By Rich Tandler
On Friday, the Redskins announced that they had tendered restricted free agent guard Kory Lichtensteiger and exclusive rights free agent Graham Gano. The moves assure that Gano will be a Redskin in 2012 and that either Lichtensteiger will be a Redskin or the team will receive a fourth-round draft pick as compensation.
The team elected not to give the restricted free agent tender to their other eligible player, Byron Westbrook. If the Redskins don’t change their minds by 4 p.m. today the will become an unrestricted free agent.
The 26-year-old cornerback has been with the organization for five seasons. He was on the practice squad in 2007 and 2008 and on the active roster from 2009-2011.
Last year, Westbrook played just a handful of snaps on defense in the first half of the season. He did make a game-saving play in the second game of the season when he forced a fumble that ended the Cardinals’ potential game-winning drive.
Westbrook played more later in the season. After playing 48 snaps on defense in the first 13 games, he played 79 in the last three as Jim Haslett said that he wanted to see what he could do. His trial period went fairly well; he didn’t make any big plays but he did not give up any, either.
Regardless of how much or how well he plays on defense, his speed makes him a valuable asset on special teams. Valuable, yes, but not irreplaceable.
The decision to not tender Westbrook does not necessarily mean the end of his tenure as a Redskin. The tender would have given Westbrook a 2012 salary of $1.26 million, which is the level for right of first refusal. He still could have offered his services to another team but the Redskins would have had a chance to match offer. Since Westbrook was undrafted, there would be no draft pick compensation if the Redskins decided to let him go.
It is possible that the Redskins would like to have Westbrook back but with a contract that pays less than $1.26 million. The minimum salary, which is about what a reserve and special teams player like Westbrook can expect, is $700,000 for a fourth-year player.
The Redskins could sign Westbrook prior to free agency or they could let him test the market and then bring him back. Or, he could sign elsewhere. The team apparently did not think that it was worth the $506,000 difference between the minimum salary and the restricted tender to retain him so they may not go much higher than the minimum to keep him.