The Washington Redskins' free-agent strategy resulted in several defensive upgrades as they landed a run-stopper in the middle, a quality starting corner and an end coming off his best season. This isn't about one signing that provides hope for the defense, it's about several. How good that makes them won't be known for six months. And this defense needed to be re-made so not all the work has been completed. We've all seen here how things that look good on paper don't translate to the field. Still, it's a good start for the Redskins and, for now, that's all we have to go on.
And when you go player by player, you see why:
Out: Barry Cofield
Verdict: Better. Cofield's health hurt his play the past two years (not to mention sidelined him for eight games this season). It turns out he needed surgery to repair a torn labrum (which he has undergone) and might not be available for training camp. Had he returned, my guess is he would have played more end than nose as general manager Scot McCloughan looks for more size. But Knighton is one of the best nose tackles in the game and a true run-stuffer. Cofield had more quickness, but Knighton has girth and can anchor against double teams. He can have a big impact on early downs, something the Redskins needed. Knighton's arrival also means his best friend, Chris Baker, likely will be a backup end and nose tackle. Baker likely will still play a lot and having him as a reserve strengthens the depth. He can play both nose and end.
In: Stephen Paea
Out: Jarvis Jenkins
Verdict: Better. Jenkins never became the pass-rusher Washington hoped he would; he's athletic, but he lacked instincts and any sort of moves. Jenkins recognized this and it's why he's been training in Atlanta this offseason, but Paea already does what Jenkins hopes to do. Paea showed with Chicago last season that he could pressure the passer inside when asked to play vertical and not horizontal. His ability to get upfield on early downs should pair well with Knighton's ability to force runners wide. Jenkins improved against the run and was not the problem in that area. But Paea is better all-around.
Reserve defensive end
Out: Stephen Bowen
Verdict: Better. It's not because Jean Francois is going to be a great player for Washington. But it's because Bowen had lost his ability to rush the passer because of damaged knees. A few years ago he was good in this role, but that time passed. Jean Francois is not a quality starter, but he can be a good reserve and evaluators say he fits well in Joe Barry's scheme (basing it on San Diego, which asked its ends to attack upfield).
In: Chris Culliver
Verdict: Better. It's only speculating at this point to know what the Redskins will do at the corner opposite Culliver. Will it be DeAngelo Hall (if he's healthy, you'd think that would be the case). So who's out? David Amerson? He's a former second-round pick who did not have the sophomore season I expected. He matured about the game -- much more insight from him last season -- but he made some of the same mistakes. Regardless, Culliver is better than Amerson or Bashaud Breeland. In the games I watched of his last season, Culliver was consistent -- and not often tested. I did not see coverage breakdowns or visibly botched assignments (there are always subtle mistakes, but the ones the Redskins made last season were glaring). The key with Culliver will be him maturing off the field, where he has had issues. It's not about having choir boys; it's about having players available.
In: Jeron Johnson
Out: Brandon Meriweather
Verdict: We'll see. I like the potential of what Johnson brings, but he's started just one game. How will he fare over 16 games? If he brings a physical style and just does his job, that will help. Meriweather, when available, was capable of playing well and he had some speed that allowed for some versatility in blitzes and coverages. But he'd also have the undisciplined breakdown that would prove costly. Oh, and the illegal hits. He was a definite mixed bag so it's not as if Johnson must replace a Pro Bowler. I like the signing -- I like former undrafted players who must fight to win a job each year. They add something when it comes to a mentality. And if the Redskins improve the rush it will help all in the secondary (we've heard this before). So it might be a very good signing; I don't think it's a bad one at all considering he was not expensive and, at the least, he provides depth and more special teams help.