The Redskins Splurge on Another Safety

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Redskins fans have every reason to be leery of free safety O.J. Atogwe, the latest recipient of Dan Snyder’s largesse. After all, the memories of Adam Archuleta and Mark Carrier – not to mention Stanley Richard and James Washington – are still painfully fresh.

Each of those safeties was brought in at considerable expense to put teeth in the Washington secondary – and none came close to living up to his billing. Archuleta (2006), Carrier (2000) and Washington (1995) were so abysmal they lasted only a season, and Richard (1995-98), “The Sheriff,” proved to be arrestingly mediocre.

Thus, the bar has been set very low for Atogwe, who agreed to a reported five-year, $26 million contract last week. If he’s still around in 2012 – and the mere mention of his name doesn’t elicit boos – he’ll be considered a success (by Redskins standards, at least).

Still, it’s an intriguing signing. By which I mean: You can make a convincing argument for it and against it.

The argument for Atogwe:

● Since he entered the league in 2005, he’s been an elite playmaker. Indeed, only four defensive backs in the last six seasons have totaled more interceptions and forced fumbles. Here are the top 10:

45  Charles Woodson, Raiders/Packers (31 interceptions, 14 forced fumbles)

43  Charles Tillman, Bears (23 INT, 20 FF)

41  Asante Samuel, Patriots/Eagles (39 INT, 2 FF)

39  Ed Reed, Ravens (33 INT, 6 FF)

38  O.J. Atogwe, Rams (22 INT, 16 FF)

34  DeAngelo Hall, Falcons/Raiders/Redskins (30 INT, 4 FF)

31  Champ Bailey, Broncos (27 INT, 4 FF)

30  Brian Dawkins, Eagles/Broncos (12 INT, 18 FF)

29  Dre Bly, Lions/Broncos/49ers (19 INT, 10 FF)

29  Darren Sharper, Vikings/Saints (27 INT, 2 FF)

● He’s already played under Jim Haslett, the Redskins’ defensive boss, in St. Louis in 2006 and ’07. Haslett’s scheme, moreover, might be a better fit for him than the one Steve Spagnuolo installed when he took over the Rams in ’09. Haslett played to O.J.’s strengths more by letting him roam and ballhawk; Spagnuolo positioned him closer to the line of scrimmage (to defend against the run and occasionally blitz).

● He’s a smart guy (Stanford grad), a character player and served as the defensive captain in St. Louis. In other words, he’ll give Mike Shanahan another leader on and off the field. You can never have too many of those.

● He has to be an upgrade over Kareem Moore and Reed Doughty, doesn’t he?

Now for the argument against Atogwe:

●  He’ll be 30 this season – two years younger than Carrier was when he came to Washington, but as old (or older) than Washington, Archuleta and Richard were. Maybe his numbers dropped off the last two seasons because Spagnuolo was using him differently, or maybe they dropped off because he’s a descending player. We’ll know soon enough.

● Assuming the new CBA restores the salary cap, does it really make sense to have two high-priced safeties on the payroll (LaRon Landry being the other)? How about saving a few bucks for the pass rush? Seriously, has any other team spent as much money on its starting safeties as the Redskins have?

● Ask yourself: If Atogwe is such a talent, why didn’t Spagnuolo – who knows a thing or two about defense and has begun to build one in St. Louis – find a way to keep him? Do the Rams just have more limited resources than the Redskins, or did the Redskins, as is their wont, overpay for O.J.?

● Atogwe doesn’t have blazing speed, and that could be an issue in a division that features such burners as DeSean Jackson, Miles Austin and Mario Manningham (among others). Consider: Five of the 10 longest touchdown passes in the league last season were caught by NFC East receivers. The details:

Yds  Receiver, Team/Opponent (Date)

92  Mario Manningham, Giants vs. Redskins (1-2-11)

91  DeSean Jackson, Eagles vs. Cowboys (12-12-10)

88  DeSean Jackson, Eagles vs. Redskins (11-15-10)

85  Mario Manningham, Giants vs. Packers (12-26-10)

83  Jeremy Maclin, Eagles vs. Falcons (10-17-10)

   Put it this way: Atogwe has been a solid pro for six seasons. The question is how much longer, at the age of 30, he’ll continue to be one. It’s perfectly understandable if you’re skeptical about this move, especially given the Redskins’ track record in free agency. It just smacks of short-term thinking. But when a team has traded away too many draft picks – and Shanahan, at this point, is without his third- and fourth-rounders – it’s sometimes forced to make this kind of signing. File it under: Trying to make the best of a bad situation (a position the Redskins find themselves in with alarming regularity).

 

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About the Author
Dan Daly

Dan Daly

Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of "The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at ddaly@washingtontimes.com.

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