The NFL’s free agent signing period began a week ago and most of the top names have been scooped up. Some signed eye-popping deals right away, cashing in with the winners of bidding wars. Others waited longer and watched their markets materialize before making choices.
A few, however, remain unsigned. Two of the most notable play the same position — defensive tackle — which just so happens to be an area of need for the Redskins.
Of the top 15 players ranked on NFL.com’s list of 2017’s best free agents, only three are still on the market. One of them is running back Adrian Peterson, who was always destined to be a tough sell. Peterson wants his salary to reflect his Hall of Fame career, while teams think it should reflect his age and injury history.
The other two are defensive tackles Dontari Poe and Johnathan Hankins. Poe is a two-time Pro Bowler and Hankins is a 24-year-old run stuffer who has a few pass rushing moves (three sacks last season and a career high seven in 2014).
It’s curious that both players are still available, just as it is interesting that the Redskins don’t seem to be involved in the discussion for either one of them.
Washington has made some moves along the defensive line, signing tackles Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee last week, and there have been indications that they may not be done. The Redskins brought nose tackle Bennie Logan in for a visit Friday night, but Logan left Washington without a deal and signed a one-year deal with the Chiefs on Tuesday.
The defensive line was a need before free agency began and it only grew with Chris Baker’s signing in Tampa Bay. McGee and McClain add depth, but neither (nor both) seem like the final answer at a position Jay Gruden indicated was a priority at the combine.
“We have some work to do there without a doubt,” Gruden said.
The Redskins ranked 28th in overall defense and couldn’t stop the run, particularly in the red zone, last season, so there is definitely plenty of work to be done, though Gruden did also seem optimistic that players currently on the roster could improve.
“I think obviously you look at our defensive line and you have a couple very young players in A.J. [Francis], and obviously Matt [Ioannidis] did some good things. Anthony [Lanier] we have some very high hopes for his progress in year two,” Gruden said.
Poe and Hankins, though, would both be significant upgrades, though neither seems to have been courted by the team.
Poe has visited Atlanta, Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Miami but remains unsigned. Hankins, so far, seems to have stayed put in New York, though it’s entirely possible that he’s gotten unreported interest from teams or is talking with his current front office about remaining a Giant.
The Giants, however, have just about $6 million in cap space which would make signing Hankins to a new deal difficult, though not impossible by any means —New York could free up more money if it wanted to.
The Redskins could also be more interested in building through the 2017 draft class, which is viewed as particularly deep among defensive linemen. The chance for new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky to develop younger players, instead of working older free agent signings into his scheme, also could be appealing.
“I think that every defensive coordinator will have their own tweaks without a doubt, so it’ll be some different variances to our system whether it’s odd fronts, more odd fronts, more over fronts even fronts, whatever it is. They’ll have their own tweaks,” Gruden said.
Whatever tweaks may be on the way, there is talent to be had on the defensive line market. The Redskins may have other plans but, if it remains there, they may want to take another look.