The Redskins relied on a stable of veterans *on the defensive line *throughout the 2016 season, but with several becoming free agents, the Redskins have many decisions to make with the unit this offseason.
As the Redskins head into the offseason following back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1991-92, Redskins.com will provide position-by-position reflections from the 2016 squad.
Up second: Defensive line.
Review of the unit:
The Redskins opted not to address the defensive line with their first round pick in 2016, a decision that surprised many considering the depth of prospects at that position and the lack of it on the team. General manager Scot McCloughan would go onto draft just one defensive linemen, Matt Ioannidis, in the fifth round, indicating that he would rely on the group of veterans he had stockpiled.
Take a look back at the top images of the Washington Redskins' quarterbacks from the 2016 season.
After four regular season games, McCloughan had already released two of them and another had landed on Injured Reserve. Washington cut defensive end Stephen Paea on Aug. 30, several days before shaving down the roster to 53 players, and then cut defensive end Kendall Reyes, who signed in March and missed two games with a groin strain.
Those releases compounded another loss in Week 2, when Kedric Golston, the team's longest tenured player and leader, injured his hamstring that would force him to miss the rest of the season.
For the rest of the season the team relied on a rotation of Chris Baker, Ricky Jean Francois, Ziggy Hood (signed to a Reserve/Future contract in January) and Cullen Jenkins, signed before the Redskins' fourth preseason game. Undrafted rookie Anthony Lanier also became a force midway through the year to provide some needed depth before he hit Injured Reserve with a leg injury.
Together, the unit combined for 143 tackles and 7.5 sacks (out of the team's 38), split among Baker (3.5), Hood (1.0), Jean Francois (1.5) and Jenkins (1.5), numbers that help explain why the team struggled get opposing teams off the field on third down.
Baker took a bit of a step back from 2015, when he notched six sacks on 53 tackles, but finished the final game of the season – a 19-10 loss to the Giants – combining with Jean Francois and Jenkins for 14 tackles and a sack.* *
What's Next For The Group:
The unit could see some big changes coming this offseason depending on what the front office and coaching staff decide to do in free agency. Currently, four defensive linemen – Baker, Golston, Hood and Jenkins – will be free agents.
Baker will likely be the first, and most expensive, decision to make. He signed to the team's practice squad in 2011 and eventually worked his way to the active roster before jumping onto the scene last season as a full-time starter.
"I love being here, I love the fan base, I bought a house here," Baker said. "The Redskins really gave me my first opportunity to play and come out here and make a name for myself. I thank [owner] Dan [Snyder], [president] Bruce [Allen], [head coach] Jay [Gruden] and those guys for sticking with me, coming from the practice squad to the position I'm in now, and just to continue to get better and better each year. So I would love to stay here."
The futures for Golston, Hood and Jenkins are a little less clear, as each signed one-year deals last season. Hood and made a strong impression during training camp and in the earlier parts of the season, but his production slowed down in the second half of the year. Meanwhile, Golston is still in the latter stages of recovering from his hamstring injury, but hopes to be ready before training camp.
Jean Francois will return for the final year in his three-year contract while the team will hope for bigger second years from Ioannidis and Lanier, who each got tastes of the active roster and could become part of the long-term plan along the line depending on how they adapt with a season under their belts.
"I got my feet wet, so I know coming in next year, not so much going to be in a daze like I was when I first started," Lanier said. "I can sit back and I can drive this thing. I expect to come back next year and I expect to be one of the most dominant people out there and that's just my plan period."
The Redskins also signed defensive tackle Phil Taylor to a Reserve/Future contract last week. He's been absent from the league the last two years with injuries but could provide some extra bulk in the middle of the line – he weighs in at 335 pounds – which struggled against the run this year, part of a defense that allowed opponents to run for 4.5 yards per game.
Washington may also look to upgrade in the draft to get younger depending on the talent available early and what happens in free agency.
"We have got to make sure we do well in the draft the next year or two and make sure that we continue to add to the talent that we have," head coach Jay Gruden said "We've had some good drafts, but we have to add to it, obviously. I think we are in sync. We have a very good view of what we look for in a football player – very similar – and that won't change. I have a lot of respect for the work that he [Scot McCloughan] puts in, and he does also. I think together we'll come up with a plan and get the right players in here."
2016 Redskins Season In Review: