Hot on the heels of the Clinton Portis' departure, the Redskins executed four more noteworthy personell moves yesterday: cutting Andre Carter and Derrick Dockery and offering restricted free agent tenders to Chris Wilson and H.B. Blades (it is not at all clear if these tenders will be applicable under the new CBA, but the fact that they were offered indicates a clear intention on the part of the team to keep them).
Each of these moves tells us something wider about the state of the Redskins, and it is a mix of positive and negative:
Andre Carter - Cut
Carter is one of too many examples of defensive talent that was squandered in the new 3-4 defense. He wasn't a game changer in his own right, but his strong 2009 season showed that even at an advanced age he could make an impact when aided by Orakpo rushing from the opposite side and Haynesworth collapsing the pocket. Haynesworth was of course a complete flameout with this staff and Orakpo was hampered by his lack of interior line support, and in addition to losing his help Carter was forced to spend way too much time in pass coverage, which he has never been comfortable with.
Carter provides another lesson. He was the only defensive starter to lose his job due to performance. The problem is, he had to ask out of it himself - after a few weeks of frustration he approaced Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett and flat out told him he'd be better off as a situational defense end. One is forced to wonder why he needed to ask.
He was not the only starter who needed to be benched. Kedric Golston and Ma'ake Kemoeatu didn't just struggle on the defensive line - they showed early in the season that they were incapable of meeting even the most minimal standards of the job. Most frustratingly, when they both went down with injury late in the year their replacements - Vonnie Holliday and Kedric Golston - played quite well.
Lorenzo Alexander, Rocky McIntosh and Kareem Moore all struggled as well, though less dramatically than Kedric and Maake. Yet when Rob Jackson got some snaps at OLB (in place of an injured Orakpo, not Alexander), guess what - he looked pretty good too. And that still leaves Chris Wilson (more on him below). Behind Rocky we had Perry Riley, who was admittedly a rookie but was drafted to fill this job, and H.B. Blades, who has played well during his limited opportunities for as long as he has been on this team. And while Reed Doughty has his limitations (though he is not as limited as some internet chatter may have you believe), he is more reliable in every respect than Kareem Moore.
So why did it take injuries for the more capable players to get a chance to start, while others who at least had a reasonable chance to exceed the performance of the men above them never got the opportunity? Was Haslett waiting for the other struggling starters to ask out, like Carter? We all know that many elite athletes are simply not capable of acknowledging that they cannot do the job and benching themselves. I think we have to respect Carter for doing so when it is so contrary to the general athletic ethos. This stubborness to change the lineup was clearly all on Haslett, as the Shanahans had no problem with benching underperformers on offense. "Accountability" gets thrown around a lot in sports coverage, and is one of those buzzwords settled on by sports writers who insist on making all sports a test of moral fiber. But playing the correct talent, and recognizing when your evaluation was wrong and it's time to try new talent, is one of the basic tasks of coaching, and one on which Haslett badly needs to improve.
Derrick Dockery - Cut
Dock never really stood a chance. Not only was he a Gibbsian power blocker, but he was only adequate even at that. But I think most Redskins fans agree that he was better than his replacement, Kory Lichtensteiger, who has his merits but was frequently overwhelmed strength-wise. While Dockery was obviously a poor fit for zone blocking, leaving him on the bench appears to have been a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good. And it's not only the left guard spot that suffered. Lichtensteiger would be a much better fit at center, and I bet he would be an upgrade Casey Rabach, who is frankly a liability. So benching Dockery may well have harmed two positions on the offensive line.
Chris Wilson - Tendered
Remember Orakpo's role as hybrid DE/OLB in 2009? It seems to have been a pretty good dress rehearsal for a job as a 3-4 OLB. When Orakpo needed a break, Wilson filled that role exactly. He was a pretty decent pass rusher, but for someone who had spent his career to that point as a pass rush specialist he held up surprisingly well against the run.
And yet despite Lorenzo Alexander struggling (he is superbly versatile and a valuable player, but is miscast as a starting OLB), Wilson was used only in the gimmicky blitz packages, and then only to rush from the inside. When Orakpo got hurt late in the season, it was Rob Jackson who got the playing time despite having shown far less in his brief career.
But does the fact that they bothered to tender him mean that they see a bigger role for him? If the tag sticks under the new CBA, a team can only sign him by giving up a second round draft pick. And even if it doesn't we still know the team is interested in bringing him back as an unrestricted free agent.
H.B. Blades - Tendered
We didn't see much of Blades in 2010, but whenever he has seen the field as either a middle- or inside-linebacker he has performed. He has remarkable run instincts, and despite a small size that you'd think would limit his abilities in traffic, he has a knack for showing up in the hole an instand before the running back. And when forced to take on larger blockers head to head he performs surprisingly well. While Fletcher can clearly still play, Rocky McIntosh is a free agent and will probably be (and should be) moving on.
Wilson, Blades, and the 2011 linebacker corps
The fact that the Redskins seem to be acknowledging Wilson's and H.B.'s abilities is significant.
Wilson has gotten in done in the past, and Rob Jackson played well in his brief season-ending audition. Between the two, we should be able to find an upgrade at starting OLB and a pretty good backup.
Blades has performed when asked, and Riley was drafted to take the ILB job. Between the two, that should render a starter superior to Rocky and, again, a quality backup.
This matters because there are simply more needs on the Redskins roster than can be filled with free agents and a depleted stock of draft picks. The linebacker corps needs to be upgraded, but it looks like that can be done with in-house talent. That means that my preference to spend either the #10 pick or a big wad of free agent cash to upgrade the right defensive end position is still on the table.
If the current roster can provide two new starters to shore up the linebacking unit, then that leaves only quarterback, offensive line, wide receiver, defensive line, and maybe free safety to go. Progress.