Earlier this season, it was an Achilles tendon injury, a carryover from last year, that kept LaRon Landry from his appointed rounds as the Washington Redskins' strong safety. Now it's a groaning groin. He missed practice again Thursday, and his game-day status — with the New York Jets coming to town — is once more in doubt.
Actually, a lot more than that is in up in the air for Landry. His future with the club also is in question. The $41.5 million contract he signed as a rookie in 2007 is about to run out, and it's not clear whether Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen plan on offering him another. After all, he's missed 10 of the past 18 games — 10 and counting — and his impact has never quite seemed to match his income.
Part of that is because he was the sixth pick in the draft. You'd have to be a pretty good safety to be worth sixth-pick money, and Landry, while he's had his moments, has fallen short of the Pro Bowl level. Want some numbers to put him in perspective? OK, here goes:
Since '07 he has four interceptions; 65 safeties have had more. He also has forced six fumbles (10th among safeties), recovered five (ninth), recorded 5.5 sacks (10th) and broken up 31 passes (15th). Do stats like that scream "elite player" to you? Or do they suggest that he's a nice contributor — when healthy — but hardly a guy you'd kite a check to re-sign?
What also works against Landry is the position he plays — and the way he plays it, the way he's expected to play it nowadays. Strong safeties have become, over the years, mini-middle linebackers, hurling their bodies about with little regard for their personal welfare. And Landry's hunger for the big hit, the one that gets replayed on "SportsCenter" or on the big screens in the end zones, is as voracious as anyone's. To him, the game is a Snickers commercial, with the ball carrier serving as Roseanne Barr and "Dirty Thirty," as he likes to call himself, playing the part of the log that lays the lumber to her.
But Landry will be 28 next season and, contrary to popular belief, time doesn't heal all wounds. It's entirely possible his best football is behind him — possible enough, at least, for the Redskins to consider going in another direction at the position. Look at Bob Sanders, the great Indianapolis safety, who started getting hurt and never stopped. Is that what it's going to be like for Landry the rest of his career? (And does any general manager really want to pay tens of millions of dollars to find out?)
Some, it appears, look at Landry as a core Redskin. I've always looked at him as a "playmaker" who never made nearly enough plays, a quintessential Dan Snyder/Vinny Cerrato style-over-substance ballplayer. It should pain any Redskins fan to be reminded of who the club could have drafted with that sixth pick in 2007. Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis and Darrelle Revis all went in the next eight selections.
There were plenty of other roster needs that could have been addressed in that draft, but the Redskins opted for another safety — three years after taking Sean Taylor with the fifth pick — because they envisioned Taylor and Landry, two kill-shot experts, creating a kind of Bermuda Triangle in the middle of the Washington secondary. It never came to fruition, of course, because Taylor was murdered late in Landry's rookie season.
Now here we are debating whether Landry should continue to figure in the team's plans. To me, it's not that tough a call. To me, he's not an essential player, not in the way Brian Orakpo and, from the look of things, Ryan Kerrigan are. So instead of spending a big chunk of dough on a safety — when you've already invested heavily in O.J. Atogwe — why not save that money for the franchise quarterback the Redskins undoubtedly will add between now and April? Let's not forget, they're paying Rex Grossman and John Beck close to scale. Their payroll right now has no Franchise QB slot.
If Landry goes off and becomes a star somewhere else, well, that's the price you pay for playing the percentages. Rest assured what ails him can't be cured by a pair of contact lenses - such as the ones that reportedly have turned ex-Redskin Carlos Rogers into a Velcro-fingered cornerback in San Francisco. Landry's vision, from all accounts, is fine. It's other parts of his anatomy that aren't cooperating.
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