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Sundberg and East - a tale of two long snappers

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There can be only one...

NFL: Washington Redskins at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not sure how many Redskins fans realized that Nick Sundberg was fighting through pain most of last season. I’m also not sure how many people remember that he was put on IR in December, amidst the flurry of late-season player shutdowns as the Redskins’ playoff hopes diminished then flickered out completely.

The Redskins signed Andrew East to finish out the season as the Redskins long snapper. Because it was late in the season (and, perhaps, being unsure of Sundberg’s long-term health status), the Redskins gave East a contract that runs through 2019.

As you can see, Sundberg is 31 years old, and has two years left on his contract. He has no guaranteed money, and the Redskins would have to absorb a small $305K dead cap hit if they released him.

He has long been a favorite of mine because of the 2012 season when he broke his arm and continued to play.

Washington Redskins long-snapper Nick Sundberg played the entire second half despite breaking his left arm late in the first half of the team’s 40-32 season-opening win over the New Orleans Saints.

On the play when Saints receiver Courtney Roby scored a touchdown off a blocked punt, Sundberg broke his left arm when it was hit by a helmet.

After the play, Sundberg was seen jogging to the locker room with a trainer, but then stopped, turned around and came back to the sideline in case the Redskins had to punt again in the final 40 seconds of the half. X-rays revealed a broken arm, but Sundberg returned after halftime with his left arm heavily wrapped.

He took the field a total of six times in the second half (two punts, two field goals and two extra point attempts). He managed to get the ball back to punter Sav Rocca (also the team’s holder) each time. Sundberg said he never considered leaving the game and turning long-snapping duties over to center Will Montgomery.

Sundberg said he suffered the same injury in high school. “I can feel it moving around, yeah. I broke the same bone before, so I know what it feels like.”

How can you not love a player like that?

He was also the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for the Redskins.

And that kind of devotion to the team, the local community and the game should buy some commitment in return, right?

I would have hoped so, but the NFL is a cut-throat business. Sundberg’s broken arm game was seven years ago. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and he’s suffering with back issues.

Maybe the Redskins should think about moving on.

There are only 32...

Long snappers share something in common with Punters, Kickers and head coaches in the NFL. There are only 32 of them at any given time.

Of the 4 jobs, long snapper is the one with the best job security, though it is probably the lowest paid.

Fans often think of the long snapper the way they think of other offensive linemen — as one of the “big uglies” that tip the scales at 300 pounds (plus). But long snappers are really much more like linebackers — they are special teams aces who, after snapping the ball to the punter, have to run 40 yards downfield as fast as they can and try to make a tackle on the return man.

This specialist position is also a stressful job requiring precision and a lot of coolness under pressure. Everyone focuses on the field goal kicker and the holder when a team lines up for a last-second 3-point attempt, but the entire operation of the kick begins with, and depends upon, the long-snapper doing his job. The ball, like in the Goldilocks story, can’t be too low or too high — it must be ‘just right’.

Sundberg has spoken publicly in the past about the constant practice and work he puts in to be able to deliver the snap perfectly every time — the right speed, the right height, and with the laces just so. Redskins fans celebrated most of Tress Way’s punts in 2018 as works of art, but every one of those beautiful kicks started with the long snapper.

One thing to acknowledge is that there was no drop off in performance when the team had to make the switch from Sundberg to East last season. The kicking game continued seamlessly.

East is 4 years younger and $450,000 cheaper than Sundberg.

If the special teams can function just as smoothly with one as with the other, then I have to wonder whether it is worth keeping the older, more expensive player on the roster.

Is it time for the Redskins to move on from their long-time veteran — the tough guy who played with a broken arm rather than let the team down?

Sundberg has been with the Redskins since 2010. Has he earned the right to play out his contract?

Or should the Redskins front office take the decision out of his hands? Sundberg’s back issues could recur. Perhaps next time East or a similar player won’t be available. For that matter, maybe there won’t be as good an option available in 2021 if the Redskins let Sundberg play out his final two contract seasons.

We have East under contract now. He appears to be healthy and he appears to be capable. Maybe it’s time for a ‘changing of the guard’ at long-snapper for the Redskins.

Poll

What should the Redskins do at the long-snapper position?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    Sundberg has been a warrior and a good Redskin. The front office should let the 31-year-old play out the remaining two years of his contract.
    (94 votes)
  • 51%
    Given Sundberg’s age, salary and back issues, the Redskins should get cheaper and younger with a proven option. Andrew East should take over this important position in 2019.
    (123 votes)
  • 9%
    If we want younger and cheaper, then forget about half-measures. The Redskins should sign a rookie to a minimum salary contract and not have to worry about a new long snapper for another ten years.
    (23 votes)
240 votes total Vote Now