Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Initial thoughts: The O.J. Atogwe signing
Unrestricted free agency as we know it might not exist this year, but the Redskins found a way to make an offseason splash anyway. Their signing of free-agent free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe addressed a critical defensive need just hours before Thursday’s transactions deadline.
Here are a few of my thoughts on the signing:
This appears to be the right kind of free-agent acquisition, if you catch my drift. As coach Mike Shanahan said a week ago: “When you do go into free agency, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the right type of guy.” Well, Atogwe checks out in the football, character and chemistry departments.
From a football standpoint, his six years of NFL experience and knack for forcing turnovers should result in a significant upgrade at free safety. His 38 combined interceptions and forced fumbles in four seasons from 2006-2009 were the most in the NFL during that span. Atogwe totaled five (three interceptions, two forced fumbles) last season, while Redskins free safety Kareem Moore had only one. That’s proof that Atogwe has the ball instincts coaches can’t teach.
As for character, consider that Atogwe’s teammates voted him their defensive captain last season.
And regarding the chemistry with him fitting in in Washington, a Haynesworth-esque fiasco is improbable because Atogwe already has an extensive working relationship with defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Haslett spoke highly of Atogwe several times throughout last season, so the expectations held by coach and player will be in synch.
“He’s a very smart safety,” Shanahan said last week. “He’s had a lot of turnovers in his career. You can see that he’s a student of the game. A very high test score. A guy that would compliment what we do very well. Jim Haslett knows him too, and he likes the type of guy he is.”
Atogwe’s decision not to pursue wearing jersey No. 21 demonstrates a keen awareness of how he fits into the Redskins’ big picture. He stated last night on Twitter that he won’t continue wearing No. 21, implying his decision is out of respect for the late Sean Taylor. He’s sure to win over fans with his choice, and that’s never a bad thing for a newcomer.
Atogwe’s acknowledgement of Taylor’s lasting impact on fans is evidence of veteran savvy. It’s a selfless decision that, in all likelihood, is a broader indication of how he approaches his work.
The labor uncertainty is another reason why this is a smart move. The Redskins defense ranked 31st in the NFL last season because it has major holes. Free safety was one of them. Kareem Moore struggled in coverage and sometimes gave up big runs by tackling poorly. Washington needed to address the position, but opportunities figured to be limited. The Redskins have only two draft picks in the first two rounds, and who knows if free agency will occur this offseason? Considering those limitations, the Redskins were wise to take advantage of the opportunity to sign Atogwe before NFL business shuts down.
We can better judge the signing once we learn the amount of guaranteed money and the amount owed Atogwe over the first three years of the deal. The contract is worth $26 million over five years, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, but we’re missing some important details.
Atogwe turns 30 in June, so he’ll be 34 when the contract expires. He has missed only four games since 2006, so he has proven to be durable. But it will be interesting to see whether the Redskins structured the contract to allow themselves to get out of it toward the end.
The reported numbers seem reasonable, though, especially for a player who should provide a significant upgrade.
LaRon Landry recently voiced support on Twitter for Kareem Moore, but Landry won’t be bummed about this signing. Not only does it strengthen the Redskins’ secondary, but also Atogwe’s contract paves the way for Landry’s new deal. Landry’s contract expires after the 2011 season. If he proves that his problematic Achilles’ tendon is healthy, he would stand to net a big contract of his own.
After being burned by past decisions to let players such as Ryan Clark and Antonio Pierce depart via free agency, the Redskins are bound to retain some of their homegrown talent. They’ll soon have a chance to do so with Landry, even if it means committing an inordinate amount of money to the two safety positions.
A safety shakeup is underway. Moore is now a second-stringer. Shanahan might pay lip service to adding more competition, but the Redskins didn’t pay Atogwe $26 million to bring him off the bench and play him on special teams.
It’s difficult to know how much of Moore’s struggles last season were the product of his preseason knee injury and the time he missed. Or does Moore simply lack the playmaking instincts and the ability to diagnose proper angles to the ballcarrier?
Moore looked good last training camp; he was constantly around the ball. However, as Shanahan says, some players simply don’t have it when the lights go on. Maybe Moore is one of those guys. It appears that we won’t find out unless there’s an injury.
Meanwhile, I wonder if the Atogwe signing means the end for Reed Doughty. Doughty just finished his fifth season, and he’ll likely be an unrestricted free agent if/when a new CBA is finalized. With a new contract for Landry on the horizon, the Redskins might not be able to afford to keep Doughty, who is a core special-teamer and capable reserve. Doughty is better suited to strong safety, and I believe he’s good enough to start somewhere. Perhaps now he’ll have his chance.