The contract: Hatcher agreed to a 4 year, $27 million dollar contract with the Redskins. $10.5 million comes in the form of guaranteed money, which is also the total of the first year payout of the contract. Another $3 million comes in the form of second year salary, which is extremely likely to be earned because the cost to release Hatcher is greater than the 2015 cap number.
The player: Jason Hatcher had a career year in 2013 at age 31, sacking the quarterback 11 times as a 3-tech defensive tackle in the Cowboys' 4-3 scheme. He had a relative field day against Redskins guards Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester in the two games that Washington played against Dallas. This certainly caught the eye of the Redskins defensive coaches, as well as the front office.
For whatever reason, the great year didn't really alter Hatcher's value around the league. He was being pursued by 5-8 teams, who were looking to sign him to a multi-year deal in the $4-5 million range per year. While Hatcher was visiting the Oakland facility in Alameda, CA, Washington was able to work out terms with his agent that blew the market away. Hatcher is a Redskin because Washington identified him as an impact player and every other team in the mix saw him as a useful veteran piece.
Is Hatcher now an impact player? Who are we supposed to trust on this, the Redskins or the rest of the league?
First, the good news: This move will hurt the Dallas defense, which could not afford to lose Hatcher's contributions.
Hatcher is not just a one year wonder. Don't get me wrong, he's not getting a contract of this size from any team without his 2013 season. But he was better in 2012 than he was in 2011, and was better in 2011 than he was in 2010. Hatcher has been Dallas' most productive defensive lineman over the last three seasons, since taking over the starting role from Jay Ratliff and Stephen Bowen. He's been good for a while now, not just in 2013.
Defensive lineman (and interior defensive linemen in particular) tend to peak a little bit later than other positions. The 28-31 seasons that represent the Best of Jason Hatcher are not totally out of line for a defensive lineman, based on what we know about aging curves. In other words, the performance here is not a mirage.
Now the bad news: the aging curve for defensive lineman also sugest the sharpest decline comes in the player's ages 32-34 seasons. Those are the seasons the Redskins just outbid the market for.
Hatcher's career year came playing in a scheme that gave him a lot of one on one matchups with NFC East caliber right guards like Chester and Lichtensteiger. The Redskins will focus more on single-gap tactics on the defensive line this year, but Hatcher will not play in a scheme that necessarily creates such one on one opportunties. In fact, in a lot of blitz packages that Jim Haslett uses, the defensive lineman will be instructed to cross multiple lineman's faces and hit a specific gap in order to free up another rusher. Hatcher's chances to get the quarterback will be limited compared to the kind of opportunities that he got last year.
Hatcher's contract is going to be problematic for the Redskins two seasons from now, when they'll be presented with two less-than-optimal choices: roster a 34 year old Hatcher at close to $10 million in a cap charge, or release him and pay a $4.5 million deadcap fee. A 34 year old Hatcher does not project to be a particularly productive player, but he could conceivably still make the starting lineup of that team. Either way, multiple bills come due for the Redskins in the 2016 season: Robert Griffin, Ryan Kerrigan, Alfred Morris, and Trent Williams chief among them, and a sizable cap charge for a defensive lineman in his mid-thirties is something that the Redskins are likely to regret.
The analysis: This deal comes down to a quick evaluation: can the Redskins get impact performance out of Hatcher in his age-32 season in 2014. If they can get 6-8 sacks and a proportional amount of pressure on the quarterback from one of three spots on the defensive line, that's an impact performance from Hatcher in year one of this contract, and then you live with whatever else happens over the life of the deal.
But if Hatcher doesn't make an impact, and ends up in a defensive rotation with Stephen Bowen and Jarvis Jenkins, then the Redskins paid $7 million a season for the kind of performance that every other team wanted to go in on at $4 million.
The Redskins are out on a thin limb with this contract, but there's enough recent performance to justify the risk. They don't need Hatcher to be better in Washington than he was the last three years in Dallas, but they do need him to fight off the effects of age and other forms of attrition in order to terrorize opposing quarterbacks the way he treated Robert Griffin last season. In general, contracts like this tend to end up being money wasted. One year from now, there will be a verdict on the quality of this deal.