- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2015

An attempt to put the woes of the previous season behind them will begin in earnest for the Washington Redskins on Tuesday when the new league year, and thus the free agent signing period, will begin.

Teams may begin signing players that were under contract to other teams at 4 p.m., with many using a negotiating period over the previous three days to talk to players’ representatives and get a feel for the market.

Under new general manager Scot McCloughan, the Redskins’ approach to free agency may end up different than in past years. McCloughan, widely respected around the league for his collegiate scouting, has said he would prefer to build a roster through the draft and exercise caution with regards to signing other teams’ players.

This year, however, he doesn’t have that luxury. After finishing 4-12 last season — the sixth time they’ve been in last place in the NFC East in the last seven years — the Redskins have several needs to address, including along the offensive line and at nearly every position on defense.

Washington entered the signing period with 14 players set to become free agents. Tight end Niles Paul, a pending unrestricted free agent, signed a three-year contract with the Redskins on Friday, while right tackle Tom Compton and strong safety Duke Ihenacho previously signed new contracts with the team.

Kicker Kai Forbath, a restricted free agent, was also tendered a contract at the right-of-first-refusal, meaning he’ll have the opportunity to turn down any other offer he receives and return to the Redskins on a one-year contract worth $1,542,000.

All told, the team should have approximately $25 million to spend on players, with NFLPA records listing the Redskins as having an adjusted salary cap of $146,591,745 entering 2015.

Their biggest concern will be on defense, where, under new defensive coordinator Joe Barry, they’ll need to reshape a unit that ranked 20th in yards per game and tied for 29th in points allowed.

On the defensive line, they’ll need to find a nose tackle to fit their 3-4 defense, with the Denver Broncos’ Terrance Knighton, the Arizona Cardinals’ Dan Williams and the Green Bay Packers’ B.J. Raji, who missed all of last season with an injury, among the best available players at the position.

They’ll also need additional help at defensive end, with the Chicago Bears’ Stephen Paea seemingly among their top targets. Comcast SportsNet Chicago reported Monday afternoon that the agent of the 6-foot-1, 300-pound Paea, a former second-round pick out of Oregon State who had six sacks last season, had been negotiating a contract with the Redskins.

In the secondary, the Redskins will continue their annual quest to find a game-changer, with the San Diego Chargers’ Marcus Gilchrist, the Oakland Raiders’ Tyvon Branch and the Broncos’ Rahim Moore among potential targets.
Branch, who played in just five games the last two seasons because of injury, was released in February, and visited Redskins Park last week after a trip to Indianapolis and before one to Kansas City.

A more difficult quest for the Redskins will be to find starting-caliber players on the offensive line, with many having already signed a contract to return to their team and others reaching an agreement to head elsewhere.

Dallas Cowboys right tackle Doug Free and Houston Texans right tackle Derek Newton each decided to return to their teams over the weekend, leaving the Packers’ Bryan Bulaga among the best right tackles available. There has been less activity among offensive guards, with the San Francisco 49ers’ Mike Iupati, a left guard scouted by McCloughan before being drafted in 2010, reportedly making it known he will sign with the Arizona Cardinals.

Then, of course, comes the issue of the Redskins retaining their own players. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, who was given the franchise tag a year ago and played last season on a one-year, $11.455 million contract, will again be the subject of negotiations. Orakpo played in only seven games last season before tearing a pectoral muscle for the third time in the past four years — an injury that will prevent him from obtaining the big-money contract he’s long desired.

Other players set to become unrestricted free agents on Tuesday afternoon include quarterback Colt McCoy, defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, running back Roy Helu, strong safety Brandon Meriweather and wide receiver Leonard Hankerson.

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

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