- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2016

ASHBURN — The Washington Redskins entered Tuesday needing to cut five players to get to the 75-man limit by the 4 p.m. deadline, and they began that process by releasing veterans Stephen Paea and Perry Riley Jr.

Paea and Riley both entered the preseason needing to reclaim their roster spots after inconsistent performances in 2015. The depth along the defensive line and inside linebacker positions, combined with the money the team saved by releasing them, made them expendable on the 53-man roster.

“It’s what goes into every decision when we release anybody,” coach Jay Gruden said on Tuesday. “You know, a lot of times when you feel like we have the depth that we have, it’s not about the players that we released, it’s the players that we kept. We have some guys at linebacker that have played extremely well and some guys on the defensive line we feel like are competing and doing a good job. Those two guys are excellent football players, I’m sure they’ll latch on and do well. They have a lot football left … it’s just part of the decision process.”

The Redskins saved $4 million by cutting Riley, the 28-year-old inside linebacker who was entering his seventh season with Washington. He had been an integral part of the Redskins linebacker core the last five seasons as a starter, but struggled at times in the beginning of last season.

His play improved toward the end of the year, but he missed the final six games of the season, including the team’s playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, because of a broken bone in his right foot. He needed a second surgery in the offseason after trying to rush back from the injury and began training camp on the physically unable to perform list before returning July 29.

Once he was back, he was unable to unseat Mason Foster, who played strong in Riley’s absence last season, for the starting job alongside Will Compton. They shared snaps during the first two preseason games, but Riley played just four defensive snaps in the third preseason game, a dress rehearsal for the starters and key backups, last week against the Buffalo Bills.

“It’s a tough time of year for everybody,” Foster said. “You see some of your best friends getting cut and no longer with the team. But like I said, it’s part of the business. It’s above our pay grade. We come here and play football. All that other stuff is what the guys upstairs do and you’ve just got to roll with it. Perry’s a great guy, man, one of my really good friends out here since I first came. So it’s tough to see him go.”

The Redskins have also been pleased with the development of tookie inside linebacker Su’a Cravens and production from backup Terence Garvin, who was signed to a one-year deal in the offseason and can contribute on special teams. Garvin played 36 defensive snaps against the Bills and logged 13 on special teams.

“Yeah, he’s been great on special teams, No. 1,” Gruden said of Garvin. “No. 2, when he gets in the game, you feel his presence and he’s picked up a new system and done extremely well. He runs around, he’s a great athlete, very fast, very physical and he’s fun to watch, he really is.”

Paea was signed to a four-year, $21 million contract before the 2015 season, He played 11 games in 2015 with just one start after losing the left defensive end job to Chris Baker in Week 4. He also finished the season on injured reserve with a toe sprain.

During the offseason, the Redskins committed to making changes along the defensive line. They chose not to re-sign veterans Jason Hatcher and Terrance Knighton. They added defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Kendall Reyes, who have played prominently in the rotation along with Baker, Kedric Golston and Ricky Jean Francois.

The Redskins also have been impressed with what they’ve seen from rookie Anthony Lanier, who is pushing for a spot on the 53-man roster. Washington also has rookie Matt Ioannidis, veteran Jerrell Powe, and on Monday signed 35-year-old defensive end Cullen Jenkins to compete for roster spots.

“We got a lot of work to do, man,” Golston said. “I think we’ve made strides and we have a long way to go to what we think we can and what we want to be. At the end of the day, that’s all we are right now is potential as a group. But we have to continue to work and to go out there day in, day out and prove our worth as individuals and as a group.”

The 53-man roster must be finalized by Saturday at 4 p.m. Undrafted rookie wide receiver Reggie Diggs is expected to be waived with an injury settlement. He had arthroscopic surgery on one of knees during rookie minicamp in the spring and aggravated the injury in training camp.

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