The Washington Redskins found themselves in a weird spot as free agency got underway, because the 'Skins very much needed to improve a pass rush that had just 36 sacks despite full seasons from Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan in 2013. But with Orakpo back via the franchise tag and Kerrigan locked in as a starter on the opposite side of the defense, the 'Skins didn't have room to add a starting-caliber outside linebacker.
Instead, they've bolstered the pass rush significantly by adding a starting-caliber defensive lineman—arguably the best one remaining on the open market.
Washington signed Jason Hatcher away from the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday, according to Hatcher's agent, Jordan Woy. The deal is worth $27.5 million over four years, according to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. It's a steep fee, but that's the cost of doing business in a world where you can't survive without getting pressure on the quarterback.
Without knowing how much of Hatcher's contract is guaranteed, this is the type of investment that looks poor on the surface but could change an entire defense. Hatcher himself might not be an All-Pro player, but he has improved steadily from a productivity standpoint since becoming a starter in 2011 and looks and feels a lot younger than 31 going on 32.
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It helps that he was a reserve during his first five seasons. The guy is still fresh, which means he could very well remain a reliable contributor up front for the duration of that four-year deal, and maybe longer.
Orakpo and Kerrigan, who are both under 28 and have already become one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league, could benefit greatly from the push Hatcher will generate as a 3-4 defensive end. Just ask DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, who had a combined 48 sacks in 2011 and 2012 with Hatcher acting in the very same role he'll fill in D.C.
The Redskins know all too well that generating pressure up the middle is essential. They saw opposing defenses do it against Robert Griffin III all last year, including twice when Hatcher himself brought heat in games against Dallas.
One team source said Hatcher's inside pressure was the best they'd seen against them in a few years. They lacked the ability to generate much push of their own, with only Barry Cofield a consistent threat. With his nose tackle duties, it's hard for him to stay fresh as a rusher too. The Redskins absolutely needed what he showed he could do last season. There was too much pressure to generate a rush with just their outside linebackers or by blitzing. They got little from the line. He won't need to get 11 sacks, but if he gets in the 5-6 range that would be a big bonus.
Trent Williams, who had to deal with Hatcher a bit the last two years, knows how crucial that is.
No matter how you look at it, the Redskins have bolstered their pass rush while upgrading over either Jarvis Jenkins or Stephen Bowen, who is coming off of microfracture surgery.
This Washington secondary has given up the third-highest passing yardage total in football the last two years, and thus far in free agency the front office has failed to improve that defensive backfield in convincing fashion. Tracy Porter won't save the pass defense.
That's why it's encouraging that the 'Skins are at least attempting to compensate for their vulnerability on the back end by loading up on talent in the front seven. Hatcher and Barry Cofield have a few good years left in them, and that duo combined with Orakpo and Kerrigan creates quite a stellar quartet for opposing quarterbacks and running backs to deal with.