The Redskins have all of their starters at linebacker returning for the 2013 season. After this year, however, the situation gets considerable more muddled.
The Redskins have all of their starters at linebacker returning for the 2013 season. After this year, however, the situation gets considerable more muddled.
The news that inside linebacker Jonathan Goff has been waived/injured after tearing the same ACL that he tore a year ago means that the depth chart at that position needs to be reexamined.
Here is how I had the depth chart at inside linebacker shaking out before training camp started.
Starters: London Fletcher, Perry Riley
Reserves: Lorenzo Alexander, Keenan Robinson, Jonathan Goff
Out: Donnell Holt
It seems unlikely that Holt will be able to take the opening created by Goff’s departure. The rookie free agent out of Cal will get a look but he will be doing well if he makes the practice squad.
Goff’s role was likely to be similar to the one that Keyaron Fox filled last year. Fox was a veteran who played 51 snaps on defense and a lot of special teams.
If things go according to plan, Fletcher and Riley are likely to play nearly every snap. Fletcher missed just 26 snaps all season while Riley was out for 23 defensive plays in his eight starts.
But if things don’t go according to plan, Goff, who started 20 games at middle linebacker for the Giants in 2009-2010, would have been a solid backup. Instead they are left with Alexander, who is moving over from outside linebacker, and the rookie Robinson.
Could they go outside to get experienced help? According to Adam Caplan the top available free agent at inside linebacker is ex-Colt Gary Brackett. The 32-year-old missed all but one game last year with a torn rotator cuff and at 5-11, 235 he might be a bit too small for the inside linebacker spot. But he’s an inch taller and only about 10 pounds lighter than Fletcher so maybe could fill the bill there.
Ex-Viking and Maryland Terp E. J. Henderson, who is 31 and has started 107 NFL games including 32 the past two seasons, is also on the market. He is generally considered to be a liability in coverage so he is limited to being a two-down run stuffer. That doesn’t quite fit the Redskins’ vision of a three-down inside linebacker but there aren’t many of those walking the street this time of year. His asking price was high earlier in the offseason but there are reports that it has come down.
Other options include Reggie Torbor (age 31, 28 NFL starts) and former Charger Stephen Cooper (33, 63 starts).
Another option is for the Redskins to alter their plan for Robinson. He probably was going to have what amounted to a redshirt year in 2012, playing sparingly on defense while he learned and prepared to be Fletcher’s eventual successor. They may not have that luxury now and Robinson could get forced into taking meaningful spas before he’s fully ready to do so playing the most complex position on the defense.
Despite Alexander's relative inexperience on the inside, he could step up and play a bigger role than may have been planned as well.
If they do that, they could use Goff’s roster spot for an extra safety or perhaps to keep another running back.
The Redskins will report to training camp on July 25. Over the next five weeks they will undergo the process of cutting their 90-man roster down to 53. Which players will get those coveted spots and which will join the ranks of the unemployed? Over the next couple of weeks we’ll go through position by position and try to predict what decisions Mike Shanahan and company will make.
There are 14 linebackers on the roster, the Redskins will keep 10.
In: Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Rob Jackson, Markus White, Chris Wilson, London Fletcher, Perry Riley, Lorenzo Alexander, Keenan Robinson, Jonathan Goff
Out: Donnell Holt, Bryan Kehl, Brian McNally, Monte Lewis
Changes from 2011: Rocky McIntosh signed with the Rams as a free agent and Keyaron Fox was not resigned; Redskins drafted Robinson (4th round), signed Goff and Kehl as free agents.
This unit is one of the strengths of the team. It would not be surprising if any of the four starters—Orakpo and Kerrigan on the outside, Fletcher and Riley on the inside—made the Pro Bowl.
The starters are every down players. That was literally the case with Kerrigan, who played every one of the 1,056 defensive snaps last year. Fletcher didn’t rest much as he played 1,033 snaps. Orakpo was injured in the last game of the season and took an occasional rest so he played “only” 956 plays. McIntosh started the first eight games of the season and Riley the last eight and they combined to play just over 1,000 snaps.
It is a plus to have such a versatile group that the coaches can trust in virtually any down and distance situation. The issue is that it gives the reserves very few reps to develop and get ready they are needed. Jackson played 113 snaps last year and the departed Fox played just 51. Riley came in as the starter having played just one defensive snap in the first eight games of the season and just eight as a rookie in 2010. White was active for just two games and did not play a defensive snap while Lorenzo Alexander played just 11 snaps.
Alexander is of value to the team even if he doesn’t play at all on defense as he is the special teams captain. Wilson, who lined up on defense only occasionally when he was with the Redskins from 2007-2010, also would be a special teams specialist for the most part.
Jackson and White will be the top reserves at outside linebacker while Goff will be the backup on the inside. Robinson has a chance to be Fletcher’s eventual successor and his 2012 will probably be like Riley’s 2010, playing special teams when he’s active and learning mostly by watching and getting a few practice reps.
While there is a role for each of the 10 players, there may not be room for all of them. If they decide to trim one linebacker to create a spot elsewhere, Wilson and White likely would be the players on the bubble competing for the one last linebacker job.
Kehl could sneak up a grab a spot if Wilson and White falter. The best that Holt, McNally, and Lewis can hope for is a spot on the practice squad.
In: Stephen Bowen, Jarvis Jenkins, Adam Carriker, Kedric Golston, Barry Cofield, Chris Neild
Out: Darrion Scott, Kentwan Balmer, Doug Worthington, Chris Baker, Delvin Johnson
In (4): Roy Helu Jr., Tim Hightower, Evan Royster, Darrell Young
Out: Tristan Davis, Alfred Morris, Antwon Bailey, Lennon Creer
In (3): Fred Davis, Niles Paul, Chris Cooley
Out: Logan Paulsen, Richard Quinn, Beau Reliford
In (6): Anthony Armstrong, Pierre Garçon, Leonard Hankerson, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss, Aldrick Robinson
Out: Brandon Banks, Terrence Austin, Darius Hanks, Brian Hernandez, Lance Lewis, Samuel Kirkland
In (3): Robert Griffin III, Rex Grossman, Kirk Cousins
Out: Jonathan Crompton
In (9): Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Chris Chester, Jammal Brown, Willie Smith, Tyler Polumbus, Josh LeRibeus, Tom Compton
Out: Erik Cook, Grant Garner, Adam Gettis, Maurice Hurt, Nevin McCaskill, James Lee, Nick Martinez
The Redskins’ 90-man offseason roster is set, at least for the time being. It’s time to take a look at who they have, who will start, and who will be around when the Sept. 9 opener in New Orleans rolls around.
Starters: Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan
Reserves: Rob Jackson, Markus White, Chris Wilson
Fighting for a job: Monte Lewis
Rarely is a position set in stone in May but this one may well be. Orakpo, a two-time Pro Bowl performer will get at least 90 percent of the snaps on the right side. Kerrigan, who could be a Pro Bowler if they continue to play the game, will play nearly every snap on the left side.
Jackson seemed to do something to get noticed every time he took the field in relief of Orakpo. As a rookie, White made a nice transition from college defensive end to NFL outside linebacker, especially considering that he didn’t have any offseason work due to the lockout. Those two and Wilson will compete for inclusion on the active list from week to week.
The Redskins could decide to squeeze a roster spot here and go with only four outside backers since Lorenzo Alexander, who is learning the inside, could move back to his old outside spot in a pinch. If that happens, White probably would be safe as he is younger and has three more years left on his contract. Wilson and Jackson are both free agents after the season is over.
Starters: Perry Riley, London Fletcher
Reserves: Lorenzo Alexander, Jonathan Goff, Keenan Robinson
Fighting for a job: Donnell Holt, Bryan Kehl, Brian McNally
Riley and Fletcher both are three-down inside linebackers, a rarity in today’s NFL. Fletcher, of course, is a proven performer over the long term and with his new contract he is set for the next two seasons. Riley showed some flashes of big-play ability last year and his aim is to develop more consistency.
Alexander is the special teams captain and, as noted above, he is learning the inside positions so he can become a true utility player. The Redskins drafted Robinson with the thought of making him Fletcher’s successor in 2014 so he should make the roster but he could well spend much of the season on the inactive list.
Goff is only 26 and he brings 20 starts and 37 total games of experience with him from the Giants. He could be the first player off of the bench in case of injury.
Kehl is also relatively young (27) and has playing experience (57 games with the Giants and Rams). But he would appear to be the odd man out.
When the Redskins drafted Keenan Robinson in the fourth round last month, they were doing what worked for them just two years ago.
In the 2010 draft, they tabbed LSU outside linebacker Perry Riley in the fourth round. He played on the outside for the Tigers but the Redskins had him pegged to succeed Rocky McIntosh, a pending free agent, on the inside next to London Fletcher. After playing just a handful of snaps on defense as a rookie, Riley took over the starting job from McIntosh midway through last season and, while he is still learning, he appears to be set for a long run at the position.
After signing the 37-year-old Fletcher to a two-year deal, one that presumably will be the last contract of his career, the Redskins got down to business with succession planning at his position. They saw the athletic ability and versatility they are looking for at the position in Robinson, who played both inside and outside linebacker at Texas.
“I try to play tough between the tackles. I’m good in pass coverage, that’s another element I bring to my game, and I feel like I can play sideline to sideline,” said Robinson after the Redskins’ rookie minicamp concluded on Sunday.
Although he believes he has some game, he realizes that being in the NFL is a different game altogether. “I feel like I’m a freshman starting out again and I’ll just have to work my way all the way back up,” he said.
If he didn’t realize that before, he did when the Redskins gave him their sizeable defensive playbook. “Yes, it was about a triple cheeseburger worth,” Robinson said with a smile.
Robinson’s approach to learning the playbook was similar to how he might eat that triple cheeseburger–one bite at a time.
“Once you get the concepts down with the defense you can pick it up real quickly,” he said. “Once you just get the concepts and the terminology everything else kind of flows from there.”
Robinson was teammates with current Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo at Texas and he said that he has watched a lot of Redskins games because of that. He plans on learning a lot from Orakpo and from the man he could replace in 2014.
“I’m going to be right there, trying to learn everything I can from the [Fletcher] especially since he’s one of those guys who have done it for so long and able to play injury free,” said Robinson. “So I’m going to learn everything I can from him and use his advice to my advantage.”
The Redskins were happy to get London Fletcher back but his return did not completely fill the team’s hole at middle linebacker. Rocky McIntosh and Keyaron Fox, who backed up Fletcher and Perry Riley last year, are free agents and are not expected to be back, leaving the position critically thin.
Enter Lorenzo Alexander a.k.a. the One-Man Gang. He dabbled a inside backer last year while also serving as a reserve on the outside. This year, however, ILB will be his main position.
“I’m sure I’ll still be used all over the place, but my primary focus this offseason will be inside linebacker, fully learning the position and responsibilities,” Alexander told the Washington Post.
The team will need another inside linebacker either in the draft or in free agency but Alexander’s move into the middle makes the position much less of a concern.
One of the most amiable contract standoffs ever lasted exactly one month and the Redskins got done the deal that they had to get done.
London Fletcher is likely to finish his career in Washington after signing what some reports said was a two-year contract on Friday. Fletcher announced the deal himself via his Twitter account.
For a while, it looked like the $18 million salary cap penalty the league slapped on the Redskins on the eve of free agency might cost then the services of their captain. Their flexibility in dealing with Fletcher was reduced drastically and if another team had come in with a substantial offer, the Redskins would be looking to replace Fletcher.
Fortunately, the inside linebacker market started off very slowly and when inside backers did start signing the contracts did not break the bank. If other teams contacted Fletcher it was kept very quiet and as far as we know he did not visit any other teams.
The Redskins kept things low key as well. The only inside linebacker we know they worked out was Jonathan Goff, the former Giant who missed all of last year with a knee injury.
Although the ink on Fletcher’s contract is barely dry, the Redskins have to start thinking about his eventual replacement. They were in a position where they had virtually no other choice but to bring Fletcher back as they had nobody ready to take the job. Had another team come in and taken him away, they would have been in a world of trouble. They will need to have his successor ready in two years when he likely will be ready to retire.
Inside linebacker in a 3-4 is complex position to learn and if the Redskins want to draft someone ready to replace Fletcher they will have to do it in this year’s draft or in 2013 at the latest. They don’t have to expend a high draft pick to fill the spot. As they did with Perry Riley, who took over the other inside linebacker spot in place of Rocky McIntosh this year, they can tab a prospect who has the athletic tools in the middle rounds and get him up to speed over the next two years.
But that’s for two weeks from today and 2013 and 2014. For now, the Redskins have perhaps their most important player back and that is cause for celebration in Redskins Nation.
The bad news is that the Redskins and London Fletcher have yet to agree on a contract as NFL free agency enters its fourth day.
The good news is that there hasn’t been much movement in the inside linebacker around the league at all.
Along with Fletcher, Curtis Lofton, Stephen Tulloch, and David Hawthorne, the other top inside linebackers who are free agents remain unsigned as of Friday morning.
Inside linebacker Dan Connor did sign a contract to go from the Panthers to the Cowboys yesterday but he is a cut below the top-tier free agents. He signed a two-year deal but we don’t know what the money looks like yet.
The players’ agents and the teams who would like to sign the players are waiting to see who blinks first. Once one deal is made, the others will have numbers to work with and other contracts will fall into place.
Fletcher’s contract is a bit more difficult to figure since he will be 37 next season, about 10 years older than the other top free agents. His deal is likely to be for a shorter term than the others but the average annual compensation is what needs to be established once the market starts to set.
The waiting game continues but it could let loose at any moment.
There is still plenty of time for the Redskins to come to a contract agreement with linebacker London Fletcher. But if free agency starts and there is no deal . . .
Last night, London Fletcher weighed in with a prediciton on which famous available quarterback will wind up with the Redskins:
London's words always carry some weight but you might want to pay particular attention to him this time. You see, Fletcher's agent Ben Dogra is with Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Other players represented by CAA are Robert Griffin III and Peyton Manning.
While Fletcher might be guessing at what will happen, it is safe to say that he is making a very educated guess.