- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

Once again, the Redskins are lost at sea, reaching out for any piece of flotsam that goes bobbing by. The latest is a defensive tackle named Darrell Russell, once the second pick in the draft and later a two-time Pro Bowl selection for the Raiders. Russell was released from Paul Tagliabue’s pokey after serving nearly 20 months for his third drug violation — and, as fate would have it, Dan Snyder’s Wonder Team is in dire need of some inside push on the defensive line.

There’s only so much a club can do when cap room is scarce and the trading deadline has passed. Slumming — wheeling about in the Damaged Goods Section of the NFL personnel mart — is about the only option available. Granted, you don’t come across a 6-5, 325-pound defensive tackle every day, especially one with Russell’s curriculum vitae; but this particular DT, while still just 27, hasn’t wreaked any serious havoc for four years.

Still, the Redskins, in the throes of three-game losing streak, are making a desperate play for him. Opposing quarterbacks have had far too much time to throw this season, and the owner is determined to do something about it — lest the team drop completely out of playoff contention. The defense has tried to get along without Daryl Gardener, their best player last year, but it just isn’t working. Bernard Holsey plus Martin Chase doesn’t equal Daryl Gardener. It doesn’t even equal Earle Stanley Gardner.

Of course, we all knew that back in the offseason, when the Redskins let Gardener go to Denver and tried to fill his right tackle spot with quantity rather than quality. Then free agent pickup Brandon Noble blew out his knee, and the situation got worse. The run defense has held up OK, but the pass rush has been mostly a rumor.

The only folks who didn’t foresee this problem were the wishful thinkers in the Redskins front office. And now they’re paying the price by having to sort through the usual cast of underachievers, busts and ne’er-do-wells to find some defensive line help. Russell, because of his past accomplishments and advanced degree from the Raiders School of Nastiness, figures to be at least a luke-warm commodity now that Oakland released him. But he would bring as much baggage as an airport carousel.

Which makes you wonder why Snyder would want to go this route. The Redskins haven’t been terribly successful during his tenure as owner, but they have been fairly well behaved. (The players, in other words, have essentially confined themselves to misdemeanors.) But Russell is a serial offender who seems to have an excuse for every slip-up.

When he tested positive for drugs the first time, he said it was merely the result of “second-hand [marijuana] smoke.”

When he was handed a four-game suspension for his second offense, it was because he’d missed a scheduled drug test — and then failed to contact the league in time — not because he’d done anything wrong, he claimed.

When he was suspended indefinitely for yet another failed test, he said someone had spiked his drink with the drug ecstasy.

“I don’t care if anyone believes me,” he told Jim Rome, “because I know the truth. I’m not going to sit here and go around apologizing and act like I made some big mistake. I didn’t make a mistake.”

At the very least, Russell has a bad habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. And that spells trouble. That’s a public relations disaster waiting to happen. Do the Redskins need a defensive tackle so badly that they want to expose themselves to that? A few years ago, Marty Schottenheimer batted around the idea of signing kick returner Tamarick Vanover, a bad actor who had gotten caught up in drugs and stolen cars and spent two months in jail. But the Redskins resisted that time, and Schottenheimer had to wait until he got to San Diego to act out his Michael Landon/”Highway to Heaven” fantasy.

A kick returner wasn’t going to change the course of the Redskins’ season, though. A pass rushing defensive tackle might. Therein lies the temptation for Snyder. Russell would be a lot more likely to make an impact, however, if he’d been playing football the past year and a half instead of doing damage-control interviews with Jim Rome. Does anybody really expect him to do much more than occupy space the first month or so he’s back? I don’t care how many new leafs he’s turned over during his time away. He’s gotta be rustier than the anchor on the Titanic.

Snyder has enough trouble running a football team. And now he wants to start a halfway house? Big mistake.

Then again, it would make a swell United Way commercial.

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