay, understanding that the Bears, under a new coaching regime, did not have a need for him in their defense.
Washington’s reserved approach to the start of the signing period jives with the strategy followed in the past by McCloughan, who was hired to serve as the team’s general manager in January. McCloughan, a respected former college scout, prefers to build his team by drafting and developing players, adding others through free agency only when those under team control failed to pan out.
The sheer number of players the Redskins need to add, though — both in quality and in quantity — made it likely that McCloughan, at least this season, would need to tinker with that strategy.
Of the 17 players whose contracts with Washington were set to expire, only four — right tackle Tom Compton, strong safety Duke Ihenacho, tight end Niles Paul and, on Tuesday, free safety Trenton Robinson — have thus far been retained by the team.
And, the market itself has not been kind to the Redskins, who are, among many needs, especially in need of starting-quality help at right tackle and at both safety positions. Despite the $25.6 million the Redskins have available to spend, according to NFL Players Association records, many of the top players are not a particular fit for Washington, either because of cost or depth.
Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, considered the best player available, has never played in a three-man front and will reportedly head to the Miami Dolphins on a contract that will pay him approximately $20 million a year. Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, the league’s leading rusher last season, is not a fit with the productive Alfred Morris already in Washington.
Even then, many of those who are in play have accepted contract offers elsewhere. Former Oakland Raiders strong safety Tyvon Branch, who visited Redskins Park last week, signed a one-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, whom Washington reportedly expressed interest in over the weekend, chose to remain with the Green Bay Packers.
By Tuesday evening, though, there was far less action on the free agent market than in previous years — with the headline moves around the league not the signings of available players, but rather a series of trades involving players already under contract before the 4 p.m. start to the league year.
Not even the players formerly with the Redskins were finding new homes. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, and others had not agreed to the terms of a new contract with a team by late Tuesday night. Only Roy Helu had, with the running back reportedly agreeing to a two-year deal with the Oakland Raiders.
Only Hankerson managed a sniff of interest, writing in a text message that he was in Atlanta for a meeting with the Falcons’ coaches — and a potential reunion with the team’s new offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan.