Archuleta came to the Rams with the 20th overall selection in the 2001 NFL Draft out of Arizona State, and he immediately looked to be a future star on a Super Bowl team. In just his second year in the league, he racked up 116 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 1 interception and was a devastating force around the line of scrimmage. With Smith as his defensive coordinator, Archuleta flourished in the cover-two scheme for three seasons.
The free-spending Redskins certainly took notice last offseason, signing him to the richest contract in NFL history for a safety at seven years and $35 million with $10 million guaranteed. But Archuleta quickly fell out of favor in our nation's capital and spent the second half of the season playing almost exclusively on special teams. He was scheduled to be a backup to Vernon Fox, a three-year veteran who went undrafted out of Fresno State, had he stayed in Washington.
Smith fiercely pursued Archuleta as a free agent a year ago, but the former Sun Devil simply could not turn down the amount of money the `Skins threw at him.
Now the Bears finally have him, and it only cost them a conditional low-round draft pick. Better yet, they do not inherit the mammoth contract he signed last season. Archuleta had to leave some money on the table in order for the trade to happen, eventually agreeing to a three-year deal for $8.1 million with $5 million guaranteed.
Archuleta is no doubt excited to get out of Redskin purgatory, but will he simply revert back to the tremendous player he used to be once he checks his bags in the Windy City?
Being a former linebacker at ASU, he is at his best when playing near the line of scrimmage and was known as one of the better run-support safeties in the league. Yet for some reason, Williams had Archuleta playing in space more often than not and required him to contribute in coverage too much. He simply does not have the speed necessary to run with NFL wide receivers, and the Redskins gave up a ton of big plays in the passing game as a result.
How much Archuleta will be asked to do weighs heavily on the health of Mike Brown. After playing in all 64 regular season games his first four years in the league, Brown has missed 28 games the last three campaigns because of recurring lower-leg injuries. He completely changed his offseason conditioning program before last season, yet he still needed foot surgery after getting hurt in Week 6 and spent the rest of the year on injured reserve.
Because Archuleta and Brown are similar players and most comfortable lining up at strong safety, it is unlikely that both of them would be in the starting lineup together. In other words, the addition of Archuleta looks to be more of an insurance policy in case Brown can't shake his recent injury history. And since Brown is scheduled to make $2.44 million in 2007, one could speculate that he could even be a salary cap casualty before next season.
However, Brown was originally a free safety earlier in his career and might be able to switch back.
Danieal Manning, a second-rounder out of tiny Abilene Christian in 2006, quickly supplanted Chris Harris as the starter at free safety last season. Unlike Archuleta, Manning possesses blinding speed and can run with any wideout, a characteristic absolutely essential in Smith's version of the cover-two defense. He did struggle with rookie mistakes in the second half of the season after playing very well in the first half, but he is extremely talented and will only get better.
Manning shouldn't have to worry about his spot in the starting lineup, although it's not beyond the realm of possibility that he could be moved to cornerback.
The same can't be said for Harris, who migrated from free safety to strong safety a year ago and is notorious for being a step slow and a poor tackler. Backups Todd Johnson and Cameron Worrell both left via free agency, signing with St. Louis and Miami, respectively. Brandon McGowan has only played nine games in two years because of various injuries, and Tyler Everett and Nick Turnbull are just too green at this point in their careers.
Adding Archuleta certainly adds some big-name cache to the depth chart, but it remains to be seen if his one-year nightmare in DC was an anomaly or a sign of things to come.
Does Smith simply know how to use him better than Williams did? Will he be reborn now that he has been rescued from his own prison in Washington? Are the Bears still going to select a safety on the first day of next month's draft? Can Brown actually survive a 16-game schedule? Is Manning going to be that much better as a second-year player?
Giving up nothing more than a throwaway draft pick for Archuleta is a step in the right direction, but at this point, the safety position is still riddled with question marks.
|John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.|