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Evaluating The Redskins’ 2011 Season: Keeping An Eye On The Free Agent Class

By ZAC BOYER | zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

This is the third part of a four-part series looking back at the Washington Redskins’ 2011 season.

After a season in which the players Mike Shanahan inherited on defense couldn’t adapt to the 3-4 scheme, the Washington Redskins went about rebuilding their team by bringing in several veteran free agents.

Some, like nose tackle Barry Cofield – a defensive tackle in the New York Giants’ 4-3 scheme for his first five years – were a complete projection, with the coaching staff unsure if Cofield could make the transition. Others, such as receiver Donte Stallworth, were known commodities – players who had contributed elsewhere in previous seasons whose production was certain to carry over.

The Redskins will certainly explore their options via free agency when it begins March 13 at 4 p.m. and will likely look at upgrading several positions. They’ll also have to examine which players on the current team they’re willing to keep around – and which they’ll allow to leave. Among the difference-makers whose contracts are up after this season:

Fletcher

London Fletcher: Despite being 36 years old, Fletcher has set himself up for one final contract. He has never missed a game in his 14-year NFL career and finished 2011 with one of his most productive seasons, recording a league-high 166 tackles. Both Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett expressed an interest in having Fletcher back, and Fletcher has said he wants to be able to say he set the table for the Redskins’ revitalization under Shanahan, but that he also wants to make sure he does himself a favor, too, by looking for the most fitting offer. Still, it would be a surprise not to see Fletcher with the team next season.

Landry

LaRon Landry: One of the more difficult free agent cases, Landry finished the last two seasons on injured reserve after missing the final seven games in 2010 with microtears in his left Achilles’ tendon and eight games this year because of an aggravation of that injury, as well as a strained hamstring. Landry, the sixth overall selection in 2007, is one of the most explosive safeties in the country when healthy. Whether he returns to that form or the injuries will linger the rest of his career will be an evaluation the Redskins must make. It wouldn’t be a surprise, though it’s not a given, if Landry is playing elsewhere in 2012.

Davis

Fred Davis: The tight end was on his way to a career year in 2011 before he missed the final four games because of a league suspension for multiple failed drug tests. Davis had 59 catches for 796 yards and two touchdowns for the Redskins and wanted to set himself up for a big contract and the ability to prove he’s a starter in the NFL. He can play, but with the suspension hanging over his head – and the threat of a full-season ban for another failed drug test – Davis may find the market much more limited than he hoped. A return to Washington on a short-term deal appears likely for Davis.

Hightower

Tim Hightower: Acquired via trade with Arizona before the season began, Hightower was the Redskins’ starting running back before tearing the ACL in his left knee against Carolina on Oct. 23. The Redskins continued with rookies Roy Helu and Evan Royster, who between the two of them combined for five 100-yard rushing games this season, but Hightower was the bruising, downhill back that neither of them could be. A native of the Washington area, Hightower wants to return, and Shanahan has said he’d like to have him back next year.

Carriker

Adam Carriker: After struggling his first two years in St. Louis as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense and missing all of the third because of injury, Carriker experienced a reawakening over the past two seasons after being traded to Washington. Settling in at defensive end, his more natural position, Carriker had 34 tackles, nearly on par with his 2010 performance, but had a career-high 5.5 sacks. Another player who expressed interest in returning, the need for 3-4 defensive ends around the league will affect his market value. He could return to Washington with a modest payday because of the success of the defensive line this season.

Grossman

Rex Grossman: There’s no question that Grossman’s 20 interceptions and his five fumbles were a huge factor in the lack of consistency on offense this season. Both Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan independently pointed to the turnovers as the biggest factor in the team’s 5-11 finish this season. Grossman, who just completed his ninth year, may generate some interest on the open market, but the Redskins will be keeping their options open at quarterback – and have their eyes on drafting one – and Grossman appears likely to be little more than a spot starter in the league in 2012.

Montgomery

Lichtensteiger

Kory Lichtensteiger and Will Montgomery: Lichtensteiger, the left guard, tore ligaments in his right knee against Philadelphia on Oct. 16 and missed the rest of the season, though his rehabilitation is progressing and he may be available to take part in offseason activities in at least a limited role this spring. He is, though, the Redskins’ best run blocker, and a return to the team is likely. Montgomery spent his first full season as Washington’s center and was mostly consistent, but there are likely to be better centers available for the Redskins to turn to. His return, at least for training camp, is also likely.

Stallworth

Donte Stallworth: The receiver was cut in early November as the Redskins faced a roster crunch, only to return to the team a week later when rookie Leonard Hankerson got hurt. At 31, Stallworth had one of the best stretches of his career, finishing the season with 17 catches for 363 yards and two touchdowns over the final seven games. He enjoys the area and wants to return, but acknowledges the team’s desire to go younger will probably cost him that opportunity. Stallworth will play somewhere and will likely find a better deal than the Redskins can give him.

Other free agents who finished the season with the Redskins include defensive ends Kedric Golston and Kentwan Balmer, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, linebacker Keyaron Fox, offensive tackle Sean Locklear and linebacker Rocky McIntosh.

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