As players leave Redskins, in-house replacements must produce

The Washington Redskins' first day of free agency was notable for who they lost -- not for who they added. It was already known that quarterback Alex Smith and receiver Paul Richardson would be joining them.

In most cases, the Redskins had no choice but to watch them leave: Players who would have been backups are getting paid much differently by other teams. It’s not bad when other teams sign your backups to lucrative deals. The problem for the Redskins is that developing that talent hasn’t led to the level of success anyone desires.

It’s hard to say the Redskins have been crippled by these losses. In some cases, they have their younger options in place -- they just need to produce. In essence, draft picks are replacing draft picks.

Washington still has other starting holes to fill, though those existed before these moves occurred. The Redskins still need to find another inside linebacker, whether it’s keeping Zach Brown or adding someone else (Preston Brown remains available). They still need a left guard. They still want to upgrade running back (the draft). And until these holes are filled it’ll lead to questions and angst by a fan base hungry for more than another .500 season. That's understandable.

Also, one reason the Redskins didn’t want to pay quarterback Kirk Cousins a lot is to use that money on others. In some cases it’ll be on extensions for other players. Until that money gets spent, it’s hard to know if it helped or not, though Richardson’s addition is part of that equation.

The other difficult aspect is losing four players from the 2014 draft class. Only one player remains: right tackle Morgan Moses. It was a solid group.

Looking at Washington's non-Cousins losses and the impact:

Linebacker Trent Murphy: The Redskins wanted to re-sign him, but he was viewed as a No. 3 outside linebacker here behind Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith. Coming off a torn ACL and a performance-enhancing drug suspension, some wondered what sort of deal he’d command. But pass-rushers are tough to find and Buffalo, which ranked 29th in sacks last year, gave him a lot more money and a better opportunity. While Murphy would have been good to keep, there’s no way they’re paying a backup $7 million per year, which Buffalo will. However, the Redskins need 2017 second-round pick Ryan Anderson to progress (Murphy provided little rush his first two seasons) and they could still re-sign Junior Galette, who wants to stay. If they do, then the Redskins have the same rotation as in 2017 when they provided an effective rush with 42 sacks (except for Anderson). The one counter to paying Murphy that price is if they let Preston Smith walk in 2019, but the Cousins decision was made in part to extend guys like Smith.

Corner Bashaud Breeland: Hedeveloped into a solid No. 2 corner and his three-year, $24 million deal in Carolina, after it’s broken down, essentially is for one year and $9.4 million (with team options the next two seasons). There’s no way the Redskins were going to pay him that when Josh Norman already will command a $17 million cap hit this season. (For the record, at that cap hit, more big plays are needed. Also, with a $9 million dead cap hit, Norman wasn’t going anywhere). If the Redskins hadn’t drafted Fabian Moreau, I’d feel differently about letting Breeland walk (even knowing how emotional he is and the impact of that). But Moreau was a first- or second-round talent who fell to the third because of an injury (just like Kendall Fuller, whose departure to Kansas City caused an outcry from some teammates). They have their in-house option for Breeland; a younger, cheaper player so they can then use that money elsewhere. Now, spend wisely.

Receiver Ryan Grant: Based on Richardson's deal, Grant would have been a fourth receiver in Washington, which always liked him a lot. Some believe he’ll flourish with more chances in Baltimore, but he’s also averaging $7 million per year. That’s not a deal for a No. 4 receiver. Again, it’s all about options and now the Redskins need others such as Maurice Harris or Robert Davis to develop and the re-signed Brian Quick to contribute.

Center Spencer Long: The Redskins made him an offer at some point last year, likely before the season, but it was rejected (they tend to go rather low on first offers). It still seemed like he would return until he tore his quad and 2017 sixth-rounder Chase Roullier showed he could handle center. They could still always try to upgrade in the interior through the draft (they wanted to select center Ryan Kelly two years ago), but Roullier’s development provided options. Long also could play guard, but he’s considered much better at center and that’s where he’ll start with the Jets.

Tight end Niles Paul: He was always a good guy to have around because he filled a lot of roles -- tight end, fullback, special-teamer -- and he played hard all the time. He wanted more opportunities and, hopefully for him, he’ll get them in Jacksonville. Last summer he and Derek Carrier were in a tight battle for that fourth and final spot. The Redskins traded Carrier to the Rams. Paul was a quality backup on a team whose starting tight end, Jordan Reed, gets hurt a lot. They like second-year player Jeremy Sprinkle, but he has to prove he’s ready for a bigger role should anything happen to Reed. The Redskins also should consider this position in the draft.