Offseason Observations by Andrew, Part II

Earlier I outlined my thoughts and reactions to our draft and undrafted free agent class here. The tone was fairly negative on the whole. Today I’ll give my observations on our trades and free agency acquisitions.

The Redskins started the FA period with the release of Derrick Dockery and the acquisition of O.J. Atogwe before the lockout in early March. Dockery was released ostensibly because of his poor fit in our zone blocking scheme. The writing was on the wall for the move after he lost his starting job last season. Atogwe’s acquisition left me feeling ambivalent and unsure about our FO’s commitment to rebuilding the roster through youth. Atogwe is 30 and unlikely to play at a high level for many more seasons. However, Atogwe also filled an immediate need with a familiar face for Jim Haslett and so he’s likely to help us win and get production from our other safety spot in the immediate future. It turned out that Atogwe was one of the only long term contracts we offered to a player over 30–a good sign for our long term health. And his short term impact should be positive. He’s a heady ballhawk who’ll help get our defense lined up correctly and he lets us run our full defense without worrying about our second safety (usually the deep one) being a liability.

Nevertheless, safety will probably remain a long term need to be addressed in subsequent offseasons. Given how demanding the position is in our defense, it’s a position that could eventually require a high draft pick to fill.

After the lockout was lifted at the end of July, a very productive free agency period followed. The Front Office’s first move was to trade Jeremy Jarmon for Jabar Gaffney. This was a dubious trade at the time, it swapped one of our few talented pass rushing defensive linemen for a 30 year old receiver who was never more than a second or third option in Denver. Then the loss of Jarmon was more than replaced three days later by the simultaneous acquisitions of Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen from our division rivals New York and Dallas.

Cofield and Bowen are exactly the kind of free agents that smart organizations give multiyear deals to. Both are only 27 years old. And both are underrated players who produced at a high level for their old teams. The big buzz around the Redskins concerned the acquisition of Cullen Jenkins. In signing Cofield and Bowen instead, the Redskins acquired two better players who are younger for cheaper.

Profootball Focus had lots of good things to say about each. First some tidbits about Cofield:

From their Free Agency preview of the NFC East: http://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2011/02/18/your-guide-to-free-agency-nfc-east/

Please Don’t Go: Barry Cofield does everything, and to a high quality too. The Giants clearly value his contribution highly, considering only ten defensive tackles in the league played more snaps. He’s just entering his prime, so could prove expensive, but there’s no doubting his talent.

From their ranking of the top ten free agent interior defensive linemen: http://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2011/02/26/ranking-the-free-agents-defensive-tackles-and-3-4-ends/

4. Barry Cofield, New York Giants

Age as of 1st September 2011: 27

2010 Grade: +16.3

Key Stat: Had more QB hits (10) than any DT not named Shaun Rogers.

Behind The Numbers: After his 2009 we didn’t have much faith in Cofield. He showed us. A real turnaround season, the defensive tackle got plenty of pressure but was even more of a nuisance defending the run. Second half of the season lacked consistency, but the whole year was enough to suggest Cofield is back.

Further down in that same article you’ll notice Stephen Bowen’s name. Bowen finished third in PFF’s 3-4 defensive end rankings for 2010 despite the fact that he played mainly in reserve in third down packages for much of the season.

7. Stephen Bowen, Dallas Cowboys

Age as of 1st September 2011: 27

2010 Grade: +15.0

Key Stat: Finished third in our 2010 3-4 end rankings.

Behind The Numbers: When someone goes down on IR it means someone needs to step up. Stephen Bowen was that guy. He didn’t just step up when Marcus Spears’ season ended, he surpassed anything Spears had done, and built on his own success in nickel situations. Having proven he can start in the NFL, Bowen just needs an opportunity now.

Signing both players gives the Redskins several outstanding pass rushing linemen for the season. Bowen’s workload figures to become even larger, and his role even more critical now that Jarvis Jenkins will be out for some time after tearing his ACL in the preseason. I think Bowen and Cofield were two of the heists of this free agency period. Bowen signed a five year contract with 12.5 million dollars in guarantees. Cofield signed a six year deal with 12.5 million dollars in guarantees. Both contracts are a pittance compared to the type of contributions they can provide here, especially when you consider the fact that a 30 year old Cullen Jenkins got a five year 25 million dollar deal from the Eagles. These two acquisitions by themselves ensure the Redskins had a highly successful free agency.

Yet the front office didn’t get complacent after that. They signed both Jammal Brown and Santana Moss to modest extensions and traded Vonnie Holliday and an undisclosed draft pick to Arizona for Tim Hightower. The Jammal Brown extension was an utter necessity. He’s a 30 year old tackle and history shows offensive linemen with a history of injuries decline sharply in their thirties. But there were no other better starting options available this offseason and you cannot go into a season with chopped liver starting at one of your tackle spots. Brown is a good run blocking tackle who should be more effective this season than he was last after further distancing himself from injury. He also maintains continuity on the offensive line that was built towards the end of last season.

Santana is among the franchise great receivers and, as a fan, I was happy to see him signed. He’s still very much a great and productive receiver, finishing last season in the top five in receptions and top ten in receiving yards. He’s also a highly important veteran influence on an otherwise extremely young positional group composed almost entirely of rookie and sophomore players. The roster badly needed his influence and the example of professionalism and steady production he offers.

And the trade for Tim Hightower was absolutely brilliant. An utter steal considering the price we paid for him. As a Richmond alum who matriculated and graduated with Tim, I’ve been rooting for his success since day one. Having him on the Redskins has me more excited about the franchise than I can ever remember. And that’s not just the Richmond homer in me. The ZBS running game loves a big, heady running back and Tim is nothing if not those things. Redskins fans have started to embrace him already after a set of sensational performances in the first three preseason games. This is what the guy looked like in college. Powerful, consistently productive running, excellent blocking, catching, and pattern running, and legit breakaway potential for busting huge gains without ever selling out to get them. He’s a terrific ZBS back who offers a much better fit for us than Ryan Torain, who, while also a big play back, created far too many negative plays to be acceptable in our scheme. The cherry on top of acquiring Tim was his wonderfully low cost. In 2004 the Redskins traded Champ Bailey and a second round draft choice to Denver for Clinton Portis. This year we traded a player we were planning to release and what’s rumored to be one of the sixth round picks we acquired from trading Donovan McNabb to Minnesota to acquire a player who could be similarly productive to Portis. How were we able to get Tim at such a price you ask? Because he didn’t look all that special playing his first three years in Arizona, the place where talented running backs go to languish (Edgerrin James, Beanie Wells, now Ryan Williams? — each among its recent victims).

Speaking of that Donovan McNabb trade, both it and the Albert Haynesworth trades count as offseason successes if you ignore last season’s failures. In the end, it was good of the front office to set their pride aside and get out of losing situations now, and get some draft value in return. I thought for sure we’d never get anything in return for McNabb. Adding all of these fifth and sixth round selections really adds up if we can continue finding late gems like Terrence Austin, Brandyn Thompson, Evan Royster, Aldrick Robinson, and Dejon Gomes.

Wrapping up our notable new acquisitions was the savvy addition of cornerback Josh Wilson, signing punter Sav Rocca, claiming linebacker Thaddeus Gibson off waivers, Signing linebacker Keyaron Fox, and signing reserve offensive linemen Sean Locklear and Donovan Raiola. Josh Wilson played well in spot duty for the Ravens last season and has a chance to start for us this season if he gets healthy and picks up the scheme quickly. His deal was modest and he’s only 26, it was another nice addition. I acknowledge that the punting position is important, and it’s been a revolving door here for a while. But I don’t really know what to tell you about Rocca though, he’s a punter. However, I do like the fact that he potentially upgrades our roster while simultaneously downgrades Philadelphia’s. That’s something positive to take away I suppose. Finally, the acquisition of Gibson is interesting if he can make the roster this season. He’s a freak athlete with a starter’s pedigree if he ever develops. He could be one to watch as a fourth or fifth rush linebacker with the potential to advance. Fox has looked comfortable in the defense early and has been the most impressive inside linebacker after London Fletcher during the preseason. I imagine he’ll start opposite London sometime early this season.

Some key players from last season were also released, some retained. Among those released were Robert Henson, Casey Rabach, Phil Daniels, Maake Kemoeatu, Sam Paulescu, Chad Simpson, James Davis, Andre Brown, and Roydell Williams. All prudent moves, save for maybe the release of Phil Daniels and Robert Henson. Daniels might be a necessary re-acquisition now that Jarvis Jenkins is set to miss extended time recovering from his ACL injury. Inside linebacker has looked like a vulnerability this preseason with London sidelined and Fox the only other linebacker providing solid play. It might have been prudent to let a plainly out of shape H.B. Blades walk instead of Henson, but I understand Henson was released early as a measure of respect in order to allow him a chance at finding another team before the season.

Carlos Rogers was blessedly allowed to walk in free agency, replaced on the roster by Wilson.

Small extensions were also given to Kedric Golston, Blades, Rocky McIntosh, Phillip Buchanon, and Reed Doughty. All have struggled at times last season, and for some, this preseason as well. Buchanon is currently serving a four game suspension and will rejoin the team as nickle and dime package depth once it’s over. McIntosh has struggled to cope with his new role in the 3-4 defense since last season and doesn’t look appreciably more comfortable this year. Blades has been a bit of a mess this preseason and doesn’t seem to have a place on the team any more. He’ll probably be released before the season starts. Golston provides veteran depth along the DL as a big, strong lineman who won’t crap his pants when you throw him out there. Doughty offers pretty much the same at safety, although our taxing scheme strains his ability to the point where you pray we don’t lose LaRon Landry or Atogwe for any extended periods of time this season.

This wraps up my Redskins Offseason Observations, the first part of which can be found here. In summation, the free agency period was highly productive for the Redskins, as the front office was able to add several starters entering their primes at reasonable contracts as well as cut losses on past failures for draft compensation. Mike Shanahan’s and Bruce Allen’s acquisitions this offseason have a very distinct “moneyball” feel to them. In the end we’re left with what very much resembles a winning team this season with a nice long term future in the prudent hands of a clever general manager and head coach with a great pro player personnel department at their disposal.

– Andrew

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A blog dedicated to the Washington Redskins and NFL Draft analysis.
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