The apprehension, if there is any, is understandable: The Washington Redskins have signed a big-name defensive tackle before, though none whose nickname was bigger than his real one. They tried Dana Stubblefield. Fail. They tried Albert Haynesworth. Epic fail.
But while Terrance Knighton, a.k.a. Pot Roast, has a name, he does not arrive like those other tackles. Maybe that will result in a better tenure than the others had as the Redskins' nose tackle. He arrives with a one-year, $4 million contract, which suggests he wasn’t quite getting what he wanted and will need to prove himself again before re-entering free agency again at the age of 29.
Yes, he’s had weight issues in the past -- when you talk to anyone around the league his heft will be mentioned along with his ability to stuff the run. As one coach who has faced Knighton in the past said via text, “he’s been a beast his whole career. Very good versus the run.”
Knighton does not solve the Redskins' need for an interior pass rush. Knighton has recorded 12.5 sacks in his first six seasons. That's why he only received $4 million. He’s not a three-down player. But Knighton’s role is a big one, no pun intended, for a player who is listed -- emphasis on listed -- at 335 pounds.
With Denver, Knighton’s job was to stop the run, in particular on first down, when teams are more likely to be in their base front. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Broncos were second in the NFL in yards per carry allowed on first down last season. Washington was 20th.
Why is that an important stat? Six of the top seven teams in this stat won at least 10 games. Only one of the bottom 15 teams won that many -- and seven won six or fewer. To make a difference against the pass, you must first start by putting teams in bad situations on early running downs.
Knighton completes a defensive line that has been overhauled out of necessity. The Redskins wanted Jarvis Jenkins to use his athleticism to rush the passer; it never happened. So they replaced him with someone who can do that in Stephen Paea, who can also move inside on nickel downs. That’s what they’ll ask Jason Hatcher to do as well -- if Hatcher stays healthy.
The first few days of free agency have seen the Redskins take a disciplined approach. They signed Paea and made an offer to safety Antrel Rolle. They’ve hosted corners Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver and strengthened a defensive-line group that can have a solid trickle-down effect on the defense. In theory, they now have two linemen they can shift inside to collapse the pocket (with Chris Baker -- Knighton’s best friend since childhood -- and Ricky Jean Francois in reserve). They already have Ryan Kerrigan on one side and could draft another pass rusher for the other side to spell second-year linebacker Trent Murphy. Edge rushers are a lot more dangerous when the pocket collapses. In theory, a secondary that still needs fixing will benefit from an improved front seven.
The Redskins are building a defense from the inside out as new general manager Scot McCloughan desired. It’s not the first time Washington has tried this strategy. But this is the right way to bolster the defense. The length of the deal also puts Knighton in a position where he must prove himself. If he does, the team will benefit.