Here's five takeaways from Redskins Senior Vice President Doug Williams from the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
1. The Redskins have stayed in contact with in-house players that are set to become unrestricted free agents. How those negotiations play out – and the entirety of free agency – will impact the team's draft strategy.
In a little more than two weeks, the new NFL calendar will flip over, leaving hundreds of players available on the open market to sign. As it stands now, 17 players that were on the Redskins last year will be among the free agents available to sign new contracts.
Over the last few months, Washington's front office has been in contact with those players as negotiations will likely intensify before the 2018 league year begins.
"One thing about [Senior Vice President of Football Operations/General Counsel] Eric Schaffer, he does a tremendous job of keeping in contact with all the guys that the coaches talk about," Williams said. "I mean, we've basically talked to all the free agents that are on our team at this particular time and had some kind of conversation, whether or not its an offer or let them know what we think."
Williams added that the organization's goal in terms of re-signing players -- and signing new players -- is having a team-first mentality similar to some of the league's best teams.
"Big may not be better," said Williams when asked about signing one particular player to a money-heavy deal. "If you take the final four teams that was in the NFL playoffs this year, when you look at the three quarterbacks and [Tom] Brady, all of those guys got to the dance. …It was kind of like going to a NCAA Tournament and you've got North Carolina and three schools from the SWAC.
"At the end of the day, it's about the team and the people around you. I think we've got a pretty good team, so I don't know if we need to go out to spend big just to say we spend big."
Additionally, how the team makeup changes in free agency will determine the front office's decisions during April's NFL Draft.
"I think what free agency does, and we finished that meeting last week, [is it] gives us some opportunities to plug some holes and give us a little more relaxation during the draft," Williams said. "If we can pick up some people that we kind of identified in free agency, and we're able to sign some of those guys, I think it takes the pressure off the draft and puts you in a position to draft the best available player."
2. The defensive line can still improve, especially against the run.
The Redskins' pass rush unit was one of the best in the league last season. According to Next Gen Stats, it totaled 269 pressures (second best) and the team as a whole collected more than 40 sacks, thanks in large part to the continued production of linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and an improved defensive front with first-round pick Jonathan Allen and second-year lineman Matt Ioannidis.
But pass rush is only one side of the equation, and the other half left much to be desired. The Redskins allowed 134.1 rushing yards per game, which ranked last in the NFL, and opponents averaged 4.5 yards per rush. Williams knows that area on the defense must change drastically, which means continuing to fortify the line.
"The interior D-line needs upgrades, there's no doubt about it," Williams said. "We were giving up 130 some yards a game from the rush standpoint. I think we've got to be able to stop the run, that's not a secret. To sit here and say we don't or that we're happy with what we have I would say that wouldn't be fair. We need to upgrade the interior on that side of the ball."
The Redskins know there is a strong class of first-round talent on the defensive line in this year's draft. This week in Indianapolis will be an opportunity to see if they're more willing to upgrade at that position again with their first pick.
3. Williams sees this year's running backs in the NFL Draft as a special group.
While Penn State running back and Heisman finalist Saquon Barkley has long been considered the best running back in this year's draft, Williams sees special talent across the board with the prospects that are eligible to be drafted.
Check out the top photos from running back Chris Thompson's 2017 season.
"There's enough running backs for everybody to get one," Williams said with a smile. "I think that's the strong point on this draft this year is when you look at the number of running backs."
Among the running backs outside of Barkley available, and that are expected to go in the early rounds, includes LSU's Derrius Guice, the pair of Georgia running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb and USC's Ronald Jones II.
Williams said that the team is simply looking to add a quality running back to the position this offseason, whether that be in free agency in March or one of those younger talents in the NFL Draft.
"You definitely want to look for a guy like Chris Thompson," Williams said. "Nobody does things as well as Chris and we're hoping that Chris comes back just like he left – he's one of the most dynamic backs in the league for what he can do – but you're looking for that runner and you're also looking for that guy that can play three downs. …You'd like to have a guy that can play two downs, plus the next one down and doesn't have to come off the field."
4.Williams makes sure he tests the mental aptitude of the draft prospects he's interviewing throughout the week.
One of the prime reasons the entire scouting department and coaching staff from each team spends the week in Indianapolis is to interview a plethora of NFL prospects in person. Within their 15 minute time frames to speak with players, Williams is most concerned with, at least initially, a player's mental game.
"I think the 15 minutes that you have, you might ask one pertinent question about their family or what have you," Williams said. "But most of it you want to see how sharp they are from a football standpoint, and you might ask a guy, if it's a running back, a receiver, a quarterback, just call one of your plays or and draw it up on the board, just to see if he has that recall of where he's coming from and how they run their plays."
This is Williams's first NFL Combine as Senior V.P. of Personnel, but the title means much less than the people he has around him. Williams and his team of scouts recently completed two weeks of meetings regarding draft prospects and he was happy to receive information from the variety of local scouts across the country that returned to share their data and opinions.
"I'm a firm believer that credit goes to the man in the arena," Williams said. "And when you talk about colleges and the guys on the road all year, and to hear those guys come back and talk about players they've seen and give their report, you feel good about how they look at a player and feel good about how we put them on the board. I think [Director of College Personnel] Kyle [Smith] has done a good job with those guys."
5. The team's offensive tackle depth will be tested in the coming months, but the Redskins have veteran talent that will make an impact once the regular season rolls around.
Amongst the position groups that were most impacted during an injury-filled 2017 season for Washington was the offensive tackle spot.
Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams fought through a painful knee injury before being placed on Injured Reserve in December; starting right tackle Morgan Moses played with ankle injuries for most of the season; and Ty Nsekhe missed time with a core muscle injury.
Additionally, T.J. Clemmings – a waiver pickup in September – spent most of the season on Injured Reserve because of a midseason ankle injury.
While Williams, Moses and Clemmings continue to rehab their injuries, Nsekhe is reportedly set to become a restricted free agent, although the team would like to bring back the 32-year-old swing tackle.
"It's so unfortunate on the offseason we're going to be without our top four tackles," Williams said. "But the good part about it, talking to Trent the other day, he feel's good about where he is. Morgan Moses feels good…the most important thing when we go to training camp, if those guys are ready for training camp, its good because we don't play until September. I think that's the most important thing."