Redskins 2006 Free Agency Review
[CENTER][CENTER][B][U]Redskins 2006 Free Agency Review[/U][/B][/CENTER][/CENTER]
The beginning of free agency each year brings about the usual flood of activity, especially in and around Redskins Park. Unfortunately it also signals the arrival of that dreaded annual rite of spring wherein every yahoo with a column blurts out a flurry of recycled jokes about how the Redskins are once again spending more money on new players than Jerry Jones has on plastic surgery. It has become quite cliché to infuse any free agent discussion with the occasional reference to Dan Snyder and his past dalliances into the market. Of course, many of these same critics would secretly love it if their team had an owner who would spend so readily in an attempt to better their roster. You won’t, however, ever hear them admit it.
In truth some of the criticisms are largely justified, if not blatantly overstated. Snyder has written enormous checks in the past to players who were already past their prime, or who never really had a prime to begin with. The difference now is the past three free agent escapades the Redskins have made have been with Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs calling the shots. Since Gibbs’ return the Redskins have arguably made only one mistake – Michael Barrow – in the free agent market, and have systematically assembled the core of their roster. Names such as Marcus Washington, Shawn Springs, Cornelius Griffin, and Casey Rabach, just to name a few, have become Redskins fixtures. Of course, you won’t hear praise of such moves echoing from the tomato sauce-stained PC’s of some of ESPN’s more notorious – and portly – NFL reporters, but quality signings such as these don’t need a pasta-fueled endorsement to be legitimized.
Also notable to mention is the relatively quiet free agent period on the Redskins front in 2005. One solid center (Rabach) and one soon-to-be fourth receiver (David Patten) and the rest were simply ho-hum veteran additions aimed at enhancing roster depth. In fact, the Redskins were so reserved, at least relative to past years, that they actually received a compensatory pick in the seventh round of this year’s draft to make up for the value they lost in the market relative to what they gained. That’s hardly the stuff of hyperbole and jokes if you ask me, but you see them nonetheless.
This off-season the Redskins were once again aggressive, armed with the $4.4 million in cap space that LaVar relinquished in order to seek another locale in which to martyr himself, and with the added flexibility afforded them by the new collective bargaining agreement. Gibbs and his all-star staff pounced on the opportunity to improve the areas of the team that were in desperate need of help. Wide receiver was instantly transformed from an area of concern over who will be lining up next to Santana Moss, to an area of concern over whether or not there will be enough footballs to go around.
The more notable of the two new wideouts is former Pittsburgh receiver Antwaan Randle El, who somehow went from being the consensus top receiver on the market in the eyes of the media at the beginning of the free agent period, to an overpaid third receiver who only has seven career receiving touchdowns to his name once he became a Redskin. It was widely speculated early on that Randle El would return to his home town team and sign on with the Bears to play number two to Muhsin Muhammad’s number one, a move which was lauded far and wide as the perfect marriage of player and team. However when Randle El chose Washington over the Bears to possibly occupy the same role – he will contend with fellow newcomer Brandon Lloyd for the job – it was portrayed as just another example of Redskin opulence.
Lloyd himself did not see his arrival in Washington pass without its requisite share of media scrutiny either. Tendered by the 49ers at the highest level, would-be suitors would have had to fork over a first and third round selection in this year’s draft to acquire the rights to the three-year veteran. However when the Redskins surrendered only a third this year and a fourth in 2007, commentators such as [I]Sirius NFL Radio’s[/I] Adam Schein wondered aloud what they were thinking. At worst, the Redskins paid far less than the established market value for a dynamic young receiver, yet the transaction became even more fuel for the bonfire of anti-Redskins propaganda that permeates the football media.
So with receiver now well stocked, the need for a legitimate speed rusher from the defensive end position was finally addressed when Andre Carter was freed from that most hopeless, oppressive, and punitive of San Francisco institutions. With all due respect to Alcatraz, Carter’s own personal penitentiary has Mike Nolan as a warden. Carter was misplaced last season when the allegedly defensive-minded Nolan thought it wise to move Carter from his defensive end position to outside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme. Despite playing the position in college, Carter struggled with his new assignment, limiting his productivity and further proving Mike Nolan’s ability to quickly take any good thing and totally ruin it. A return to his comfort zone at defensive end should bring about a return to the 13-sack productivity that Carter displayed in 2002.
The departure of Ryan Clark was made possible and palatable by yet another of Washington’s big-name targets, former Rams safety Adam Archuleta. A former 20th overall selection in the 2001 NFL Draft, Archuleta plays with the aggressive style that has become a trademark of the Gregg Williams-orchestrated Redskins defense. While the contract – one that makes him the highest paid safety in league history – causes at least a slight rise of the eyebrow, his blitzing acumen and potential when paired with heat-seeking missile in safety’s clothing Sean Taylor keep even the most ardent skeptic from sporting a permanent Tim Kaine.
As is true with many teams each off-season, team improvements don’t necessarily always come as a result of a new name added to the roster. The Redskins demonstrated this principle of addition-by-subtraction when they parted ways with perpetual failure Robert Royal. Royal, who never met a pass he couldn’t drop, managed to hold on to the pen long enough to sign a ridiculous five-year, $10 million deal with Buffalo that included a $2.5 million signing bonus. Say what you will about the Redskins and their propensity to pay full price, but even Dan Snyder in an alcohol-induced, double dog-dared fit of incomprehensible mania wouldn’t have given that kind of deal to a player whose only reason for existence on the roster was due to Zeron Flemister somehow being even worse. Normally such a completely and utterly illogical transaction would feature Matt Millen prominently, so the fact that Millen was conspicuous in his absence only further elevates the unfathomable nature of this signing. Honestly, everyone look around the room and see if you spot Rod Sterling.
Despite being able to upgrade the tight end position by simply procuring an old J.C. Penney’s mannequin and throwing a jersey on it, Gibbs and company chose a more traditional method of improvement and inked proven veteran Christian Fauria to a modest deal. Fauria is a known commodity whose history of catching passes from the tight end position will add a wrinkle to the offensive gameplan that had heretofore been missing. Fauria is also an adept blocker which can only enhance what was an already record setting rushing attack last season.
The calm after the roughly week-long storm was only slightly interrupted by a couple of nondescript, yet key additions aimed at adding depth. Interior linemen Mike Pucillo, formerly of Cleveland, and Tyson Walter, late of the Texans, were added to strengthen what is a suspect depth chart along the line behind the five incumbent starters. Neither is likely to start, and Walter may find himself in a fight for a roster spot, but both are exactly the kind of player one would expect a veteran-minded coach like Joe Gibbs to gravitate toward.
Former Minnesota and Jacksonville corner Kenny Wright became the newest Redskin April 3rd, coming aboard to fill the role Walt Harris played himself out of in 2005. He has good size and is adept at muscling receivers out of their routes, which is a useful skill to have in a division that players such as Plaxico Burress and Terrell Owens call home.
Overall it would be hard to judge the Redskins free agency haul as anything but a success. The paucity of draft picks that the Washington owns in the upcoming draft further necessitated the aggressive nature with which the they attacked the market, since few of the needs would have been reliably filled with only one first-day selection and five on day two. Despite this solid logic, the customary jokes were dusted off once again, though the perpetrators of this annual Redskins bashing lost ground when Washington earned a playoff victory over Tampa Bay. Hunger may be the best gravy, but in football, winning is duct tape; it fixes just about any problem. When the moves made in early 2005 prove wise just a few months later, the dissenting voices will fade even further.
Check back in next week for your weekly Redskins football fix. Hail to the Redskins!
Questions and comments can be sent to Trevor Walters at [EMAIL="firstname.lastname@example.org"]email@example.com[/EMAIL]
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