When the Redskins inked
12-year veteran Ryan Clark to fill the void at free safety last spring, they
righted a wrong that was almost a decade in the making.
Let’s go back to March of ‘06.
Washington was fresh off of a late-season playoff run, its first appearance in
the postseason since 1999. The strength of that team was its defense, which
ranked in the NFL’s top 10 in back-to-back seasons. Between LaVar Arrington,
Shawn Springs, Marcus Washington and Cornelius Griffin, the defense was loaded
with tons of veteran talent.
But the most intriguing
position on that defense were a pair of budding safeties; Sean Taylor and
Clark. Taylor was the sixth overall pick two years prior and well on his way to
becoming one of the elite individual talents in the league. Clark, an free
agent pickup, was the perfect compliment to Taylor. What he lacked in sheer
ability, he more than made up for in his high football IQ and head’s up play.
2005 was Clark’s contract year, but wanting to return to DC, the Redskins had a
chance to lock him up long term and solidify that position for year’s to come.
Instead of opting to keep
the young duo intact, the franchise chose to give Adam Archuleta the largest
contract for a safety in NFL history (six-year, $30 million contract, $10 million guaranteed). The next day,
Clark signed in Pittsburgh.
Archuleta was never a fit in DC. It was clear from the start that he
wouldn’t thrive in Gregg Williams’ scheme (or any scheme thereon, for that
matter). He only started seven of 16 games before being relegated to special
teams duty. He was traded to the Bears after the season.
Meanwhile, Clark became a staple in Pittsburgh and enjoyed a very
successful era for the Steelers, which included two Super Bowl appearances and
a Pro Bowl appearance in 2010.
Long story short, the Redskins should have never let Ryan Clark walk.
Clark could/should have solved the problem at safety that has plagued this team
since the time he left.
Now nine years later, Ryan Clark has returned home. With his back in the
fold, the Redskins have restored stability to the safety position…sorta.
At 34 years old, there is no doubt that Clark is past the prime of his
career. Rumblings in Pittsburgh about the decline of his play is what preceded
his expulsions from the Steel City. So the question is what can Clark bring to
the team in 2014 that makes him a valuable contributor?
The most immediate impact Clark will have is in his leadership role. There
aren’t many more players in the NFL that are more universally respected than
Ryan Clark. He has been one of the league’s classiest individuals on and off
the field over the duration of his career. With London Fletcher retiring last
January, Clark has stepped into Fletcher’s role as the emotional and vocal
leader of the defense.
Secondly, Clark has a chance to mentor and groom Phillip Thomas, Bacarri
Rambo and Trenton Robinson, Washington’s latest crop of young safeties. Everything
from proper tackling technique to knowing their place on the field (both of
which hurt the Redskins last year), Clark has a chance to pass on some intimate
knowledge that can only come from years of experience. Although Clark clearly
isn’t the long-term answer here for the Skins, he can teach the younger players
how to have long and productive careers in the NFL.
The most import role Clark will play will be as a communicator. Much has been made of Clark’s vocal presence
on the field. He has been shouting out defensive calls and audible while
shifting his teammates into the correct position on the field. Communication in
the secondary, the safety position in particular, has been lacking for years.
Also, let’s not forget that Clark playing free safety allows the
Redskins to move Brandon Meriweather back to his natural position of strong
safety. Meriweather made two Pro Bowls for New England playing strong safety.
Since he has been in DC, the Redskins have been forced to play him out of
position due to lack of depth. Now Meriweather can play near the line of
scrimmage and give run support; a role which allowed him to flourish earlier in