As the Redskins finalize their free agency plans, there are a few wild cards in the picture on defense that will factor in to what they decide to do.
The wild cards are two players from the last two drafts who may—may—develop into starters. However, since these players have seen very little action in the NFL it would be a leap of faith to count on them being good choices to take the field as starters on opening day in September.
The two players both play positions of need on defense and both are question marks due to injury. Inside linebacker Keenan Robinson missed both the last five games of his rookie 2012 season and the entire 2013 season due to two separate torn pectoral muscle injuries. Safety Phillip Thomas, a 2013 fourth-round pick, lost his rookie season to a Lisfranc injury he suffered two weeks into training camp.
Both of them were drafted with the idea that they could be starters at some point. And there is now opportunity. London Fletcher’s retirement and Perry Riley’s uncertain status as he tests the free agent market create an opening for Robinson. Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty, the two starting safeties most of last year, both are free agents and Thomas was drafted to be able to at least compete for a starting job this year.
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Bruce Allen, Jay Gruden and company have to figure out where these players are. If they are on the verge of being able to start, the Redskins could sign cheaper, stopgap players at safety and inside linebacker. They could have an open competition for the starting job between, say, Robinson and Bills free agent linebacker Arthur Moats. The winner starts and the loser still is a role and special teams player. If Robinson wins, you wouldn’t have a lot of money sitting on the bench in Moats. Do the same with Thomas and perhaps Taylor Mays, currently of the Bengals.
But if the organization doesn’t believe that Robinson and Thomas can develop into starters they might take a different tack in free agency and bring in higher-priced, more permanent—and expensive—options will need to be found.
One good thing here is that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is still around and he can provide some input on the abilities of Robinson and Thomas. And Raheem Morris, Thomas’ position coach, is also back.
If the Redskins make a major commitment to a safety or two and an inside linebacker or two, Thomas and Robinson are likely to spend their Redskins careers as reserves. That’s not too bad for mid-round draft picks but at some point the Redskins have to develop starters out of their draft picks and stop paying free agents whenever there’s a hole.