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Five Questions Facing The Redskins Heading Into The Offseason

By ZAC BOYER | @ZacBoyer

What should have been a slow growth process for the Washington Redskins this past season was accelerated by a seven-game win streak, an appearance in the playoffs for the first time in five years and the team’s first NFC East title since 1999.

Now head coach Mike Shanahan, three seasons into his tenure as the Redskins’ head coach, approaches a crossroads not entirely unlike what he faced a year ago. Washington has its foundation in place, but still has significant questions regarding its future. All will be answered in the coming months, except for one: What can the Redskins accomplish in 2013?

1. What’s up with Robert Griffin III’s right knee? The rookie quarterback, taken No. 2 overall in the NFL Draft a year ago, set a multitude of team and league records through a phenomenal first season, but there are concerns over his future because of his injury. Griffin had surgery to repair the ACL and LCL in his right knee last week, with most estimates putting him on a timetable for a return anywhere from mid-September through November. Griffin, though, has vowed to be ready for the start of the season on Sept. 8, and whether he can safely be ready to play is only up to him.

2. Which impending free agents will be back with the team? Several players will be free from their contracts when the league year ends in March, including tight ends Fred Davis and Logan Paulsen, offensive linemen Kory Lichtensteiger and Tyler Polumbus, linebackers Lorenzo Alexander and Rob Jackson and specialists Sav Rocca and Nick Sundberg. Some, such as Paulsen, Jackson and Sundberg, are restricted free agents, which means the Redskins essentially have the right of first refusal. With another salary cap penalty set to strike Washington of $18 million, several, if not most, of the team’s free agents should return on cap-friendly deals.

3. Which positions will need to be addressed during the offseason? Two of the main concerns going forward are in the secondary and at right tackle, as the Redskins hoped to address both positions before being sapped of the extra salary cap room last March. To compensate for that loss in the defensive backfield, Washington signed five players to low-risk, high-reward deals a year ago – a strategy that didn’t necessarily work, given that only one, free safety Madieu Williams, played the entire season. How the Redskins address other positions will go hand-in-hand with which starters or key contributors they don’t bring back.

4. What might the Redskins try to accomplish in the NFL Draft? Shanahan has been adamant during his tenure that the key to success is to stockpile depth, and Washington will no doubt attempt to do so in April even without the first-round pick it sent to St. Louis as part of the trade for Griffin. Free agency will impact whether the Redskins address the offensive line and the secondary, but the team is certain to continue its pattern of swapping picks to grab other players in the later rounds. Running back, tight end, defensive end and inside linebacker are all positions that Washington could boost with the addition of a player or two.

5. How close is this team to playing in the Super Bowl? It’s always easy to play a game of what-if when determining what the Redskins accomplished. What if Griffin was healthy over the last five weeks? What if Washington defeated St. Louis and Cincinnati, teams they lost to on the final possession? What if Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker never went down with season-ending injuries in Week 2? The Redskins beat only one playoff team – Baltimore – during their seven-game win streak, and their schedule next season will be more difficult than it was this time. Should Griffin return from his knee injury at a serviceable level and should the Redskins pick up a few key pieces over the next three months, the goals for a team that finished sixth in the NFC this season should be set much higher.