Football Outsiders NFC East Preview

Back in February Ryan Wilson of Football Outsiders (a site I visit multiple times daily) produced a very thorough NFC East evaluation. At the time I thought he was right on and, given what's happened, he was. We didn't go after a Free Agent DE as he predicted though that surprised many of us.

Here comes Round Two. Ryan opens by looking at some things Joe Gibbs has done right since 2004

In 2004, the Redskins signed Shawn Springs, easily the team¡¯s best cornerback. Of course, Springs replaced the league¡¯s best cornerback, Champ Bailey, who along with a second-rounder, was packaged in a deal for running back Clinton Portis.
Certainly a positive, although last year's injury plagued season gives pause. Due to a restructure in pay on the part of Chris Samuels (shifting 2007 salary into prorated guaranteed money) Shawn Springs represents the highest Cap Hit on the Redskins in '07 at over 7.3M. Talks of the team forcing Springs out of town have since died, though he did refuse to take a pay cut. With 7.5M remaining in SB protecting his salary, that move was unsurprising. The addition of Fred Smoot offers some much needed protection against Springs' inevitable injured time next year.
A few weeks later, then-Colts linebacker Marcus Washington inked a six-year, $24 million deal. He replaced Jesse Armstead and instantly succeeded in head coach-defense Gregg Williams¡¯ scheme. Last year, a hip injury eventually landed Washington on injured reserve, but he is expected to be ready for training camp.
I'm keeping a close eye on Washington, as some have pointed out that perhaps the Lance Briggs deal is evidence of either the team's (lack of) confidence in Washington as a player or else concerns regarding his rehab. I've heard no reported indication that he will miss time in '07 due to his hip injury.
Nickel back Walt Harris was signed to a free agent contract and along with Springs and Fred Smoot gave Washington arguably their best collection of cornerbacks during the Synder era.
I guess what isn't mentioned is that we let Fred Smoot and Walt Harris walk even though we could've afforded to keep both in town. Smoot failed in Minnesota but he was fine while he was here. Walt Harris went crazy and started picking off everything thrown his way. Having Harris/Smoot/Springs in coverage was a great move by Gibbs that contrasts drastically with our mistake in turning that into Rogers/Wright/Rumph for stretches last year.
The team selected safety Sean Taylor with the fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft. There was some speculation tight end Kellen Winslow might be the choice, but the Redskins filled that need by drafting Chris Cooley two rounds later.
Couldn't have worked out better and one of the best moves of Joe Gibbs tenure. Thanks to Ryan for reminding me that we got Cooley in the same draft as Winslow -- two rounds later. Although Winslow will make a mark in the NFL, we've gotten far more consistent production out of Cooley the past three years.
In 2005, Washington traded Laveranues Coles for Santana Moss. The cost was steep ¡ª they had to pay the final $5 million of Coles¡¯ $13 million signing bonus, and he counted $9.3 million against the Redskins¡¯ salary cap that season ¡ª but according to DPAR, Moss was the league¡¯s third-best wideout in ¡®05.
I think very highly of DPAR as an evalution of players which is one of many reasons I frequent Football Outsiders. Though Coles was a fine receiver, I think most fans would agree that Santana Moss is about the best wideout the team has had in the Dan Snyder era.
The club re-signed special teams ace Mike Sellers. Sellers, listed at 6¡ä3¡å, 277 pounds, has been an effective H-back in Gibbs¡¯ offense.
An underappreciated move given what Sellers had gone through earlier in his career. He was drafted by the 'Skins but fell into a bit of, uhm, trouble with the Browns. That we turned him into a productive player on the field and a legally responsible one off of it is a huge credit to the team.
Last off-season, Washington re-signed running back/returner Rock Cartwright. The Redskins have proven proficient at signing high-priced free agents, but that personnel philosophy left little cap room for players like Cartwright. Teams like the Eagles, Patriots and Steelers are consistently competitive because of the quality depth across the roster.
Cartwright is also a solid special teams performer, providing a memorable moment with a TD return in our first game against the Cowboys in '06. That Cartwright is a reliable backup RB was just one of many reasons why the TJ Duckett trade was so fantastically silly.

Wilson documents accurately the Redskins offseason moves with the Fletcher (who he says upgrades the unit, I agree) and Smoot signings, as well as our O-Line situation sans Dockery. Todd Wade is given the nod as a potential replacement. One point of contention:

After losing his job midway through last season to Vernon Fox, Archuleta was used primarily on special teams. It is curious that a player who excelled in Lovie Smith¡¯s version of the Tampa-2 in St. Louis floundered in Williams¡¯ Cover-2 scheme in Washington.
Archuleta probably lost his job in the preseason to Pierson Prioleau, though he later lost it to Troy Vincent and then lost it to Vernon Fox when the former went down with injury. I think Williams' Cover-2 in '06 was deficient for lack of a front four pass rush. He was limited in his blitzes given the multi-headed monstrosity that was Springs/Prioleau injury plus Archuleta's unreliability in coverage plus having to have Kenny Wright or else Mike Rumph or else both on the field at various times. Williams' defense works best when he's creatively blitzing people from different angles which simply cannot be done if you're leaving very bad players on islands in coverage. This turned out to be a Faustian Bargain anyways, as the Redskins apparently conceded the blitz to protect against the deep pass... which teams proceded to do anyways given the uninterrupted time opposing QBs had to throw the ball.
If this is true ¡ª that the team has this kind of money available ¡ª one has to wonder why more of an effort wasn¡¯t made to keep Dockery. Or, why Washington signed Fletcher-Baker to a substantial deal given his age.
That is a good point that fits nicely into the continuing narrative that the Redskins would rather pursue other people's talent than retain their own. In Washington's defense, I will say that Derrick Dockery is no Lance Briggs in relative talent. Briggs is a Pro Bowler (perhaps overrated due to success in that particular Chicago system) and Dockery is merely an admirable Guard who also happens to False Start a lot. I think Buffalo overpaid for him and I was content that the Redskins didn't participate in that bidding war. I hope the team remains frugal and remands the Briggs trade offer to Da Bears immediately.
With Archuleta gone, Washington needs a safety. They had that player in Ryan Clark, but chose to let him sign a modest contract with the Steelers as they pursued Archuleta. And they could also need a cornerback; after refusing to restructure his deal, Springs¡¯ future in Washington is uncertain. Former first-round pick Carlos Rogers has been uneven during his two-year career, and while Smoot provides depth, he¡¯s not an adequate replacement for Springs. Unfortunately, Washington prefers to build its roster through free agency, eschewing the draft as something of an off-season nuisance. Assuming, for now, that the Briggs deal doesn¡¯t happen, and also assuming that the Redskins wanted to use the draft to add depth to a depleted roster, they have just four selections, and only a single Day-1 pick.
No good news here. The only point I disagree (ever so slightly) with Ryan on is Safety. I think Prioleau deserves a chance to show what he's got as a starter and the team signed Omar Stoutmire to back him up. Cornerback is a concern in the future if we let go of Springs, but I think he's a Redskin in the near future, at least through '07. Our paucity in Draft picks is worth noting and is the main reason I advocate trading down.

As before, Ryan does a great, fair job evaluating the team and the entire preview deserves attention. Go check it out.

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