At varying points since the start of the 2013 calendar year, it has looked as though the Washington Redskins were doomed to be dethroned. And who can blame us for the pessimism in regard to an organization that has strung together consecutive division titles only once since World War II.
There was the Robert Griffin III injury and the lack of relief from that $18 million salary cap sanction, causing the 'Skins to release their most talented cornerback and sit on the sideline while free agency unfolded. Throw in that they're without a first-round pick (for good reason, but still) and it was just difficult to remain upbeat about their chances of repeating for the first time since 1984.
But now that they've found the cap space to bring back DeAngelo back Hall on a one-year, $2.25 million contract (per the Washington Post), I'm beginning to see more light at the end of the 2013 Redskins' tunnel.
This development comes only days after they re-signed starting tight end Fred Davis, which means the only players of note they ended up actually losing this offseason are Madieu Williams, Cedric Griffin and Lorenzo Alexander.
But Williams underperformed anyway last season and Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson could/should be back. Plus, the Redskins are expected to use that second-round pick (or at least their third-rounder) on safety help, and it's a good draft for players at that position.
And Griffin has already been replaced by the younger, more talented E.J. Biggers, who was the team's biggest prize in free agency.
Alexander will be missed, especially on special teams, but what was the point in drafting Keenan Robinson just to keep both Alexander and Bryan Kehl around?
Those aren't game-changing losses. Davis and Hall could have been.
Now, instead of simply tying to keep their head above water this offseason, it actually appears the Redskins have managed to get better. The secondary looks improved. Brian Orakpo's return makes the linebacking corps and the pass-rush significantly better. Adam Carriker is back, too. Davis was the team's top receiver during the first half of Griffin's rookie campaign, so the young QB's weapons are back intact.
Sure, they're still without a clear-cut, reliable starter at right tackle, but at least the Redskins have given themselves options by bringing back Tyler Polumbus and signing veterans Tony Pashos and Jeremy Trueblood to compete. They'll undoubtedly look that way early in the draft, too.
But back to Hall, who has taken heat for his inconsistency but is also the defense's No. 1 playmaker. He has 20 takeaways in his last four seasons with the 'Skins, missing only three games in that span. He hasn't missed a start in three years, and—believe it or not—he's still yet to reach his 30th birthday.
He's the type of player the Redskins couldn't afford to lose at this stage. Biggers is good, but he's better-suited to replace Griffin on the outside. Hall has the physicality and the overall skill set to move inside and cover the slot, he'll likely be tasked with that responsibility again in 2013, maybe even getting some snaps at safety and contributing on the occasional blitz.
What's most encouraging is how well Hall played as the 2012 season wore on. In fact, the entire secondary got a lot better during the second half of the year, which is why it's important that they aren't blowing things up a la the Eagles.
Hall was burned consistently early on, but he was in full shutdown mode during second-half games against Carolina, Philadelphia and Dallas. His performance against Dez Bryant and the Dallas receiving corps in Week 17 was one of the best of his career, and he gave up only a single five-yard reception in the Wild Card Game versus Seattle.
There was a lot of talk about Antoine Winfield, but Hall is six years younger. And more importantly, he's a Redskin. He's part of the bedrock of this new era of football in D.C. It's important that as the Redskins try to build a new winning atmosphere, they continue to employ some of the key cogs with stake in the game. Hall wanted to be back, even at a considerably lower price tag. That's the commitment level they need from their guys.
For the 'Skins to keep building in 2013, RG3's reconstructed right knee will have to participate. But Hall's return is the final piece of the personnel puzzle for next season, the draft notwithstanding. The stage is set. Now we're just waiting on nature and science to come through for the franchise quarterback.