The Washington Redskins appear to have come into free agency with a single high-profile target: To convince Amari Cooper, the best playmaker on the market, to leave the Dallas Cowboys and join them instead. But an offer reported to be more than $100 million over five years was not enough for Cooper to swap NFC East rivals, and so the Redskins’ first days of free agency have been on the quieter side.
There was, of course, the agreement with Kendall Fuller, the former Washington cornerback dealt to the Kansas City Chiefs as part of the 2018 trade that brought quarterback Alex Smith to the Redskins. There too were virtual handshakes on contracts with offensive lineman Wes Schweitzer and linebackers Thomas Davis and Kevin Pierre-Louis, as well as linebacker Jon Bostic agreeing to return on a two-year contract.
Wednesday afternoon they added more defensive depth coming to an agreement with former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Sean Davis, who was the Steelers’ second round pick in 2016. Davis, who played at Maret School and the University of Maryland, started for most of his first three seasons in Pittsburgh before a shoulder injury kept him off the field for all but a game last year.
With the miss on Cooper, the rest of the moves seem small, especially for a team that finished 3-13, has a new regime with a win-soon approach, and lacks a starting tight end, a starting wide receiver to pair with Terry McLaurin, and a quarterback to compete with Dwayne Haskins. And yet, coach Ron Rivera had provided hints that the team might take a conservative approach.
After identifying the team’s biggest roster holes and working with newly promoted vice president for player personnel Kyle Smith, Rivera said at last month’s NFL scouting combine that he wanted to rebuild carefully.
“I don’t want to fill in all the holes with [free agents] because then you’re not going after the high-quality guys, because you can only spend so much money,” Rivera said at the time.
So far, he has held to that philosophy, making the big run at Cooper while not entering into bidding wars for other players who might seem appealing. Washington did not land Austin Hooper, the top tight end available, who received a reported $44 million over four years from the Cleveland Browns, nor did it end up with cornerback Byron Jones, who got $82 million to leave the Cowboys for the Miami Dolphins. The Redskins also did not come close to the three-year, $45 million offer cornerback James Bradberry took from the New York Giants, despite the fact that Bradberry played for Rivera with the Carolina Panthers and was considered a likely target of Washington’s.
Instead, some player agents suspect Rivera is searching for value, waiting for the market to settle, which will allow him to go after good players at cheaper prices. For instance, reports have linked them to cornerback Desmond Trufant and safety Damarious Randall — talented players whose values may have dropped for various reasons.
“Things should pick up the rest of the week,” one prominent agent said Wednesday, referring to free agency as a whole and not the Redskins specifically. That agent went on to wonder if teams were being more cautious about laying out too much guaranteed money given the country’s current economic uncertainty during the coronavirus outbreak.
Still, Washington may not have done badly in the first days of free agency. While Rivera said he wanted to keep the team’s starting guards Brandon Scherff and Ereck Flowers, he did not overspend at the position, placing a $14.7 million franchise tag on Scherff and standing by as Flowers got $10 million a year from the Dolphins. Washington’s subsequent signing of Schweitzer gives it a veteran to compete with Wes Martin — a player many around the Redskins felt could have started last year — for Flowers’ vacant left guard position, and provide depth at guard and center if Martin wins the job.
Fuller has the type of versatility that Rivera loves in his players, and will probably project to start opposite Quinton Dunbar (provided Dunbar and Rivera resolve a current dispute over a contract extension that Dunbar wants) in base defense, with the ability to play slot cornerback against three-receiver sets. Pierre-Louis is a strong special teams player who adds valuable depth on defense. Thomas, while 38, has played the bulk of his career for Rivera in Carolina and will be expected to have an influence on the culture Rivera wants to instill throughout the locker room.
More moves are left to be made. The Redskins continue to talk to teams about left tackle Trent Williams, who the team granted permission to pursue a trade. And some veteran quarterbacks remain available. Rivera’s former quarterback at Carolina, Cam Newton, is available for trade and could be released, as the Panthers are on the verge of signing Teddy Bridgewater as a replacement. Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston is another starting quarterback who might be left to take a one-year deal.