- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2016

As soon as free agency began this offseason, teams plunged deep into their pockets for the league’s premier pass rushers.

Defensive ends Malik Jackson and Olivier Vernon were the top earners in free agency. Jackson, who became a free agent after helping the Denver Broncos defeat the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl, signed a whopping six-year, $90 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Vernon, formerly of the Miami Dolphins, signed a five-year, $85 million contract with the New York Giants. According to NFL Network, Vernon’s deal included $52.5 million in guarantees — $10.5 million more than Jackson’s deal.

In the four weeks since free agency began, 10 defensive ends and six outside linebackers signed with new teams, including former Seattle Seahawks outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, who signed a four-year, $37 million contract with the Oakland Raiders.

The bottom line? In an era when passing the football reigns supreme, having defenders that can pressure the quarterback is king.

That’s why it was so important for the Washington Redskins to retain outside linebacker Junior Galette, who signed a one-year deal worth $4.1 million. There are questions — the most obvious pertaining to how Galette responds after tearing his left Achilles’ tendon last season — but the deal was favorable for the Redskins.

Before Galette was injured, he had 22 sacks in his last two seasons with the New Orleans Saints — more than Jackson, Vernon or Irvin had in in their last two years. If Galette can perform at that level again, he’ll be a huge bargain for the Redskins, considering the money other teams shelled out for the top pass-rushing talents.

“We were concerned,” coach Jay Gruden said at the owners’ meetings in Boca Raton, Florida two weeks ago. “We didn’t have him on our team. We had the right of first refusal, but you never know. Somebody could go out and offer him a lot of money, so I was a little nervous about getting him back. There were some other good pass rushers in free agency, but we felt like getting Junior back would be like an added free agent because we didn’t have him. Great pass rusher, got to get him healthy obviously. He’s working his butt off to get healthy, and he’s going to be a huge, huge help to us on third down next year.”

When Galette was released by the Saints following a series of off-the-field issues in July, the Redskins signed him to a one-year, $745,000 contract a week later. Washington’s coaches had high hopes of pairing him opposite outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, but they never got the chance after Galette tore the Achilles in a preseason practice.

Galette remained in Ashburn this offseason and has worked feverishly at the team facility to get back to full health, his progress well-documented through social media. Galette is expected to be ready by training camp, according to Gruden, and the Redskins are looking forward to finally seeing the impact he can have on the field.

If outside linebacker Preston Smith continues to build on a rookie season in which he had eight sacks, the Redskins could have trio of strong pass rushers in Kerrigan, Galette and Smith.

“[Galette] gives us an edge guy, which is huge,” general manager Scot McCloughan said at the owners’ meetings. “We have Kerrigan, he’s a really good football player. Preston is a really good football player. Trent Murphy is a solid football player. You’ve got Junior — [offensive] coordinators have to go, ‘Wait, who’s on the field, where are they coming from?’ That’s important. Pass rush is huge in the NFL.”

Considering the Redskins have not seen Galette play in a year, the one-year deal is another low-risk, prove-it contract. If the 28-year-old produces like he has in the past, it will not only be favorable for the Redskins, but also for Galette, who could position himself for a more lucrative contract next offseason.

“Coming of an injury at any part of your body, but Achilles, for a guy’s explosion, it’s going to be interesting,” McCloughan said. “That’s why the one-year deal from our point made sense because does he still have the same twist? Does he have the same ability to get upfield? I believe he does. He’s a Redskin through and through now and we have his back.”

• Anthony Gulizia can be reached at agulizia@washingtontimes.com.

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