Brian Orakpo was officially tendered the franchise tag by the Washington Redskins. It was anything but an easy call, but it was the right call.
"They did what they had to do," Orakpo told ESPN 980 via phone on Monday afternoon, shortly after the news was announced by the Redskins.
"I am glad about moving forward with the franchise tag," Orakpo said while stressing that he is optimistic about the direction that the two sides can now take in securing a long term deal.
Being glad about the franchise tag might be a little bit of an overstatement. Nobody really wants to be tagged or to use the tag.
The cost is plenty on both sides. The player only gets a one year deal at a fraction (Half?) of the guaranteed money he would normally receive, while the organization has to absorb a huge salary cap number of at least 11.45 million that counts entirely against the 2014 cap space.
Normally a long term contract is designed to cost lower against the cap in the first and second years, before beginning the bloated financial figures that are part of these deals.
While the two sides have until July 15th to work out a long-term deal, the Redskins will have to carry that cap charge of at least 11.45 million forward until such a time. That is assuming that Orakpo's agents do not win a designation that he is a defensive end.
They shouldn't. He's an outside linebacker and everyone (including the Redskins and the NFL) knows it. Sure, Washington runs a four-man defensive line front about 62% of the time, but that is not four down linemen.
Orakpo is almost always standing up and rushing from a two point stance with two down linemen in a "nickel' design.
While there will be some sort of debate about that issue, that's not the debate that seems to have some a little hot under the collar. It is the perception that Dan Snyder made this decision, despite others in the organization feeling differently.
It's the questions that Jay Gruden or even Bruce Allen may not have been on par with the decision. Or Morocco Brown.
There was a very intense, healthy debate and "internal struggle" as one source called it on what exactly to do.
The long term extension is the best salary cap option, and the best option for Orakpo. It's also the best option for the Redskins if the money is right. That doesn't mean just right now, it means in Year three and four, where if you have to dump a guy at 29 or 30 years old that is a key core of your defense because of bloated salary cap figures created by keeping the year one and two charges down, that's not a great situation to be staring down the road at.
Especially considering the Redskins are going to have to take care of Trent Williams (entering Year five of a rookie six-year deal), Robert Griffin III (entering year three of essentially a five year deal) and Alfred Morris (entering year three of a very low rookie deal).
Some fans and members of the media took the internal struggle on what to do with Orakpo as a sign of chaos or dysfunction. I don't quite see it that way.
I see it in this way. You want different voices and perspectives, that ultimately come to a consensus.
Maybe the consensus is spend more now, while you are rebuilding the defense and make the long term decision in three months after the draft and free agency to see if you have a viable long term plan.
Maybe the consensus was "we couldn't lose our best player" on a sub-par unit, and face the challenge of not only replacing him but still adding to the mix.
That would be my guess, which is what I've been saying all along. The Redskins put an engagement ring on Brian Orakpo's finger after dating him for the last five years, and now they have to determine if they want to marry him.
Sounds silly, right? However, I would say that's the true debate. I would allow that I heard a lot of rumblings about letting Orakpo hit the market or to use the transition tag on him, which would lower the cap number while also allowing the Redskins to match any offer.
That thought process made a certain amount of sense. Especially the transition tag option. As one source said "you keep yourself in the game longer" with that mechanism. However, you also don't give yourself any compensation if you decide not to match.
If you think a very complicated decision should have been a slam-dunk, you are nuts. NFL teams want certain players all the time, but then the cost short and long-term has to be weighed and measured. This is the debate.
Anybody that thinks this kind of debate does not go on all around the NFL, just isn't paying attention. This is not dysfunction, this is collaborative decision making. As one Redskins source put it, "Media in this area, they think everything is a conspiracy."
The Redskins ultimately decided they were not willing to play poker with the rest of the NFL, and chose to show part of their hand to Orakpo's side while maintaining the trump card.
They can do that. It's the business of the NFL. Orakpo has options, they have options.
As one player source said to me, "nobody should be mad about making 11 million dollars." Orakpo to his credit is certainly saying all of the right things. "I am relieved and happy," he told ESPN 980 on Monday.
That's it. The decision is done. The franchise tag guarantees nothing but the Redskins right to do what they feel is appropriate. Orakpo can still shop his services. The Redskins could ultimately choose to trade him.
The Washington Redskins continued the non-stop news cycle on Tuesday afternoon by releasing vested veterans Adam Carriker and Sav Rocca.
The team also released tight end Richard Quinn, and running backs Jawan Jamison and Davin Meggett.
The big names are clearly Carriker and Rocca, and the Redskins will save just under 4.2 million (4.189) against their 2014 salary cap, while accepting a "dead-money" charge of just under 3.7 million (3.683) per figures obtained via OvertheCap.com and other public salary cap sources for Rocca and Carriker.
The two veteran players were scheduled to count for 7.872 million. Estimated salary cap numbers show one figure from those players (4.2 million savings)but Rich Tandler of CSNWashington.com provides an update on his calculated savings with the "Rule of 51" playing a major factor http://realredskins.com/2014/03/04/redskins-net-3-2-million-in-cap-space-after-tuesdays-moves/
Carriker has made it clear to ESPN.com's John Keim and myself that he has essentially been told by the Redskins that he will be given a chance to prove that he is healthy and can play again after missing all of 2013 and most of 2012.
That statement does not mean that the Redskins have closed the door forever on a possible return of Carriker. It just means that he will not be re-signed under a new contract at this point. Totally understandable.
Three league sources all made it clear to ESPN 980 in the evening hours of Tuesday night that Carriker would "very likely," as one source put it; be given a chance to prove his health to the Redskins in June. What that means is that Carriker will have to rehab on his own over the next two plus months and assuming he has not signed with another team, he will be given a chance to work out for Washington's medical staff and coaches.
Carriker is free to work out for and visit the other 31 teams in the NFL. The move is the cold, harsh reality of the business but the silver lining is that now the veteran defensive end has a chance to prove his health and skills to anybody, instead of just the Redskins.
Rocca, was in trouble already and everybody knew it. The Redskins have young veteran Robert Malone on their roster who played with the Jets under new special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica.
Rocca struggled on a pretty consistent basis last year. He was in the final year of a two-year contract he signed last off-season.
Rocca could not be reached for comment via text or phone.
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980
The NFL's annual scouting combine is underway in Indianapolis and will stretch from now until Tuesday afternoon.
What does it mean? That's hard to define. I'm not sure if there is one right answer to that question, but clearly it is an important information collection period.
The process began many months ago, but one thing I am keeping an eye on based on conversations with a lot of different sources and analysts in terms of the Redskins is:
I. Will the Redskins find a top flight defensive back in Indy?
- They still need two in my eyes, despite signing DeAngelo Hall to a new deal well before he hit the open market and unrestricted free agency. Anybody that has a problem with the deal, should reevaluate how they watch football. Hall was very good last year, and the thought that the Redskins should not re-sign players from a (3-13) team is preposterous.
Free agency will bring at least one dose of fresh blood, probably two. A hybrid safety to keep an eye on for the Redskins might just be Carolina's Mike Mitchell.
The draft is loaded with defensive backs that fit the trend the Seahawks created with taller, more physical bump-and-run guys who can also play off-man and actually tackle.
In talking to a couple of my draft analyst friends on ESPN980 this week,Josh Liskiewitz of GMJr.com and RussLande.com touted the praises of Clemson's Bashaud Breeland, who Liskiewitz said no matter what he measures in at - plays and looks like he's 6'2".
"He looks every bit like Richard Sherman aesthetically. He looks 6'2", 215 and he plays like it. He's so physical at the line of scrimmage. He can simply knock wide receivers right over, with his jam. He's fluid in coverage. He can track. He can run probably a little bit better than Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State. "Bashaud Breeland is the guy to pay attention to this week." Not only is he big, but I think he has the complete game," Liskiewitz said. "He's that strong, he's that physical. He certainly has length."
Ryan Lownes of DraftBreakdown.comsays "I wasn't blown away" by any of the taller, physical corners that were gathered at the Senior Bowl. He did mention Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller, a six foot plus corner. Another guy to keep an eye on is Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner, a hybrid safety/cornerback.
Mike Mayock of the NFL Networkdid a fantastic conference call before the combine started and highlighted another defensive back that the Redskins could absolutely be in the hunt for.
"My favorite nickel (slot CB) in the draft is Jason Verrett from TCU, and the only reason I wouldn't say he's a top 20 pick is because of his size. He's 5 9, he's probably 185, but he's ideal for the slot because he's quick footed, he's tough, and remember, the slot guys, what gets overlooked is you have to tackle and this kid is a tough kid even though he's undersized. I really like Verrett. And I think the other guy that's kind of interesting and I've got him listed as a safety is Lamarcus Joyner from Florida State. He played corner. I think he's a little bit like Tyrann Mathieu in that he was a corner in college, but I think he's going to have to kick inside and either be a safety or a nickel or both and he's an explosive kid like Tyrann Mathieu. Those are the two guys right off the top that I like at nickel."
Defensive backs do not work out until Tuesday but arrive in Indianapolis this weekend for interviews, medicals and measurements.
What should the Redskins do with Brian Orakpo? First, they must retain him and I feel by any means necessary.
Franchise tag him or sign him to a long term deal at a fair number are the only two choices in my eyes. Yes, that means that if you are amongst the group that thinks Orakpo can just be replaced, you are not thinking realistically and more important, you are wrong.
This defense needs to add talent, not subtract and then try to replace it. Orakpo is not Aldon Smith or Von Miller. He's also not an idiot like those guys are. Both of them. Two knuckleheads that I would never want on my team.
Orakpo is a core Redskin. The Redskins need players have worked hard to get better. Many believe he's not an elite pass rusher. I know he feels like he is,and Jim Haslett feels he is, but the raw numbers would suggest a debate can be made on both sides.
Orakpo is now a three time Pro Bowler after his addition to the 2014 game. He posted double digit sacks in 2013 for the first time since 2009.
Orakpo started off somewhat slow and tentative as he was trying to make his way back from missing nearly the entire 2012 season. He posted a sack in a dreadful loss at Lambeau Field when the Redskins were attacking Aaron Rodgers before the Packer great got comfortable himself. That sack put Orakpo over 30 in his career and was his first since what happened in St. Louis in week 2 of 2012.
In Orakpo's best individual game of the season, he abused an awful, backup left tackle in Oakland for two sacks and also had a monster run stop on 3rd-and-1 that forced a long field goal miss by Sebastian Janikowski and which turned into points for the Redskins and their first win of the season.
Who knew they would only have two more?
In the Redskins 2nd win of the season, Orakpo would have his first interception in the NFL and his first career touchdown as Reed Doughty combined with Orakpo to pop a ball up in to the air, and Orakpo had what he called his first interception at any level. Hard to fathom, but he insisted on it.
Orakpo did not dominate another backup left tackle in Chris Clark of the Broncos like the Redskins really needed but he did have a 2nd career fumble recovery in a valiant effort for the defense in Denver.
He really cranked up the pass rush numbers and very much improved run defense down the stretch with a sack in Philadelphia and against San Francisco. Six days later, in the midst of a lost season - Orakpo had two sacks against the Giants for his eighth multi-sack game.
During this stretch, Orakpo had a sack in four straight games for the first time in his five year career, a period that ended with 5.5 sacks in that four game span.
Orakpo got into double digits in Atlanta with 1.5 sacks against a backup left tackle yet again but it still should be noted that not everybody gets to double digits. Very few do. Orakpo also had a 2nd career fumble recovery in the Atlanta loss.
So what do you do with him? How do you retain Orakpo while protecting yourself at the same time.
"If I could get him to agree to take a home-team discount which I don't think he will, in the Paul Kruger range (8 MM per year),I would sign that," said Joel Corry on ESPN 980 Wednesday night. Corry, a former sports agent and NFL salary cap analyst for CBSSports.com and the National Football Post realizes the chances are slim and none on that front. "Knowing that's not going to happen realistically, the franchise tag becomes a real option."
For a change the Redskins have money to spend under the cap. While figures vary and are dependent on what they do with certain situations (Adam Carriker, Chris Chester?) "the Redskins are going to have roughly 25-26 million worth of cap room," says Corry. That allows them to tag Orakpo (at just under 11 million) and "then you make the decision next year."
Tagging Orakpo with the designation might frustrate Orakpo and his agents at CAA, but it is the most realistic option. It does not prevent a long term deal as Corry explained that both sides could still arrive at one by the cut-off date of July 15th.
Corry explained that Orakpo would still have some leverage in this particular scenario by not reporting to training camp in Richmond (unlikely) and not signing the franchise tender offer. In such a scenario, Orakpo could negotiate a clause that would prevent a franchise or transition tag designation for 2015 or Corry said Orakpo could actually ask for more money than the franchise tag would dictate.
Corry said the reason for this would be that a "2nd franchise tag (2015) is 120 % of the previous year's salary." In other words, Orakpo would get more money this year (2014) while making it extremely difficult for the Redskins to use the franchise tag again.
The problem for Washington is that a franchise tag this year would count for more than one-third of their approximate salary cap room.
If the Redskins were to seriously entertain a long term contract with Orakpo, the average annual value of the contract could be north of 11 million, but "it's really what he's going to make in the first three years," according to Corry.
Corry points out something to keep in mind that "Greg Hardy (Carolina DE) who will be the best pass rusher on the market," will probably not get out of Carolina. However, Michael Johnson of Cincinnati could certainly be set free by the Bengals (Minnesota anyone?) and whether he is or he isn't, take a guess who the next best pass rusher is?? "It's Brian Orakpo," says Corry and thenumbers from ProFootballFocus.com would certainly back that up.
Ultimately, Orakpo is going to want money too rich for the Redskins blood and as I've said all along, that's why the NFL created the current system.
"Franchising him may become the actual thing that happens if the Redskins think his demands are excessive," says Corry. They will be, in any reasonable opinion.
The Redskins also have to balance whatever they do with Orakpo with the assumed need that they will try very hard to bring back DeAngelo Hall, Perry Riley and Chris Baker.
The problem is, combined with a franchise tag for Orakpo (my expectation) and three new contracts for those players, it might leave the Redskins with five million dollars or less of salary cap room to actually add talent.
Hall played for virtual peanuts last year, and will be looking for a deal that will bring better value. Corry explained "the big problem is he's at 30 so that's the wrong age. He made 2 million if you include his incentives. Maybe a 2-3 year deal, you give him some salary escalators and incentives. Maybe 9-10 million over three years if he maxes out everything, but you don't break the bank for him."
That's not even getting to Riley who may want something similar to what Dannell Ellerbereceived from the Dolphins. Baker should be a hot commodity, after drawing interest from the Seahawks as a restricted free agent last year. His strong play down the stretch as a versatile defensive lineman who can play nose and end, along with the ability to play a defensive tackle position in a 4-3 should lead to a nice payday.
Tough decisions ahead for Bruce Allen, Jay Gruden and the Redskins
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980
Super Bowl XLVIII is finally here and New York City has done a magnificent job hosting the event by all accounts. While I am not there in person, I am in spirit. You can take the guy out of New York, but you can NEVER take the New York out of the guy.
Quite honestly, this is killing me, a native of the "Big Apple." I try and tell the truth whenever I can, and this has been a painful experience to not feel the energy of midtown Manhattan combined with the Super Bowl.
It's a perfect combination. No matter what anybody else thinks. I fully support the National Football League on this venture, and there's not many things I have their back on.
The media at large are a bunch of crying babies. They've whined about the weather during the week and what it might be on Sunday night. They want to be on South Beach, San Diego or anywhere not near a subway. Who cares. Just pipe down. You are getting a paid "working" vacation in the most electrifying city in the United States.
As for the game, football is meant to be played outdoors, and in the elements. You deal with it. It's part of the theater to have the cold and chance of precipitation as a part of the game.
Football in domes is sterile. It sucks. I hate it. They play the AFC and NFC title games in any kind of conditions that they are dealt with, so all of a sudden everything has to be perfect two weeks later? Nonsense.
I am glad the weather will be a very minimal factor though, just so that the media has nothing to bitch and moan about. Remember last year? They got everything they wanted. New Orleans. Great city, weather, atmosphere. Everything. Except the game was indoors and the Superdome suffered a catastrophic electricity failure.
A few years ago it was the "Disaster in Dallas" as a moderate snow and ice storm hit the DFW Metroplex the week of the game, and driving conditions were awful. Not to mention, the problems with portable seating inside of what is now AT&T Stadium.
Imagine if the game was in Atlanta this week? It will be soon enough, as the Falcons are building a brand new stadium. You have dumb drivers, a decent chance for bad weather and a potential debacle. Think it can't happen there with the Super Bowl in town? Think again, the Rams and Titans remember a different story.
I was in Detroit of Super Bowl XL. The weather was awful that particular weekend, and no doubt it was nice to be indoors. However, if it was outside, I would not have minded. Play the damn game in whatever conditions are presented. Anybody remember the Colts and Peyton Manning's only Super Bowl win? In a soaking rain in Miami. Nobody complained. Nobody.
When the Redskins build a new stadium, they WILL get a Super Bowl. That is 99.5% guaranteed and I would go higher, but I always like to leave a bit of wiggle room.
If Sunday night's weather was a disaster and the NFL got roasted over the coals for what would have been called a terrible decision (even though it wasn't) there would be almost no chance that the Redskins would have been able to land a Super Bowl unless the new stadium had a retractable roof.
Sounds easy to just snap your fingers and say that won't be a problem. I believe it would be. The cost of a retractable roof addition to a brand new football stadium has to add at least 50-100 million and probably more to the construction cost of a new building. The taxpayers of whatever county or state that the stadium is housed in are going to feel that the most.
Either the citizens or the Redskins will have to pay it. Either way, you lose. If the Redskins have to pay it, you would essentially foot the bill in a variety of ways. I think you know how, so I will spare you.
Bruce Allen who will almost certainly be directly involved with the project strongly opposes field turf. So does Dan Snyder. You can't have a retractable roof stadium with real, authentic grass in this climate.
The point is - the Super Bowl Manhattan experience going off with very minimal problems strongly benefits the Redskins, the entire DMV area and perhaps some other cold weather cities without retractable roofs.
You have to have a new or recently built stadium or be a great vacation destination for the NFL to even consider giving the game to your city. You have to have approximately 30,000 hotel rooms according to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "We know there’s interest in other communities hosting the Super Bowl, Goodell said on Friday morning in New York." "I think the ownership will sit back and review that when we’re done, but we have a very aggressive process in how we select cities. The ability to host the Super Bowl is more and more complicated, more and more complex because of the size and number of events. The infrastructure is very important. There are over 30,000 hotel rooms needed even to host the Super Bowl so there are some communities that may not be able to do it from an infrastructure standpoint, but we know the passion’s there.”
Think about it this way. You complain about it now. Many of you loathe it now. It's not going to get much better over the next 13 years. The Redskins know that and the NFL knows that. The only question is when and where. Clearly, a stadium project is very complicated and the Redskins know that. They also know that the process takes 5-7 years in a modest estimate to get the deal you want and more importantly to deal with all of the complications that will absolutely come up.
Based on some informal conversations, I believe the Redskins are quietly doing their background work on a new site and long-term home. There's no way that Roger Goodell who grew up as a Redskins fan, and has in my eyes strongly supported the Redskins in the "name game" controversy, allows the Redskins to build a new stadium without the promise of a Super Bowl.
There's also no way that Dan Snyder sits on idle as he watches what the Cowboys, Giants and to a lesser degree what the Eagles have. That's just in the NFC East. Nevermind when Snyder and the Redskins play at San Francisco's new Levi's Stadium next year, while also visiting Reliant Stadium in Houston and University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
Oh by the way, those three locations are where the next three Super Bowls are. Glendale, then Santa Clara and followed up by Houston. If you don't think Snyder and his management team will be stewing and itching at the grandiose sites of the 49'ers new digs while admiring what the Texans and Cardinals have, you don't know them at all.
I can guarantee you they will. It's part of what the management team does for every road game. They look at what other teams have and they try to figure out a way to enhance FedExField, while also building data for the future.
A future that just might host the Super Bowl at some point between 2020 and 2025. My money is on the earlier dates, but then again - that's why I don't bet.
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980
The Washington Redskins need talent in all areas, so they should not be of the mindset that only a certain player or type of player would fit in our scheme. I understand that is a commonplace mentality, but I believe you wind up missing out on more talent than it is worth.
Organizations should take talent, and then build or develop the talent. The notion that a player in today's day and age can only fit in one scheme of system is nonsense. There are "ideal" fits, but the NFL is not an ideal world. Take talent, and find a way to use them.
Today, we present five (or more) players on offense that stood out during Reese's Senior Bowl week from the coverage on NFL Network, when you combine practices, the game and the eyes of various talent evaluators along with my own eyes.
1. Jalen Saunders - WR/PR - Oklahoma - Saunders is a small strike of lightning with a little thunder mixed in as well. He's only 5'8" but he's freakishly fast and seems to run terrific routes out of the slot. He got off to a tough start early in the week, dropping a couple of passes and struggling with punts on Monday but as the week developed, Saunders hit his stride.
I saw Saunders use his speed but his route running ability on a couple of vicious double moves against the lengthy Walt Aikens and Lavelle Westbrooks.
If you go back to Oklahoma's impressive Sugar Bowl win over the Alabama Crimson Tide, Saunders had five catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns. On his first score, Saunders ran a very impressive quick out with tight coverage draped on his back inside the red zone and along the sidelines. He made the catch, reached the ball out and over for the score.
Go ahead and watch Saunders 43-yard touchdown in that game, and see how deep the off-man coverage from Oklahoma was (about 12 yards off the line of scrimmage) and how badly beaten the CB was by Saunders for the catch-and-run.
Just one game, but anybody that does THAT against Alabama is worthy of consideration in my eyes. He has something the Redskins don't have anywhere close to enough of. SPEED. He also returns punts, another sore subject last year.
Santana Moss is a free agent and it is very questionable if he will return. Josh Morgan is almost certainly not coming back. The Redskins can have a weapon that they desperately need in Saunders.
2. Jordan Matthews - WR - Vanderbilt - Matthews is 6'2" plus and tipped the scales at 210 pounds in Mobile, but looks bigger and appears to play bigger. He's polished, and physical. He has a little bit of a nasty streak to him, John Harris from The Sideline View website noted that Matthews "ran good routes, consistently caught the ball" against the best Senior Bowl competition.
I saw him drop a pass after doing a brilliant job of getting open on press coverage. However, he did a great job of flashing open quickly and it struck me that Matthews would be a great red zone threat and something that the Redskins are desperately missing. Later in the practice week, I saw Matthews just abuse Lavelle Westbrooks (as he should) off of an inside jam.
If you watched the Senior Bowl game, you saw Matthews run an electric route down the right sideline past another one of those big, physical cornerbacks (Pierre Desir) for a 33-yards over-the-shoulder gain. To be fair, it was a terrific throw by David Fales, but the route and execution was perfect.
3. Charles Sims - RB - West Virginia - I love this kid, and so do many others apparently. A transfer from Houston to West Virginia, Sims has over 200 career receptions. In a league where you can't have enough players doing multiple things well at the same time. He can return kickoffs (as he did in the Senior Bowl) and he also totes the rock pretty effectively.
Sims has 592 career rushing attempts for 3,465 rushing yards (5.85/attempt) and 40 career touchdowns on the ground. That's just rushing. Add in the 203 receptions for 2,108 yards (10.38/reception) and 11 more touchdowns and you just have a hell of a football player.
According to good guy John Harris of The Sideline View, a scout told him that you could use Sims out of the slot and clearly he would be an upgrade a screen offense.
NFL Network's Bucky Brooks said "Sims' smooth running style and natural receiving skills remind me of Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte. When I pitched that comparison to an AFC executive, he agreed with my assessment and told me that he thinks Sims could be a difference maker in a wide-open offense.
An NFC college scouting director pegged Sims as a DeMarco Murray clone, with the kind of explosiveness to ignite an offense that places a premium on getting the ball to the running back in a variety of ways."
4. Tyler Larson - OL - Utah State / Weston Richburg - OL - Colorado State - Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network (@MoveTheSticks) loves Richburg and it is easy to see why. I saw Richburg use his hands pretty well against Ra'Shede Hagemen and 340 pound defensive tackle, Justin Ellis. He seems like more of a tactician and execution guy, than he is anything else.
Bucky Brooks of NFL Network wrote this "Watching Richburg excel in team drills this week, I've been impressed with his understanding of the position and his technical savvy. He has a knack for getting the job done, which will undoubtedly make him a favorite of coaches and scouts in pre-draft meetings."
I liked Larson more than it seems others did, noting that at times he was able to go inch for inch with stud defensive lineman Aaron Donald from Pitt. Later in the week, he did get beat by Donald, but that's not exactly surprising. I saw Larson also winning against Hageman in some practice drills. I thought he executed a nice combo block with fellow OL Kadeem Edwards in one drill. A couple of times Larson showed me how tough he was.
That being said, there were a couple of times where Larson gave up space and the rush, and not just to Donald. Lance Zeirlein of the Sideline report, noted that UCONN DL Shamar Stephen got the best of Larson early in the week.
5. Gabe Jackson OG - Mississippi State - If somehow Notre Dame's Zack Thomas were to slip out of the first round, the Redskins would have virtually no choice to grab him. He's versatile, athletic, experienced and has a terrific, swift punch. However, I am expecting Thomas to go in the top 20 picks and possibly in the top dozen.
That being said, Gabe Jackson would not be a bad consolation prize. The mammoth 6'3" inch plus, 340 pound interior space plugger would be a massive shift in philosophy and body type for the Redskins, especially since Mike Shanahan took over. Jackson is as Mike Mayock repeatedly said is a "gap-scheme" player instead of a zone-scheme fit that the Redskins have utilized over the last four years.
It would be ideal if Jackson shed some weight so that the Redskins could utilize him even better, but I think Jackson could be an interior guard with starter ability for a while. He had a solid week, and I saw him own California DL DeAndre Coleman early in the week, along with being chosen as NFL Network's standout player on Wednesday.
I certainly want to see some more, but an interior offensive lineman that started 52 games in a row in the SEC can't be all that terrible. I wouldn't take Jackson early in the 2nd round, but if they were to trade back or if he were to slip into the 3rd round, you might have yourself a good value pick.
As everybody knows, Chris Chester struggled at times in 2013 and in the 2nd half of road games, the Redskins offensive line often wilted under heavy pressure (at Dallas, at Denver, at Minnesota). Obviously, Robert Griffin III was a big part of the issue, but the bottom line is this - you can't expect 295 - 310 pound athletic offensive lineman to hold up against 325 pound defensive linemen as much as the Redskins needed them too. Especially pass rushers that can get off on the snap of the football with lightning quick movements.
Will Montgomery also struggled at times, and it is possible that Jay Gruden could try and move Kory Lichtensteiger back to offensive center. Lichtensteiger was planning to bulk up his body the last time I spoke with him.
Honorable Mention: TE Arthur Lynch - Georgia, TE - Crockett Gilmore - Colorado State, QB- Jimmy Garappolo - Eastern Illinois, WR - Shaq Evans - UCLA, WR - Robert Herron - Wyoming (@UKRedskin1 reminded me how good he was).
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980
The Senior Bowl and Senior Bowl Week is now in the books for 2014. One of my favorite weeks of the year. Let's take a look at some of the standouts from Senior Bowl week before we did a little deeper on television cut-ups and some guys that might be ideal fits for the Washington Redskins.
It's easy to list a bunch of guys that played well, but I think it's important to try and forecast a fit with the Redskins from a schematic standpoint. It's a little more clear on defense what the Redskins will do, as opposed to offense - but Jay Gruden and Sean McVay aren't about to re-invent the wheel.
On defense, we know that Jim Haslett will still be running a 3-4 front, but the big question is - how many of the pieces of the puzzle will have to be filled by the draft depending on what free agency brings. The Redskins will have nearly two months from the start of the free agent period to answer all of those questions, but it's fun to kick some ideas around.
Let's take a look at five defensive players that jumped out to me while closely watching the Senior Bowl coverage on NFL Network throughout the week.
1. Dee Ford - OLB/DE - Auburn: The Senior Bowl MVP is an easy one. He was mostly dominant all week. He capped off an outstanding week of practice with two sacks and a vicious pass knock-down plus countless pass rushes off either edge in Saturday's game. Ford is viewed as an ideal 3-4 outside linebacker, but it was good to see what he could do with his hand down and the results were largely impressive. I say that because he showed both parts of his skill set in the game.
On his first sack, he lined up in space standing up and blew through right tackle Jack Mewhort from Ohio State. He darted inside of Mewhort with ease and brought down Logan Thomas.
On his second sack, Ford lined up on the right side of the defense while shading the left tackle and while he may have jumped a hair early, his athleticism and speed was clearly on display as he chased down the North team's quarterback. Based on my memory, Ford was standing up on this rush as well.
Ford also had a terrific leaping knockdown of a quick out to Stephen Morris' right side. Ford had his hand down, was largely unblocked and engulfed the throwing lane knocking down the pass.
Questions on Ford will be numerous. Can he hold up against the run? Can he drop regularly into pass coverage or will he even be asked to do that early in his career? He also was a medical red-shirt in 2011, so you hope that will not be something that he has to deal with again.
Perhaps the bigger question, will he even be around for the Redskins to select in the early part of the 2nd round? As my buddy, Steve Shoup from Fanspeak.com and others have noted, it is looking a lot less likely after his terrific week in Mobile.
2. Stanley Jean-Baptiste - CB- Nebraska: This tall, physical man press corner from Nebraska is everything that the new NFL is all about. In some ways, his path is similar to that of Richard Sherman. He has only been a cornerback for a couple of years. Jean-Baptiste is 6'2" plus and 215 pounds and while he might be a safety in some scouts eyes - he's a corner in most others eyes.
Jean-Baptiste was occasionally a little stiff in practice sessions I saw during the week, but during the Senior Bowl he flashed that big time athleticism that I wanted to see. On a 3rd-and-9, he was playing off-man coverage and recognized a short pass that he read, jumped up on and made the stop well short of the first down marker.
On another play, Jean-Baptiste was playing off-man coverage again, and while reading the route concept and the play - jumped up and broke a pass up. According to the NFL Network coverage, he had 22 pass breakup's at Nebraska.
The good news for the Redskins? He's far from the only tall, physical man press corner that played in this game and that is available to be selected.
Walt Aikens (great coverage down field on one route) from Liberty, Keith McGill (interception in off-man coverage) from Utah and Pierre Desir (interception in the end zone on a flea-flicker) from tiny Lindenwood college all had impressive moments in Mobile, and all are six foot plus defensive backs with skills. Dontae' Johnson of North Carolina State did not stand out in a positive way in my eyes, but he is also 6'2" and played against a much higher level of competition in addition to having chemistry and David Amerson.
DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson, and E.J. Biggers are among the Redskins free agents at the cornerback position.
3. Jimmie Ward - Safety - Northern Illinois - He did not flash as much as I was hoping for either in practices or during the game, based on the available NFL Network coverage but he is widely regarded as the most natural and fluid safety of the senior class and perhaps overall. Certainly, plenty of film needs to be watched and many questions have to be answered but the as we know - the safety position has been a major area of concern for Washington. Both Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty are unrestricted free-agents.
The 5'10" product from Mobile, Alabama was repeatedly referred to as the most fluid and athletic safety and perhaps defensive back of the Senior Bowl group by several draft analysts from different outlets.
4. Aaron Donald - DL- PITT/Ra'Shede Hagemen - DL - Minnesota (Tie): Donald was by far the most dominant defensive lineman all week during practice sessions. He tore pretty much any offensive lineman he went against, and while he did not have a huge impact in the actual game - he did not have a nice pass rush that led to an interception.
Donald is quick and twitchy but a little on the small side. He would need to bulk up and convert for the Redskins to utilize him, as he measured at just over six foot and less than 290 pounds on Monday. Here's what I know. He may not be a great fit currently, but the Redskins lack speed and explosion and Donald has a lot of both.
Hagemen has a lot of physical upside at 6'6" and 318 pounds or so with long arms. He seems like the ideal 3-4 defensive end with athleticism. He might be a little inconsistent, but he stood out to me in practices especially earlier in the week.
The Redskins need help on all three levels of their defense, but somebody that can crash the pocket and force hurried throws from the line of scrimmage would be a priority.
5. Christian Jones - LB - Florida State : Jones got abused on a nasty stiff arm from James White of Wisconsin in the red zone during Saturday's Senior Bowl, but other than that, he had an excellent week.
He blew up a play with a really nice, explosive tackle a bit later in the game. Jones had a really nice week based on what I saw. He has a vicious spin move that was on display in 1 on 1 situations during practice and also came up with an interception at the goal line during team drills in a practice session. I was impressed by Jones' eyes and recognition on the play, as much as his hands.
He can play inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, and you don't have the type of success he had and Florida State had if you can not run. He can move.
Honorable Mention: Kyle Van Noy - LB - BYU, Telvin Smith - S/LB - FSU, Chris Borland - LB - Wisconsin, Caraun Reid - DL - Princeton and NT - Daniel McCullers from Tennessee.
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980
Another insanely busy week here at Redskins Park where Jay Gruden has been on the job for eight plus days, and the fun has just begun.
Let's take a look at what the Redskins have done this week moving forward from the Mike Shanahan era into what is clearly a collaborative effort as the Jay Gruden/Bruce Allen regime has officially taken hold.
The Redskins promoted tight ends coach Sean McVay to offensive coordinator. The 27-year old McVay is one of the brightest young coaches in the game. The first day I met him, in July 2010, I thought he was incredibly mature and confident for a young man. He has blossomed right before everyone's eyes. McVay has universal respect from the tight-ends and that should largely translate to the entire offensive room
McVay told Doc Walker, Brian Mitchell and Scott Jackson that Jay Gruden will build his offense around the talents and skill set of the offensive pieces that he has in place, instead of forcing a system down the throat of the talent.
Another item of interest, besides McVay's breakdown of the teams in the AFC and NFC Championships which was just phenomenal stuff - was his thoughts on the Redskins defense.
"I love the scheme. I hate going against our defense in training camp, I think it's a very sound system, so yeah I do love the 34."
Which brings us to Jim Haslett. "Haz" was retained officially by the Redskins on Friday. As we have mentioned over the last two weeks, Haslett will continue to lead the defense much to the mind numbing dismay of Redskins fans.
I suppose that I should take the fanatical hatred for Haslett into account, the way Bruce Allen and Jay Gruden did. Which is to say, they didn't. I have explained this a million times over, and will just say that I trust Bruce Allen, Jay Gruden and former head coach Mike Shanahan's opinion on how qualified Haslett is over a disgruntled fan base looking for a sacrificial lamb.
Not to mention, the Redskins denied a request from the New York Jets and at least one other team to talk to Haslett, multiple league sources told ESPN 980. I wonder why Rex Ryan, who is widely considered a brilliant defensive mind would want to talk to Haslett if he was so bad at his job, as a hard core group of fans allege? Maybe it's because qualified football minds know the truth.
Another thing, Tom Coughlin tried to hire Haslett before Mike Shanahan did, when Haslett was in the UFL for a year. The Giants finished up their 2009 season with a couple of blowouts and fired coordinator Bill Sheridan after just one season. They eventually hired Perry Fewell, as Haslett chose the opportunity with Shanahan. If memory serves me correct, that's TWO two-time Super Bowl Champion head coaches that thought very highly of Haslett's coaching abilities.
Gruden confirmed that to Keim, saying that issue will be broached on Monday. The Redskins also officially retained defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and defensive line coach Jacob Burney, while adding inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti who is more than familiar with the DC landscape. Jim Haslett also was able to hire Brian Baker to be his new outside linebackers/pass rush coach, as first reported by ESPN980 on Tuesday.
In other news in Redskins land, Gruden told the Washington Post that former Redskins wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard is expected to return after a one year hiatus in Buffalo. A very strange situation indeed, but perhaps Hilliard wanted to do more than he was allowed to do under Kyle and Mike Shanahan and it just didn't work out with the Bills.
The Redskins did not make the news official, but the connection is obvious and Hilliard is more than familiar with many of the players he will be coaching again.
Washington did confirm the hiring of new tight ends coach, Wes Phillips who is the son of a Wade (Phillips), who is the Son of a Bum (as in the late Bum Phillips). Wes served as a Cowboys offensive assistant in various roles, until becoming their tight ends coach in 2013. He took a lateral position, but his contractual status with the Cowboys was unclear. Phillips was instrumental in the continued great play of Jason Witten and the development of 2nd round pick, Gavin Escobar.
The 34-year old Phillips also played quarterback at UTEP.
In non-coaching news, Alfred Morris is headed to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl next weekend, and was chosen as the team's representative for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
Finally, it appears as if the Redskins are going to dodge a bullet by not losing Morocco Brown to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as many national reporters have indicated that the Bucs are focusing on other candidates. For whatever it is worth, Morocco told me he had an excellent interview last weekend with the Bucs, and eventually will get a higher profile gig that the Redskins may be forced to deal with.
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980
New Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is already making coaching staff changes. As first reported Monday on ESPN 980, Gruden and the Redskins have decided to let go of assistant head coach/running backs Bobby Turner and assistant defensive backs/assistant special teams coach Richard Hightower.
Turner is a longtime trusted assistant of Mike Shanahan so the move is hardly surprising, but he is widely regarded as the preeminent running backs teacher in the National Football League.
Turner was hired by Shanahan in January of 2010, after being retained by the Broncos and new coach Josh McDaniels in 2009.
According to ProFootballTalk.com, Turner has had seven one-thousand yard in a season running backs, with Alfred Morris' racking up back-to-back 1,000 + yard campaigns. Turner has also had 19 running backs in Denver and Washington achieve at least one 100-yard game while being tutored by "Bobby T." Turner coached in Denver for 15 years and the last four years in Washington.
"Bobby T was one of a kind," Redskins fullback Darrel Young told ESPN 980 via text. "He told us what would be happening before it happened. He's the kind of coach you call a couple years after playing and say thank you for preparing me for life and what life has to offer."
Hightower, was an assistant under Danny Smith for three years on special teams, and while he helped out a bit in that area in 2013, he primarily focused on assisting Raheem Morris with the defensive backs. Hightower, focused his defensive game plan duties on the Redskins red zone package.
The Redskins allowed 52 touchdowns on defense this year, with 38 of those coming from inside the red zone (20 yard line or closer). 20 of those 38 touchdown scores were via the pass. Six of those touchdowns were on drives of fifteen yards or less. 11 of the Redskins 52 defensive touchdowns allowed came on drives of 45 yards or less. ELEVEN. That screams a lot of things, if you have any common sense.
Washington allowed teams to convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns 63 % of the time. They allowed touchdowns in 75% of goal-to-go situations. That ranked 28th and tied for 21st in the league respectively.
Hightower, along with defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and defensive coordinator, Jim Haslett were asked to make prime rib out of marbled beef scraps.
Reed Doughty, who is a valued member of the secondary and a key special teams contributor while at times serving as unit captain, said via text to ESPN 980 "Coach Hightower is a great coach and person. He put in a lot of hard work, is very detailed and I enjoyed playing for him."
I have had many players reach out in various ways to voice their support for Hightower, such as Donte' Stallworth, Anthony Armstrong and others. Some players that are not here any longer, but all worked on specials and their opinion is certainly welcome in my eyes.
I've also heard that assistant offensive line coach Chris Morgan has been let go, while it is expected that Jim Haslett will stay as defensive coordinator with Raheem Morris and Jacob Burney will be staying in their respective (defensive backs & defensive line) positions.
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980
So now you know who the new head coach of the Washington Redskins is, but what do you know about him? Jay Gruden, the 46-year-old husband of Sherry and father of Joey, Jack and J.J. That's a lot of J's.
Jay is also the son of the "toughest Gruden of them all," Kathy Gruden along with his Dad Jim, who Jay described as "a football coach, a football man, a football person."
That's a lot of football. I closed my eyes last week and thought for one second that Jon Gruden was now the head coach of the Redskins only to find out that his younger brother actually is. Jay was influenced heavily by Jon, a man who Jay referred to as his reason for "sitting here today."
Now that you know that, as the late and great radio icon Paul Harvey said many times, "Now....the rest of the story."
***Jay Gruden was a hit with the media in his first press conference, cracking all sorts of one-liners. He is all Gruden. If the Redskins could not convince Jon, they clearly believe in family roots. They sound alike, they have the same mannerisms, and you can tell that they are mostly real.
That alone won't get Jay very far, but it will make for a better Redskins organization. Here's why. One of the criticisms of Mike Shanahan from players and sources that I've talked with over the last few months is that Mike Shanahan was too robotic. He needed to loosen up a bit. He spent too much time in his office, trying to perfect X's and O's instead of relating to the Jimmy and Joes as the saying goes.
In talking to a coach in the league that is familiar with Gruden's style, one of the first things this coach mentioned was that Gruden was an "excellent communicator." Another coach that has been around Gruden in Cincinnati said "wait until you see this guy...he's (expletive) really good."
Communication might be overrated in some circles but I strongly believe that in this case, Robert Griffin III wants to be treated like a man and as long as he acts like one, I believe Jay Gruden will do so.
Why? The Washington Post and Dave Sheinin asked somebody who should know - Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis, who worked above and with Jay Gruden for the last three years in Cincinnati. “He sees offensive football through the eyes of the quarterback. He’s basically playing the game with them, through them.”
It will be imperative on Griffin's end to do everything he can to be a "Redskins Park rat" meaning he should be there as much as humanly possible. That doesn't mean come in, work-out and leave. He needs to spend countless hours over the next year not only learning terminology and the system, but he needs to work extra hard on creating a bond between himself and Gruden. That's not just on the new head coach. That's on Robert.
Do everything you can. Massage the rules. Bend the rules. Screw the rules. Who cares about the NFLPA when it comes down to it? He needs to be extra diligent because while Gruden will make Griffin III his focus, he does have an entire roster to manage.
Now let's go "Inside the Numbers" on Jay Gruden and a little more on what to expect as the Redskins move forward.
A huge reason why the Redskins failed so miserably on offense this year was their failure in the red zone. Time and time again, Washington would turn golden field position into a big, steaming pile of BLAH. Some of that is on Robert Griffin III, some was on Kyle and Mike Shanahan. Some was on not having a big time red zone threat, especially after Jordan Reed and Leonard Hankerson were lost for the year in November.
The Redskins only converted 52.0% of the time in the red zone (touchdowns) and perhaps more alarming were at 73.08% in goal-to-go situations. That had them tied for 20th in the NFL in red zone, and tied for 13th to the goal-to-go situations. Just for comparison sake, Jacksonville was the worst team in the NFL in both of these situations at 43.90% and 50.0% respectively.
In the magical run of 2012, the Redskins were 60.38% in the red zone and 83.87% in goal-to-go situations. They were fourth (red zone) and second (goal-to-go) in the division clinching year.
Honestly, 2013 felt a lot worse than the numbers suggest. I still go back to where the Redskins season basically ended in Minnesota. While everybody was celebrating a terrific first half for the offense, the very first drive was where essentially the season was lost for good. 1st-and-goal from the one-yard line, a run and two incompletions later, and the Redskins had to settle for three. Of course, if they punch it in for seven, then they only need a field goal to tie up the game on the final drive, which also ended on the Vikings one-yard line.
Game over. Season over. Shanahan over. In five years covering this team, and they are (28-52) since I have been here, I have never seen a more dejected, angry, lost locker room. They knew it then, and never won again.
As for Gruden and the Bengals in 2011 - which was Gruden's first year and Andy Dalton was a rookie, the Bengals were a miserable 45.1% (red zone) and 53.85% (goal-to-go) efficiency. They were 26th and tied for 24th respectively in the NFL.
In 2012, the Bengals rose to 54.39% and 67.86% in the two categories, while ranking 16th and 21st in the NFL. This past year, Gruden and the Bengals were 73.91% in the red zone and 84.0% in goal-to-go situations. That ranked 2nd in the NFL and first overall this year. Considerable progress might be an understatement.
Another key area that any coach or offensive system needs to be successful at is the 'money down.' Bottom-line, if you stay on the field you give yourself a chance.
It was not a major problem for the Redskins in 2012 (35.8%) or 2013 (40.4%, 11th in the NFL) but clearly down the stretch, Washington really struggled without Jordan Reed, Leonard Hankerson and Darrel Young at times. They were 37.0 % in 2011, before Robert Griffin III arrived.
As the injuries piled up and the season wasted away, the Redskins were (24-72, 33.3%) in the final five games on third down. Before those final five games, Washington was (66-143, 46.1%).
The Bengals were 36.5% in 2011 in Andy Dalton's rookie year, 34.1% in 2012, and 40.9% in 2013 in Jay Gruden's final year in the queen city. They went from 18th to 27th to 10th in league rankings according to NFL GSIS.
Adjusting on the Fly
One of the keys to the Bengals success as injuries hit them during Gruden's tenure, was his ability to adjust to his personnel. For instance, down the stretch with young tight end Tyler Eifert not available because of an injury, Gruden used more of a jumbo offensive set (6 OL). What stood out was his ability to sell a run look and pass out of it. Occasionally, Andy Dalton would fake a cross-face hand off and waggle to one side or the other (usually left) and pass the ball.
Sell run on two fronts, pass out of it while adjusting how you used your personnel. The Redskins used Tom Compton in this role with brilliant effectiveness against San Diego and then to a lesser degree against Minnesota, and then somehow the Redskins went away from it. Not exactly sure why, but it would be something to look for and is a selling point about Gruden.
How the Bengals offense translates
In 2013, Cincinnati averaged 19.7 more yards per game (368.2) on offense than the NFL average (348.5). The Bengals rushing yards per game average was at 109.7 per game or 3.2 yards per game average below the league average (112.9). They were 13th in yards per play, but an alarming 28th overall in rushing yards per play (3.65/play).
The Bengals were eighth in passing yards per game and tenth in passing yards per play in the NFL, but 24th in interception rate which suggests that as Gruden opened up the offense for Dalton, the results improved in large part, but also regressed. The Bengals had a very good offensive line and were third in the NFL in sack percentage (sacks/pass attempt) at 4.94% behind Denver and Detroit.
Cincinnati was tied for 9th in first downs per game, at 20.6 and held the ball on average in 2013 for a clip of 31:58. They were fourth in time of possession and their 26.9 points per game ranked tied for sixth. A loaded Bengals defense certainly helps out that number.
Want some more numbers? Our story from the day Gruden was hired illustrates some more year-over-year statistics that take you further "Inside the Numbers."
What does all of this mean? Well - the Redskins are banking on a fresh approach to communication and a more relaxed environment along with 30 plus million dollars worth of salary cap space to get them right back into contention in the mediocre NFC East.
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980