Five questions heading into Ashburn: Defense edition

Last week we looked at five questions heading into training camp for the Redskins’ offense. Today we’ll look at the defense:

1) The Skins paid a lot to retain London Fletcher. $10.75 million over the next 2 years, to be exact.  Was he worth that price just to be a mentor?

I think the world of London Fletcher.  London Fletcher is so much more than just a player.  He’s a leader.  And not just “a leader” that fans like to call a leader because we see him on TV doing one of those pre-game “fire up the troops” speeches.  He’s a true leader, by nothing more than the example he sets.  Fletcher hasn’t missed a single game in his entire 14 year career.  Including the playoffs, that’s 232 games.  Think about that.  A few months ago, I put up the numbers for QB’s and how many games they’ve missed over their careers.  Only one had over 100 consecutive starts at QB (Eli Manning with 119).  And we’re talking about an inside linebacker here… a guy that’s taking on fullbacks in the hole, violently tackling running backs, and trying to avoid getting steamrolled by 320 lb. pulling guards. If you’re a 24 year old player and you’ve got a sore hammy, I’d have to imagine it would be pretty hard to look a guy like London Fletcher in the eye if you’re not doing everything you can to get back on the field.

Plus, (and of course this is kind of important too)… London Fletcher is still a good player.

But here’s the rub: Are the Redskins going to be realistic contenders to go to the Super Bowl this year?  I mean… There’s a lot to be excited about with Robert Griffin III coming to town, but we can all probably agree that the Skins aren’t getting the faintest of whiffs of New Orleans in February, right?  London Fletcher turns 37 in May.  He has at least one year left of NFL service, maybe two, but almost certainly not 3 or more.  I’ll allow you to connect the dots there.

Meanwhile, here is what some other ILB’s around the league signed for in free agency, with their contract details via NBC’s Rotoworld (in alphabetical order, with their respective ages when the season begins in parenthesis):

  • Dan Connor (26): Signed a two-year, $6.5 million contract. The deal included a $2.7 million signing bonus. 2012: $800,000, 2013: $3 million, 2014: Free Agent
  • David Hawthorne (27): Signed a five-year, $19 million contract. The deal included a $3.8 million signing bonus. 2012: $700,000, 2013: $1 million (+ $3 million roster bonus), 2014: $1 million (+ $1 million roster bonus), 2015: $2 million (+ $2.5 million roster bonus), 2016: $4 million, 2017: Free Agent
  • Curtis Lofton (26): Signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract. The deal contains $7.8 million guaranteed — a $5 million signing bonus and each of Lofton’s first three base salaries. Another $6 million is available through escalators. Lofton is eligible for annual $100,000 workout bonuses in years four and five. 2012: $700,000, 2013: $1.1 million (+ $5 million roster bonus), 2014: $1 million (+ $2.2 million roster bonus), 2015: $2.4 million (+ $4.5 million roster bonus), 2016: $5.4 million, 2017: $6 million (Voidable Year), 2018: Free Agent
  • Joe Mays (27): Signed a three-year, $12 million contract. The deal contains $4.5 million guaranteed, including a $500,000 signing bonus, all of Mays’ first-year salary, and $500,000 of his second-year salary. 2012: $3.5 million, 2013: $4 million, 2014: $3.5 million (+ $500,000 roster bonus), 2015: Free Agent
  • Jameel McClain (27): Signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract. The deal included a $3.6 million signing bonus. 2012: $700,000, 2013: $3 million, 2014: $3.2 million, 2015: Free Agent
  • Stephen Tulloch (27): Signed a five-year, $25.5 million contract. The deal contains $11.25 million guaranteed, including a $6.25 million signing bonus and all of Tulloch’s first two base salaries. 2012: $1.25 million, 2013: $3.5 million, 2014-2015: Under Contract, 2016: $5.5 million (+ $500,000 roster bonus), 2017: Free Agent

If you’ll notice, every LB on this list has a contract that is every bit as affordable as the contract London Fletcher just signed, and they’re all at least 10 years younger.

Would you rather be set up long term with a younger LB that can grow with the team and still be around when the team is ready to seriously compete, or are Fletcher’s short term leadership intangibles really that important?

Five years from now, if guys like Perry Riley and Keenan Robinson are productive pros and they make mention of Fletcher’s guidance when they were young and still trying to make it in the NFL, going with the grizzled vet will have been the right decision.  But if their young linebackers flame out, the Skins will have missed out on one of the above other options.

2) How does Jarvis Jenkins look?  Is Adam Carriker’s starting job safe?

Carriker started 2011 off well, collecting 4.5 sacks in the first 6 games.  Sacks aren’t the end-all be-all by any stretch, but Carriker’s play fell off noticeably in the last 4 or 5 games.  In late August last year, Jenkins, the Skins’ 2nd round pick, suffered a torn ACL and was done for the season.  It was a very disappointing end to his first NFL season.  He’ll be back this year, and will have plenty of eyes on him in camp.  Jenkins has a great chance to become a starter over Carriker if he plays well.

3) How good can Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan be?

Orakpo should be right around that point in a young impact player’s career where they hit their prime.  I don’t think we think of players like Orakpo as guys that can have a “breakout season,” since Orakpo already has 2 Pro Bowls to his credit.  But I think he’s a guy that can be a lot better than how he played last season.  It’ll be interesting to see if he can ever make that leap from “best player on the defense” to “one of the best defenders in the league.”  Kerrigan, meanwhile, had a great rookie season.

There are a lot of really good 3-4 OLB tandems in the NFL.

Team ROLB LOLB
Redskins Brian Orakpo Ryan Kerrigan
Jets Calvin Pace Bryan Thomas
Ravens Paul Kruger Courtney Upshaw
Steelers James Harrison Lamarr Woodley
Texans Brooks Reed Connor Barwin
Colts Dwight Freeney Robert Mathis
Chiefs Tamba Hali Justin Houston
Chargers Jarret Johnson Shaun Phillips
Cowboys DeMarcus Ware Anthony Spencer
Packers Nick Perry Clay Matthews
Cardinals Sam Acho O’Brien Schofield
49ers Aldon Smith Ahmad Brooks

In you factor in age considerations, I’d put Orakpo and Kerrigan near the top of my wish list.

4) Who will emerge from the misfit island of throwaway safeties?

The six contestants (in no particular order):

  1. Brandon Meriweather – In the last year, Meriweather has been cut from one team (the Pats) and had another team (the Bears) show zero interest in bringing him back for a second season.  Although physically talented, Meriweather has red flags galore, running the gamut from a shooting, to kicking opposing players in an onfield brawl at Miami, to repeated fines for helmet-to-helmet hits, and most recently, a 3am traffic stop in which Meriweather refused a breathalyzer.  Not sure if a meeting with Roger Goodell could be on the horizon.
  2. Madieu Williams – Williams was a good player in the early part of his career with the Bengals, and he parlayed his play into a 6 year deal with the Vikings for $33 million in 2008.  After three disappointing seasons in Minnesota, Williams was released.  He landed in San Francisco, when he played the first four games while Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner were out with injuries (Goldson missed the first 2 weeks of the season, while Whitner missed parts of Week 3 and all of Week 4).  Once Goldson and Whitner were healthy, Williams never saw the field again.  In his 8-year career, Williams has 12 INT’s (1.5/season) and 4 FF (0.5/season).  Big plays should not be expected.
  3. Reed Doughty – Doughty was with the team last season, and he was attacked/exposed regularly when he had to fill in for LaRon Landry.  Doughty is not a viable starting NFL safety.
  4. Tanard Jackson – The Redskins added Tanard Jackson after the Buccaneers cut him.  The Bucs had arguably the worst defense in the NFL last season, and still decided he wasn’t worthy of sticking around on their roster.  According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson had 57 tackle attempts.  He missed 24 of them.  That’s mind-blowingly bad.
  5. DeJon Gomes – Gomes is a 2nd year player that impressed me during the preseason last year, but struggled when he got his chances in the real games.  Above, in the projected starters section, I have Gomes listed as a starting safety for no other reason than the notion that he’s still at least somewhat of a mystery, while the others are pretty much locks not to be legitimate starters.
  6. Jordan Bernstein – 7th round draft pick out of Iowa.

Yikes.

5) Is Graham Gano’s job safe?

If you were new to football and watched every Redskins game this season, you would probably think that blocked FG’s are common.  They are not.  In 2011, there were 35 blocked FG’s or PAT’s.  The Redskins accounted for 6 of them (they also had 5 FGs a PAT blocked).  In other words, they were on the wrong end of 17% of the NFL’s blocked FG’s/PAT’s last year.  In fact, one in every 8.2 FG attempts were blocked!  That is absolutely embarrassing.

None of those blocked FGs were Gano’s fault.

I can’t help but feel bad for Graham Gano.  If you were to look up his stats out of context, they’d say he was 31 of 41, or a paltry 75.6%, when in reality, it was more like 31 of 36, for a much more respectable 86.1%.  And now he has competition in camp this year.

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    1. SkinsaneAsylum says:

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  7. BigDaddyTM says:

    What are you babbling about with Fletch?! I have to tell you, that is a stupid question. You talked about several of the things that make him one of the best if not THE best ILB in the league for the past several seasons (look at the numbers). Then question if resigning him is smart?! If you watch Perry there will be times (even though Perry is bigger than Fletch) that you will confuse the two because they move so similarly. Make some of the same decisions (Perry is still a little inconsistent) and they both hit like they’re mad at the planet! Talk about emulation! Sign Fletch or one of those other LB’s…let me think about that one…no brainer.

    Go with the best.

    Who’s already playing for you.

    Who already knows the system.

    Who is the best example of a pro on your team.

    Now if we were signing him from some other team to come to ours? Then the question is valid. However, Fletch literally is the backbone of our franchise when your talking attitude, intelligence, intensity and work ethic.

    Watching Fletch is very different from watching Lewis or Urlacher. They are still productive (highly) but they LOOK old. You can tell that they are about to hang it up. Watch Fletch. Dude is like Darrell Green (he ran a 4.4 at 50 by the way!!). He looks ageless. One more year?? Barring injury this is one of those guys who hang up the cleats when THEY want to not because they can’t do the job anymore.

    1. SkinsaneAsylum says:

      AMEN….not sure what the waffling is all about JimmyK. Your initial question asks “was it worth it just for him to be a mentor?”.

      ….just a mentor? What, is he just gunna coach from the sidelines for the next two years? Did I miss something?

      He is worth every penny the Skins paid him to be a BEAST and to mentor the younger LBs. The heir-apparent was just drafted, so there was no need to sign a veteran LB outside of the Captain.

      1. BigDaddyTM says:

        SkinsaneAsylum if I were the Skins I would have realized last season that the heir apparent for Fletch is already playing next to him. Just watch the two of them play side by side and you WILL lose the one that your watching because they move (and sometimes think) so much alike. I was truly excited as the season wore on watching the coaching staff placing more and more responsibility on his shoulders to one point having him making the defensive calls AND the adjustments/audibles!

        1. BigDaddyTM says:

          as an add on I believe that they know that this kid is the heir to Fletch. I think that they drafted this new Rook because they like something in his game. Not to replace Fletch eventually.

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  10. [...] Five questions heading into Ashburn: Defense edition [...]

  11. SkinsaneAsylum says:

    I didn’t know Gano and the kicking game factored into our Defensive evaluation. But so be it, I guess there are no more questions?

    What about Perry Riley’s ability to handle full time, starter responsibilities at ILB next to London?

    What about Bowen and Cofield’s progression in year 2 of the Haslett 3-4 system?

    What about DHall moving to the slot and who will start opposite Josh Wilson?

    We all know whats going to happen with Gano. He will destroy Rackers in TC and go 5-5 from distance in the preseason. We will cut Rackers and Gano will have another inconsistent season. Honestly, if the line during FGs can manage not to get blown up Gano should be fine.

    1. “Defense/STs” doesn’t sound as good in the title

      1. SkinsaneAsylum says:

        haha fair enough. i hate that moniker in fantasy too

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