Just over two years ago, the Washington Redskins seemed to have an extremely bright future. Since winning the NFC East in Robert Griffin III’s rookie season, the team has one of the worst records in the NFL, and new general manager Scot McCloughan will have plenty of work to do in the 2015 NFL Draft and free agency.
In 2014, the Redskins finished in last place in the division for a second consecutive year, going 4-12. Griffin battled through injuries, and was eventually benched before regaining the starting role. Head coach Jay Gruden didn’t appear to have much confidence in the quarterback, but the two men will have to coexist, since they’ll both return to Washington in 2015.
"One thing [Griffin] did do, he took a team to the playoffs as a rookie and that's hard to do for any quarterback," McCloughan said at his press conference on Jan. 9. "You don't give up too quick on him because you know there's ability there."
Griffin has one year left on his contract, and it doesn’t seem likely that Washington will activate the final year of his deal by the May 3 deadline, considering doing so would give him a projected 2016 salary of $18.4 million. If he doesn’t play like he did in his rookie season, 2015 might be Griffin’s last year in the nation's capital. He posted a 102.4 passer rating in 2012, tossing 20 touchdown passes and five interceptions. In the last two years, Griffin has thrown 20 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in 22 games.
Colt McCoy, who replaced Griffin before suffering an injury of his own, might not be back with the Redskins in 2015. He’s set to become a free agent on March 10, after playing five games in 2014. McCoy hadn’t started a game since 2011, but he was a pleasant surprise in Washington, completing 71.1 percent of his passes for 1,057 yards and a 96.4 passer rating.
With backup quarterback Kirk Cousins still under contract, the Redskins could choose to let McCoy go elsewhere. At the end of the regular season, Washington general manager Bruce Allen said the team would be at least $20 million under the salary cap.
Washington could see a few changes on offense this offseason. Wide receiver Santana Moss, who only caught 10 passes, is without a contract. Free agents Niles Paul and Roy Helu ranked third and fourth on the team in receiving, while Helu averaged 5.4 yards on his 40 carries. Helu said in December that he would like to return to the Redskins, but was exploring the free-agent market.
New offensive line coach Bill Callahan is considered among the best in the business after working wonders with the Dallas Cowboys. Callahan might be without right tackle Tyler Polumbus, who is headed for free agency and may have played his last game for Washington.
The biggest decision Washington must make regarding their free agents might come on defense. Brian Orakpo, who’s made three Pro Bowls in his six years as a Redskin, is no longer under contract. Faced with the same situation last offseason, Washington placed the franchise tag on the linebacker, paying him $11.455 million in 2014. A pectoral injury forced him to miss nine games, and he also sat out 14 games in 2012. Orakpo has recorded 11.5 sacks in the last three years, after sacking the quarterback 28.5 times in the previous three seasons.
The Redskins also have decisions to make on defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, safety Brandon Meriweather, and safety Ryan Clark. Joe Barry replaces Jim Haslett as the team’s defensive coordinator, after the team finished in the bottom three in points allowed for two straight seasons.
With money to spend under the salary cap, the Redskins typically look to upgrade through free agency. After franchising Orakpo in 2014, Washington signed Clark, defensive tackle Jason Hatcher and linebacker Akeem Jordan. Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and outside linebacker Justin Houston are the top defensive free agents in 2015.
Unlike last year, when the Redskins didn’t own a first-round pick, Washington will get one of the top prospects in the draft. They will select at No.5 overall, with a chance to land an impact defender. Defensive ends Leonard Williams and Shane Ray could still be available, and there’s a decent chance Nebraska outside linebacker Randy Gregory could be overlooked in the first four picks.
Washington might have their pick of the best offensive lineman in this year’s draft, giving McCloughan the option to take offensive tackles Brandon Scherff (Iowa), Andrus Peat (Stanford, or Ereck Flowers (Miami). Under Callahan, the Cowboys drafted guard Zach Martin at No. 16, and the rookie would later make the Pro Bowl.
The Redskins had statisically one of the worst pass protections in the league last season, allowing Griffin, Cousins and McCoy to be sacked a combined 58 times, though some sacks were often the fault of the quarterbacks holding the ball too long. In comparison, Blake Bortles led all quarterbacks by being sacked 55 times.
McCloughan has plenty of work to do to reverse Washington's fortunes. The Redskins haven’t won a playoff game since 2005, and have had a record above .500 just once in the last seven seasons.