- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

ASHBURN — Darrel Young has experienced quite a bit since he signed with the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent linebacker from Villanova in 2009.

Young was cut from the practice squad that year and returned in 2010. He converted to fullback and over the years would emerge as a reliable bulldozer for running back Alfred Morris, most notably during Morris’ 2012 record-setting rookie season.

He has been part of that improbable postseason run in 2012, a dismal 3-13 season a year later and, most recently, last Sunday’s 35-18 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

This year felt different, Young said, with strides being made toward becoming an organization with consistent success. Like many in the Redskins‘ locker room, Young believes this 9-7 season wasn’t a flash in the pan.

The question is whether Young will be around to see the transformation through. The fullback, used on 10.1 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, is a pending free agent. He was valuable on special teams, but his role on offense sharply declined as the team favored multiple-tight end sets.

For Young, and others for whose contracts expire on March 9 at 4 p.m., the future is somewhat uncertain. There are 17 pending unrestricted and restricted free agents. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is one of them, but coach Jay Gruden has already talked about the team taking a step forward with Cousins a big part of those plans. Others, such as punter Tress Way and strong safety Duke Ihenacho, are confident they will return. Then there are others, such as Young, who simply are just unsure.

Morris is on that list, and it remains to be seen if he’ll return or if the Redskins will commit to moving forward with rookie Matt Jones as their lead running back.

“Alfred and I exchanged jerseys [Sunday] night,” Young said on Monday as players cleaned out their lockers. “We signed it to each other, finally said, ‘We’ve met brothers. Brothers for life.’ My contract’s up. His is up. I paved the way, I feel like, for a couple of years, part of a lot of great memories. I just hope to be back. If not, it would suck.”

Nose tackle Terrance Knighton is no stranger to these situations. He wanted to return to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team that drafted him, after his contract expired in 2013, but instead landed with the Denver Broncos. He badly wanted to stay there, too, after helping the Broncos to the Super Bowl in 2013 and the divisional round the following season.

Those dreams were dashed, and he signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Redskins last March. Knighton helped inject a winning attitude in the Redskins‘ locker room, but they, too, could move on from the run-stuffer best known as “Pot Roast.”

“I do want to come back. You always want to stay with something that’s successful,” Knighton said. “This is my third time going through this. I’m just going to let it handle itself. If not, I think I’m a good enough player someone will call me.”

There are others, such as cornerback Will Blackmon and running back Pierre Thomas, whose careers were revitalized in Washington. Blackmon, signed after he was cut by the Seattle Seahawks in the preseason, was a key contributor in the Redskins‘ secondary. With cornerback Chris Culliver expected to return from a torn ACL and MCL next season and the emergence of rookies Quinton Dunbar and Kyshoen Jarrett, Blackmon’s future is muddied.

Thomas, who was released after eight seasons with the New Orleans Saints, never got a call this year until the San Francisco 49ers signed him on Nov. 3. He was cut a week later and the Redskins signed him on Dec. 11, two days before their four-game regular-season winning streak began.

When the 31-year-old Thomas was signed, he hoped to provide leadership to a young team amidst a playoff push, but also prove he still had something left in the tank.

He said he felt like he accomplished both, but doesn’t quite know what’s next.
“Hopefully this whole run, this end of the season, showed these guys they have what it takes to be here, to do the same thing, even better,” Thomas said. “I’m still going to work out, and hopefully, I do get a call back from this organization. I feel like I’m a good fit here. I feel like I can help out.”

The question for Thomas — and others — is whether the Redskins feel the same way.

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