- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

ASHBURN — Even after handing out a five-year, $75 million contract to cornerback Josh Norman, Washington Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan maintained that he is not a big believer in bettering his team through free agency. It’s through the draft where McCloughan, a well-respected talent evaluator, feels he can find the building blocks for the future of the franchise.

There are exceptions to every tendency, however, and Norman was one of them. It’s not often that a cornerback such as Norman is available, let alone six weeks after the start of free agency and a week before the NFL draft, which begins on Thursday.

“Like I always say, free agency is a tool you use,” McCloughan said on Monday. “It’s something a lot of teams use more than others. I’m not a big proponent of it. I think you saw we signed a lot of our own guys back, signed a couple on the street. It’s one of those things where this kid’s coming off an All-Pro season, he’s 28 and he matches all the characteristics we look for in a football player. So, it’s something you delve into. I wish I got him when he was 22, but that’s not the case. But still, I feel he’s in the prime of his career, but we’re going to build through the draft no matter what.”

The Redskins will begin the first round with the No. 21 pick. The acquisition of Norman certainly gives McCloughan flexibility to either select the best player available, address another pressing need and select a defensive lineman or interior offensive lineman, or trade out of the spot to acquire more picks, something he is fond of doing. That said, acquiring Norman does not dramatically shift the Redskins‘ draft strategy, according to McCloughan.

Before the Redskins signed Norman, the primary areas that needed to be addressed were the defensive line and the secondary. Now that Washington has a cornerback considered to be among the best in the league, the Redskins can turn their attention to the defensive line. After parting ways with nose tackle Terrance Knighton and defensive end Jason Hatcher, who retired after he was cut by the Redskins, there’s a void to be filled up front.

Alabama defensive tackles A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed, as well as Baylor defensive lineman Andrew Billings, are first-round talents that could be available when the Redskins select at No. 21. Washington currently has eight picks, though McCloughan has heavily emphasized his desire to acquire at least four more. This year’s draft has been widely considered to be one of the deepest for defensive linemen, so it’s also possible the Redskins would have an opportunity to trade out of their selection and still land a player they’re high on later in the first round or early in the second round.

“Hopefully, we’ve got a couple of them,” McCloughan joked when asked if he had a player in mind for the No. 21 pick. “But yeah, it’s a strong draft. It really is on both sides of the ball. Of course, I’m not going to say names or anything like that. My personal opinion, there will be a handful of guys in the first round, but also second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth [and] seventh, that are football players and there’s a value for each one of them. It gets lesser and lesser, but I’ll take the lesser height, weight, speed guy for the more consistent football player that you know exactly, character-wise, toughness, competitiveness, that they bring to the Redskins.”

Although the addition of Norman boosts the secondary, McCloughan also said it will not stop the team from adding additional cornerbacks and safeties. Adding Norman also improves the depth at safety, enabling the Redskins to experiment with Will Blackmon and DeAngelo Hall, who is expected to make a full-time transition to safety this season. Duke Ihenacho and free agent acquisition David Bruton are also in the mix at safety, and the Redskins currently have Norman, Bashaud Breeland, Chris Culliver and Quinton Dunbar as their top corners.
As the Redskins saw last season with injuries to Culliver, Hall and free safety Kyshoen Jarrett, the landscape can change quickly. That’s why McCloughan and the organization will look to add more depth and youth in the secondary.

“The thing that’s cool about [adding Norman] is that it gives us another good football player on the field,” McCloughan said. “You can never have enough corners, ever. As you’re well aware, I want to build through the draft, and I want to build with young guys. So no, it doesn’t hold us back, because you can never have enough. There’s injuries that happen, and there’s trades that happen. Stuff like that happens. You can’t just say, ‘OK, we’re great there. Let’s just forget about it.’ No, I’ve been in situations like that. All of a sudden a guy gets hurt or two guys get hurt, and you’re like, ‘Son of a gun, we had that really good player that we passed on because of a need.’ We’re going to take a football player.”

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