Redskins lose Terrance Knighton to Patriots, but he wasn't a top priority

Why did Knighton choose to sign with the Patriots? (1:03)

John Clayton offers his take on why defensive tackle Terrance Knighton has opted to sign with the Patriots. (1:03)

The Washington Redskins failed to re-sign nose tackle Terrance Knighton on Wednesday. But he was a player the Redskins were clearly prepared to lose anyway; it wasn’t until recently that they said he remained a possibility to return. And it wasn’t until this week that they became a serious bidder for him. So while it would have been good to bring him back, had that been a top priority, it would have been done a while ago.

That’s not to say Knighton couldn’t have helped the Redskins, particularly if he’s gotten into the sort of shape it appears he has; he said he has lost at least 30 pounds. The weight and his overall conditioning were big reasons the Redskins were ready to move on without him in the first place. And it’s why nobody was going to offer the 29-year-old more than a one-year deal at this stage. New England’s one-year, $4.5 million offer trumped Washington’s.

It’s a shame, too, because Knighton added leadership in the locker room and was a smart player. I have a feeling if he’s motivated and keeps the weight off, the Patriots will get the player Washington hoped it signed a year ago.

The Redskins’ quest for a nose tackle won’t end, even though they’ve pointed out a number of times that they use one on only 25 percent of plays, at most. But what they need is someone who can play over the center and then shift to tackle when they use their nickel package, with two interior linemen. What they need is more youth and another disruptive player. And they can find both qualities in the draft next month.

Even had they signed Knighton, I would have advocated selecting a lineman with one of their first two picks. Why? Because one of their offseason goals was to get younger along the front, but they haven’t done so, not when it comes to true building blocks. There are intriguing possibilities, from the Alabama guys (Jarran Reed and A'Shawn Robinson) to Mississippi State’s Chris Jones, Baylor’s Andrew Billings and Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler. Some are stronger fits for what Washington wants.

Knighton could have made his return a guarantee with his performance in 2015. He improved later in the season, but the Redskins clearly wanted more from him. Though the run defense wasn’t good last season, it was better with him on the field (4.83 yards per carry overall; 4.23 with Knighton on the field). Still, the Redskins wanted better.

Perhaps this statistic courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information research was telling: In the first half of games with Knighton on the field, the Redskins allowed 3.41 yards on 99 carries; in the second half, it was 5.00 yards on 104 carries. But, breaking that down more, it was 6.77 yards in the third quarter and 2.38 in the fourth. The latter obviously is impressive, but the third-quarter number (covering 62 carries compared to 40 in the fourth) jumped out.

Knighton now gets a chance to play near where he grew up in Connecticut, with a team that finds a way to win double-digit games each season. It’s a good move for him. And it leaves the Redskins in a spot they already were comfortable being in.