The Redskins finally made the big move many anticipated they'd make, though maybe not with the player they thought it would be: Jason Hatcher. He just happens to also come from their hated rival, an added bonus for Redskins fans (that is, if he plays the way they hope).
Hatcher will be reunited with former defensive linemate Stephen Bowen in Washington. He'll also be returning to a defense that uses a base 3-4 front, though is often in nickel packages. Hatcher flourished as a 4-3 lineman a year ago.
For more insight into this move, ESPN.com Cowboys reporter Todd Archer and Redskins reporter John Keim exchanged questions and answers.
What are the Redskins getting in Hatcher?
Archer: I don't think they're getting a guy who will get them 11 sacks a season, if that's what you're asking. He played defensive end in the 3-4 in the first seven years of his career and never had more than 4.5 sacks in a season. But he might be a good combo mix of a 3-4 end and 4-3 tackle, especially with how much nickel defense teams play these days. He's a three-down player, but he turns 32 in July and you have to wonder how much he has left. You also have to wonder if his season was the result of a contract year. I'm surprised he went to a 3-4 team, honestly.
He's a guy who flourished in a 4-3 now he's going to a 3-4, how will he fit in Washington?
Keim: I think he'll fit nicely (and I'm sure his new deal convinced him a 3-4 was, well, OK). But he won't strictly be a 3-4 end. I'm sure he'll play end in a base package and inside in their nickel package. They used the latter nearly 70 percent of the time last season. I know his role changed in Dallas last year, but I can't believe the Redskins would deviate too much from where he had success as a rusher. And clearly that success came inside, as the Redskins know better than anyone. 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. Really, they need him to push the pocket and be a presence. Not enough of that last season.
Why the sudden jump in sacks?
Archer: Contract year? No, that's too cynical. I think he found a good fit and a coach who really worked with him on pass rushing. In the 3-4 he was basically a hold-the-fort kind of guy and let DeMarcus Ware or Anthony Spencer make the plays outside. He really took to Rod Marinelli in 2013 and I thought he would have stayed in a 4-3 scheme after complaining a little bit about how limited he was in a 3-4. What's funny is that if Jay Ratliff didn't get hurt (or stay hurt) then Hatcher would have likely been the one technique and really not had a chance to get after the passer as much. He was able to break the mold of what Marinelli excels with at the three technique but he did a good job. He does not have a variety of moves but he can close pretty fast for a big guy. But I'll leave it with this: He had 16 sacks in his first seven seasons. To me he's more that guy than a guy who can put up double-digit sacks in multiple years. Maybe he'll prove me wrong.
Was this a move to weaken a division rival?
Keim: Do you really think owner Dan Snyder would revel in signing a player away from the Cowboys and Jerry Jones? OK, so do I. It's always a bonus when a team can poach a player from a division rival. But they felt snagging Cofield from the Giants might weaken them a bit. The Giants still went on to eventually win another Super Bowl. But Hatcher was a good player on a bad defense and it's tough to lose such a guy. The Cowboys' D was weak enough already. That said, it doesn't sound as if Dallas made much of a push to bring him back. I wonder what everyone will think when he's a 34-year-old entering his third season here; what can he do then? But it's reasonable to expect Hatcher to make an impact this season and the next.
What is the impact on the Cowboys, now losing Hatcher along with Ware?
Archer: Well, they were 32nd in the league with those guys, so I guess they can't be worse. Ah, that's too cynical too. I think they made a mistake in not working out a deal for Ware. Now, I wouldn't have done what the Denver Broncos did with $20 million guaranteed, but I think he's got a lot left in him. The Cowboys drew a line with Hatcher and didn't want to cross it. They weren't going to pay him nearly $28 million on a deal, that's for sure. The Cowboys are looking at using waves of players to get to the quarterback -- albeit guys who have never really gotten to the quarterback much. And they're not done adding guys, obviously. Well, they shouldn't be done adding guys. Sean Lee becomes the face of this defense. Now he just has to stay healthy, which he has yet to do. Lee is their best defensive player and playmaker. Personally, I think they'll miss Ware more than Hatcher. Ware was a guy that needed extra attention every week. Hatcher wasn't that guy.
What does this mean for former Cowboy Stephen Bowen?
Keim: I wondered the same thing, but multiple team sources said not to take the next step and assume Bowen won't be here. The problem is, Bowen carries a hefty cap number this year ($7.02 million) and is coming off microfracture surgery. He also turns 30 at the end of this month. Add that up and you'd think he'd be in trouble. But he remains in their plans, so if something is done with his contract I'd still expect him back. Another note and maybe you know this, but apparently he and Hatcher are best friends.