Jamaal Brown, Trading Picks, and Free Agent Scraps

Editor’s Note: This 3,500 word monstrosity was written a week ago, and got eaten in a Bloguin server migration.  It’s resurrected thanks to the work of the fine folks at Google.  Hopefully, you’ll find it was worth saving.  I can’t promise anything.

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PHILADELPHIA - AUGUST 26:  Quarterback Donovan McNabb #5 and guard Artis Hicks #77 of the Philadelphia Eagles smile after McNabb threw another touchdown pass against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first half of their preseason game on August 26, 2005 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Redskins have dealt what amounts to a mid-round draft choice to the Saints for OT Jamaal Brown, a two time pro bowler in his first four NFL seasons.  The obvious: the Saints had little use for Brown, and were only going to be able to keep him in the fold for just one more season at reasonable dollar.  It’s a hard task to ask a team to take a guy who was on IR all of last season and move him back into the left tackle spot for a year until he leaves to be a tackle elsewhere.  Outside of just not making a whole lot of sense in building and sustaining a top offense, he goes in and blocks young guys like 4th year left tackle Jermon Bushrod and second round rookie Charles Brown (no relation), which isn’t good for anyone involved.

It’s because the Saints had to move Brown that I really don’t like the price the Redskins paid, essentially insuring that they will not pick in either the 3rd or 4th round in the 2011 draft, giving up one of those mid-round picks to the Eagles as the final compensation in the McNabb deal (which is unfortunate, of course, that the Eagles were able to squeeze as much out of that deal as they did), and now the other for Jamaal Brown.  There will be plenty of opportunity with two picks in the first two rounds to add some blue chippers to this offense, but it’s almost certain that next year’s Redskins draft will lack depth.  That could have been avoided if they drove down the price on Brown to the late rounds.

Of course, a report surfaced after the trade that the Dallas Cowboys had been in on trade talks for Jamaal Brown as well.  Faced with the ability to wait out the Saints for a lower price, they might have been risking their ability to land their man, and keep him out of Dallas.  This is a play that the Redskins didn’t feel like making, and so if the statement here is that they aren’t willing to play value games when it comes to their offensive line, I say: good for you, ShanAllen.

The other side of the coin is that whenever the Redskins are involved in a trade, going back past the Vinny Cerrato/Jim Zorn days, through the second Joe Gibbs era, and really back into Cerrato/Spurrier, the Redskins have never been able to get fair value out of any of their trades.  Brown, a player who the Saints would have been thrilled with landing just a fifth round pick for his rights, turned into potentially a third and a sixth (minus a fifth).  Great timing on the part of the Saints to get that price, and while it’s difficult to be thrilled about paying more than the Saints were hoping to get for a tackle, this is a trade that the Redskins NEEDED to make to give themselves a shot this year.

One of my big problems with the Donovan McNabb trade was that it was an exercise in pure excess.  There was absolutely no necessity in Washington to do anything with the quarterback position, and even if the Shanahans had decided that ultimately, Jason Campbell could not be the man to lead Washington into the future, trading for a guy with a very similar skill set, a lengthy injury history, and at an age where any season in the future could be the one where he falls hard and costs his team the postseason, certainly, is a questionable acquisition for a player who’s best assets are his plus intangibles and his previous track record of successes.  The main reason for Jason Campbell’s failures were purely tangible: accuracy, footwork inside the pocket, and really, really awful teammates (good people, by all reports).  By saying that this trade was an exercise in excess, I’m pointing out that if the Shanahan’s thought that there’s no way that a player of Jason Campbell’s skill set could learn to execute in their system, then McNabb with a pretty similar set of abilities figures to struggle as well.  Thus, a second round pick for a nominal upgrade (until the inevitable age decline) seems ridiculous.

I like the Jamaal Brown trade because of reasons to the contrary.  After throwing an early pick and a mid round pick at a division rival for a QB that they had tired on, the Redskins got Jamaal Brown for reasons of necessity.  The Redskins have made some really terrible trades for reasons of excess: T.J. Duckett, Brandon Lloyd, and Jason Taylor among them.  But with Brown, the Redskins were certainly headed into the 2010 season with either a 31 year old Guard handling right tackle, or returning Stephon Heyer to the position after a year that ended disasterously for the 25 year old.  Neither option was very ideal for a team that considers itself ready to compete: the Redskins simply couldn’t afford to throw the kind of one on one responsibility on Trent Williams that they might have to with that lineup.

Getting Brown to play the right tackle position takes a whole lot of unnecessary pressure off of Trent Williams’ development, which is the best part.  It would have been a bad trade if the Redskins had opted to move Brown to LT and delay Trent Williams from taking his rightful spot in Chris Samuels’ shoes, but it appears that was never the plan.  Despite two pro bowl nominations, Jamaal Brown has been a pretty weak pass protector for most of his career.  In New Orleans he was asked to go one on one against the best pass rushers in the league.  Someone has to do that job on every successful team, and Brown worked to meet the challenge, although his performance never really met the expectations for a pro bowl tackle.  He was not Walter Jones, Orlando Pace, Jason Peters, or Chris Samuels in there.  He was more along the likes of Bryant McKinnie, Chad Clifton, or David Diehl in that, when at his best, he’s not hurting you at a premium position, and is eating snaps so that you don’t have to get someone else to do his job.

Brown has always been strong in the run-oriented aspects of blocking, with his quickness as his best ability.  That should translate very well to the right side of the field.  The Redskins are gambling just a bit that he will be able to improve his pass protection going over to the right side and facing the opponent’s second best rusher for 80% of his snaps, but I don’t see any reason to think that they’ll be wrong on this: Brown will probably have his best pass blocking season yet due to a reduced level of competition on the rush.  Of course, the flip side of that coin is that the amount of quality second rushers in the NFL today is at an all time high, and the need for having two “left tackles” who can both protect the QB was evident in Redskins games all of last season.

Which, of course, is just another reason to like the initive shown here by the Redskins.  You can win with a crappy offensive line, if, you know, your defense can put some points on the board for you and dominate the opponent, but the Redskins have tried that formula for the last two years, and it’s gotten them to 12-20.  It’s time to try something new, and get with the current era, which is big passing, and spectacular pass defense.  Now that you have a vertical quarterback, and want to flex your muscle with two receivers who you drafted and think can do nice things in this offense and two playmaking tight ends who should both be starters in your fantasy league this year, there is some upside in the passing game, but there’s always been that upside.  To make big passing numbers a reality, the Redskins had to get serious with their offensive line.  Trent Williams was the big first step, but left alone as the last step, he by himself would have been inadequate.  Now you add Jamaal Brown to the mix, and this pair of tackles is one that you can count on to compete every week, in the running game, the play action game, on screen plays, and even on longer passes, staple NFL plays that had long been called as a shot-in-the-dark in Washington.

Adequacy is the key here.  This is a team that still starts the mediocre Derrick Dockery at LG, has an open competition at RG between a reclamation project, a utility backup, and a young player coming off a broken leg, and will move forward at C with one of the few interior players in the league to survive so many treadmarks from the feet of NFL defensive tackles.  That’s not a very good interior line.  You’d be hard pressed to find a weaker one elsewhere in the NFL.  But, with the tackle situation seemingly decided for 2010, it’s going to offer a fighting chance.  The next frontier of pass rushing is exploiting those interior matchups, so the Redskins won’t have very many years to turn that weakness into a strength — they’ll just have to be thankful that they have at least one more offseason.

Also, for a moment, we’ll consider the alternatives to meeting the price the Saints wanted for Jamaal Brown in June.  There are four options the Redskins had at RT: stick with the status quo, promote from within, sign a free agent, or trade for a player.

  • Status Quo: Artis Hicks
  • Promote from Within: Stephon Heyer or Selvish Capers

None of those options offer much in way of adequacy.  If there wasn’t any pressure to win in 2010, promoting a younger player would have had its potential benefits, but with the McNabb trade, the Redskins had sort of forced their own hand: they would have been scrutinized a lot more for playing an unready tackle ahead of a veteran than the will if the veteran went in and struggled.  This could have been avoided by a liberal usage of the term “rebuilding”, but to their credit, Redskins decision makers have never once stepped down that road.

The Tackle Trade Market

Not much.  The Bears are probably willing to part with vet Kevin Shaffer for the right price, the Vikings would probably not be too sad to trade Bryant McKinnie.  Some think Marcus McNeil is available from the Chargers, but 1) that’s hearsay, and 2) he would command a premium price and a big contract.  The Bucs aren’t married to Donald Penn, who himself was a Bruce Allen acquisition.  The Raiders would trade Khalif Barnes for a cup of milk.  The Browns don’t have a lot of use for John St. Clair anymore.  The Patriots, who love to trade, would be willing to sell off Nick Kazcur for a price similar to what the Redskins gave up for Brown, while Matt Light would probably be had for a second round draft choice.  The Colts seem to be done with Tony Ugoh as a LT, and he could be a nice pickup for a team willing to work with him.  You already know about Ravens T Jared Gaither, who the Redskins were sniffing around during the draft.

Okay, so that’s a lot.  But many of those options are either a lot more expensive than it would have made sense to pay for, or would have brought players that are nowhere near as skilled as Brown.  I think Gaither or Ugoh (alone) would have been more inspired acquisitions, but if the price wasn’t right, I would have critiqued those moves as well.  Additionally, any player that I’m giving up as much as a second round pick for is going to get a long term contract, so Brown comes at a cheaper price and doesn’t lock in the Redskins to his performance should he struggle in his role this season.

The Free Agent Wire at a Glance

According to records I have meticulously kept since February, the following free agent offensive linemen would not be out of place in an NFL starting lineup this year:

LT: Flozell Adams (DAL)
LG: Chester Pitts (HOU)
C: Kevin Mawae (TEN)
RG: Shawn Andrews (PHI), Keydrick Vincent (CAR)
RT: Damian McIntosh (SEA)

With the exception of Andrews’ youth and upside (given time to get his life straightened out, of course), that’s a very old group, especially so at the edges and the center position where the Redskins are the weakest.  For all the complaints one may have about Jamaal Brown as a player, he is head and shoulders above all those players in present value and once you accept that it costs draft pick compensation to acquire him, he’s not even a more expensive player than any of those replacement starters.

If you’re going to bother to make an investment for 2010 in a tackle that your organization didn’t develop, doesn’t it make the most sense to go get someone worth your time?  At the offensive tackle position, that would be my philosophy.  The Saints could trade Jamaal Brown because they weren’t invested in him at all after winning the super bowl without him.  The Redskins, who only had one tackle instead of three, made a move to get a second quality tackle, which couldn’t have been done with a free agent stopgap.

Other players who might be able to help

Ignoring the line for just a second, would the free agent market offer help at other positions?  Here’s a quick look at the best available players at all positions according to my spreadsheets:

Rank Player Position Age Player Value
1 Keith Bulluck LB 33 86
2 Chester Pitts G 31 85
3 Adailus Thomas LB 33 83
4 Adewale Ogunleye DE 33 83
5 Kevin Mawae C 39 82
6 Brian Westbrook RB 31 82
7 Brad Hoover FB 33 82
8 Terrell Owens WR 36 81
9 Clint Ingram LB 27 81
10 Antonio Pierce LB 31 81
11 Chike Okeafor LB 34 81
12 Chris Hovan DT 32 81
13 Flozell Adams OT 35 80

The name that sticks out right away is Brian Westbrook, who still could be a Redskin if they can agree on money and (probably more significantly) length of contract.  I’m predicting that will get done.

Keith Bulluck would be an inside linebacker in this defense.  His signing would displace either Jeremy Jarmon, HB Blades, or Chris Wilson, all of whom are quality young players.  The Redskins could probably squeeze ten LBs on this roster in order to have their cake (young players) and eat it too (a year of Bulluck), displacing only Chris Draft in the process, but doing so would mean that there’s almost no point to keeping Rocky McIntosh with the team.  Hey, if the Saints would take McIntosh for an offensive player, the Redskins might become interested in Keith Bulluck.  To date, they have shown no interest.

Adailus Thomas is a player that many fans thought could find a home with the Redskins, but unless they want to move him inside (which creates the same issue as Bulluck), they have no role for him on this team with Orakpo, Carter, and Lorenzo Alexander all figuring to play ahead of him on the depth chart, and then having to move either Chris Wilson or Jarmon to make room for him.  Frankly, his play just hasn’t been good enough to justify the age increase.

Mawae is old, declining, and well, better than Rabach by a lot.  Still, bringing him in makes very little sense unless Rabach is outright released because at least you can expect Casey to go in there and give you 16 games.  If you can get 12 out of Mawae, that’s a pretty fortunate year.  Center would still be a weakness with Mawae in there, if just at times.

Brad Hoover is probably better than Mike Sellers at this point, but he’s not versed in the Shanahan offense, and thus such a move (with Sellers in camp all spring) wouldn’t make sense.  More interesting is Terrell Owens, who has certainly postured himself to join the Redskins all offseason.  The Redskins have not returned his advances.  Owens is, by far, the best available free agent WR remaining, but the team could have signed Josh Reed just two weeks ago on a short term basis, and opted against the help.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re worried about the position, but Owens wouldn’t fix that.

Antonio Pierce isn’t going to return to Washington under most reasonable circumstances, and I’m not sure why the Redskins would want him anyway.  Their plan at LB appears to be pretty much settled.  Finally, Chris Hovan played for four years under Bruce Allen in Tampa, and so links to the Redskins would be pretty much inevitable.  Hovan hasn’t ever played 3-4 end in his career, but with the defense taking over the entire league slowly, now would be a pretty good time to learn.  I don’t think Hovan will come here, however, and I’m perfectly happy with the Vonnie Holliday pickup.

The Big Wrap-Up

There’s a lot of reasons to like the move to get Jamaal Brown in the fold for the Redskins, not the least of which is that the Redskins are now a better team than they were at minicamp last week.  RT was the team’s biggest weakness, and now it’s a relative strength.  The Redskins are going to get more value out of one season of Jamaal Brown than they will get from the expected early career value of the standard-level fourth round draft choice…about a win by my count.  The Redskins could have waited to get a better price, but that would have come at the risk of losing a deal that really helps the team, and I do not fault the team for not playing the Saints game w/Dallas.  There could be more trades in the works with some nice pieces in free agency still available, but if the Redskins happened to sit on their current roster, they could really do some things in the passing game with the current offense (I’m estatic that Cooley is learning to run all of the receiver positions in the offense), and that’s thanks to a pair of offensive tackles who can be expected to win their one on one match-ups…the same match-ups the Redskins lost (almost) every game last year.

The next step: get Silverback signed.

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