Redskins sign Pierre Garcon, but might have been better off signing Robert Meachem for less. Icon SMI
On the eve of free agency, the Redskins were dealt a stunning blow when the NFL stripped them of $36 million in cap space over the next two years. The NFL's decree was preposterously unfair in nearly every way imaginable -- the league told the Skins they'd broken no rules and done nothing wrong, but that their actions in the league's uncapped year had given them an "unfair" competitive advantage. And oh yeah, Washington was required to take half the penalty against this year's cap.
Washington's options for fighting the punishment are limited. They already lodged a protest, and presumably will file an official appeal with the league. The "nuclear option" (filing a lawsuit against the league) is unappealing because they would have to attack the very basis by which the league -- and therefore the Washington football franchise -- generates so much profit.
Even with the $18 million cap hit this season, Washington plunged into the free agency market, albeit with questionable results. Their signings:
Pierre Garcon, WR -- Garcon is a young receiver with speed, good size and good strength. The Skins paid him like a #1 receiver, but -- like so many who have come before him in burgundy and gold -- he's not a #1. The Skins were after yards after catch (YAC), which Garcon has provided in the past. But it's still puzzling how Garcon could get more money than the significantly more productive Marques Colston, who re-signed with the Saints. I think Washington would have been better off signing Robert Meachem -- who got $7 million less in guaranteed money.
Josh Morgan, WR -- Morgan is another young receiver with size, speed and strength, but less productive than Garcon. He should get more playing time (and targets) with Washington than he got in San Francisco, but it's worth noting that the 49ers replaced him with Mario Manningham -- for less than Morgan got from the Skins. Also worth noting: Morgan's contract is in many ways a giant middle finger to the league. Morgan signed a 5-year contract that's voidable to two. That means his signing bonus is spread over five years, while his base salary (and cap hit) is significantly reduced for the next two years (while the Skins' salary cap is being docked). If the contract voids after two years, the remaining signing bonus gets charged against the 2014 salary cap -- when Washington's cap penalty is over and the cap will be higher. Like Garcon, Morgan has been good at creating YAC.
Adam Carriker, DE -- Of all Washington's roster moves, this was the most baffling. The Skins gave a lucrative long-term contract to a decent (but not special) player who didn't make much of an impact last season -- a guy who's almost certain to lose his starting position to Jarvis Jenkins. Meanwhile, they didn't lock up veteran linebacker London Fletcher.
Brandon Merriweather, S -- Merriweather is a terrific athlete whose role will be as a deep cover man. One problem: he gets lost in coverage a lot. My guess is the Skins are hoping they can "coach him up," but his history suggests Washington fans should anticipate Merriweather-related coverage breakdowns this season.
Cedric Griffin, CB -- The Skins needed help at cornerback, and may have gotten a bargain in Griffin -- if he can stay healthy. He's a solid cover corner who should make a solid nickel back. He's also coming back from two ACL injuries, but will be another full year from his last one. The Skins could also use Griffin at safety -- he has the size, speed and ball skills that could help him transition from the corner.
Will Montgomery, C -- Another iffy re-signing. Montgomery was marginal as a starting center last season. He often failed to generate a push in the middle, and worse, was frequently overpowered and driven into the backfield. I'd identified him as someone to replace in the starting lineup, but to re-sign as a reserve. Washington isn't just bringing him back, they've signed him to a multi-year deal and expect him to retain his starting position. Hopefully he gets better.
Kory Lichtensteiger, G -- Lichtensteiger was considered Washington's best offensive lineman until he wrecked his knee last year. He's coming back on a one-year deal and will have the opportunity to take back his starting role at left guard. Maurice Hurt figures to be his primary competition, unless the Skins draft a guard as well.
None of their signings have blown me away. I see neither high-impact players nor free agent bargains. Plus, Washington hasn't re-signed Fletcher, and they haven't addressed their major need at right tackle. Recent rumblings out of Redskins Park seem to suggest that Jammal Brown -- who hasn't been healthy or productive in his two seasons with Washington -- will be coming back at right tackle. Which makes no sense.
Overall, I'd give the Skins a D for their work in free agency so far. They still have some free agent options who could help, including -- tackle Demetrius Bell, and guard Chad Rinehart (who they cut a couple years ago because they thought he couldn't play...oops).