Why the Redskins are looking at edge rushers early in free agency

Not just looking, but why the Redskins are in position to add even more outside pass rushing help.

by Steve Shoup, special for Breaking Burgundy

While the start of free agency has been pretty quiet for the Redskins, one intriguing revelation has been the Redskins pursuit of edge rushers. They have brought in both Chris Long and Andre Branch for visits, while still maintaining interest in Junior Galette who missed last year due to injury.

On the surface this interest seems a bit surprising as the Redskins have Ryan Kerrigan at one edge rusher spot, and rookie Preston Smith had a really strong year finishing with eight sacks despite just one start. While the Redskins might not “need” more edge help, they definitely should want re-inforcements in this area for a variety of reasons. 

The Redskins might have two really good edge rushers in Kerrigan and Smith, but in the NFL you are really only as good as your depth, particularly at key positions like this. Three times in the last four seasons the Redskins have seen one of their premier edge rushers (twice Orakpo and Galette last year) miss most or all of the season due to injury. Even if it isn’t a full season injury, a partial injury of 3-6 weeks could be devastating as well in the NFL. There will be a drop off in production no matter what if you lose a key starter for any length of time, quality depth can ensure it’s as minimal a loss as possible. 

In addition to the obvious need of quality depth, the Redskins pursuit of extra edge help could be an indication that they are taking a page out of the book of the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos. Denver are champions due to their elite defense, led by a ferocious pass rush.

Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware may have been the stars of Denver’s pass rush, and get most of the hype, but it was really a four man unit. Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray combined for 9.5 sacks on the season and gave the Broncos quality depth both when Ware missed time and throughout each game to keep the stars fresh. The presence of two good depth options also allowed the Broncos the chance to maintain an impact pass rush throughout the game. 

The Broncos aren’t unique in this model, as a number of teams look to have good 3rd and 4th edge options, to have an advantage rushing the passer. The Giants won their Super Bowls against the Patriots due largely to the strength of their pass rush, and they were famous for their NASCAR package that allowed them to play three defensive ends at once.

This model is possible for the Redskins because Smith is on his rookie contract and still very cheap. This could allow the Redskins to make one or two short term signings for additional edge rusher help, and not blow their entire cap on the position. 

Another general take-away from their interest in a number of edge rushers is the fact that the Redskins aren’t thrilled with the production they have been getting from 2014 2nd rounder Trent Murphy. Despite plenty of playing time these past two seasons, Murphy has combined for just 6 sacks and only a handful of pressures. Murphy plays the run pretty well and is still cheap for two more seasons so he should still have a job, but the Redskins clearly want an upgrade behind the starters and someone who has shown some ability to bring pressure off the edge. 

The Redskins can use upgrades at a number of key areas, but increasing their ability to get pressure on the quarterback should remain a focus. The Redskins were decent in this area last year, but there is definitely room for improvement. One thing that was noticeable is that better quality quarterbacks and offenses, were able to keep the Redskins pass rush in check and minimize its effectiveness.

This was evident in the playoff game versus the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers. Early on the pass rush came up with a big sack by Smith for a safety, but after that the pass rush wasn’t nearly as effective. Not only did Rodgers not get sacked again, but he had too much time being comfortable in the pocket, which allowed him to pick apart the Redskins in the 2nd half.

This is an area the Redskins can improve upon without spending significant resources that potentially could have a significant impact.

Steve is the founder of Fanspeak.com. Click here for the Fanspeak Mock Draft Simulator

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