The Redskins have a number of tough decisions to make this offseason. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be examining those decisions one at a time. We’ll start with a BIG decision in many ways for Scot McCloughan: What to do with Terrance Knighton.
Washington signed "Pot Roast" to a one-year, $4 million dollar deal, landing him at a discount rate for a number of reasons.
The nose tackle couldn’t land a suitable multi-year deal more enticing than the one-year contract, a move that afforded him another quick chance at unrestricted free agency. Knighton came to Washington betting on himself. At the very minimum, he was able to fulfill a lifelong dream by playing next to his childhood best friend, Chris Baker.
The two paired together as the foundation of “Capital Punishment” along with others to assist the defense and the Redskins organization in winning the NFC East title. Yet, because the weakness of the defense for most of the year was the unit’s inability to stop the run – the numbers would say that Knighton did not make a noticeable impact.
Numbers sometimes tell the truth. They sometimes only tell part of the story.
Washington allowed 1,962 yards rushing in the 2015 regular season, an average of 122.6 per game on 406 total attempts. That resulted in an average of 4.83 rushing yards per attempt.
Overall, the Redskins were 26th in rushing yards allowed per game and 31st in yards per play allowed on the ground. Largely, this contributed to the Redskins defense being 28th in the NFL in both total yards per game and yards per play allowed.
Say whatever you want about former defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s time in Washington. Over his five years, his units were good at stopping the run. The 2010 campaign was bad, but with virtually no talent as the team was transforming to a 3-4 on the fly and because Albert Haynesworth was a complete fraud.
As for 2015, let's note that issues with the rush yards allowed doesn't all or even mostly fall on Knighton. It’s a combination of bad tackling, bad angles and really a team failure.
However, according to the league’s official statistical service, the Redskins allowed 5.07 yards per attempt “up the middle” on run defense, 29th in the league. That would suggest Knighton was part of the problem and not necessarily the solution.
However, on plays run off of the offense’s left guard spot, Washington allowed an average gain of 4.07 per attempt. On plays run behind the offense’s right guard, per NFLGSIS, opposing offenses averaged 3.81 yards per attempt.
Green Bay found success running off tackle and outside in the playoff win over Washington.
"They did whatever they wanted, Knighton said after the loss."They had a scheme run. The second half they made adjustments and we didn't. They know where the strength of our run defense is. They just ran the ball outside."
Knighton didn't always play directly over the nose. Sometimes he shaded in different gaps. That makes it impossible to know exactly Knighton's responsibilities at times.
Here’s what my eyes and football insight told me. Knighton was a dominant force early in games down the stretch including wins over the Giants and Bears and even the Green Bay loss.
You can see it, easily. If I can see it, Scot McCloughan can see it, even if you can’t necessarily quantify the impact. .
What also is hard to know from the outside is how much control Knighton had over his weight. Obviously, he is a big guy and that’s part of what makes him so good.
He was listed at 355 pounds. Some people quietly suggested that Knighton was around 375 pounds. I have no idea if he was or wasn’t. I will never, ever, tell somebody it is easy to control weight because I live with that every day.
Whatever that number is, combined with another glaring number, 30, as in 30 years old by the time the 2016 season comes around, does not do Knighton any favors.
I do believe the Redskins would like to have him back because of his talent and leadership. Because of the aforementioned factors plus struggles with “cluster headaches” this past season, it makes it hard to commit any kind of long-term deal to Knighton.
Simply put, the Redskins would be taking an enormous gamble. I just don’t believe it's one they will take.
Another one-year deal? That’s a possibility. A heavily incentive laden two-year offer? Maybe but that’s stretching it.
It will depend on other offers and what Knighton values. I know in talking to him, the big contract he didn’t receive last year in free agency remains very important to him. If anybody offers a multi-year deal this time around, he probably pounces. In other words, he’s far from a lock to return.
The New York Jets could lose starting nose-tackle Damon Harrison to another team. The 27-year-old Harrison is in prime position to capitalize on his market value and New York has other higher priority players it must re-sign. The Ravens, Browns, and the Chargers could possibly use added beef in the middle of their defensive lines.
Ideally, Knighton's best chance for success involves playing in a 3-4 front and not being asked to play more than 35-40% of his team’s snaps.
In his final year in Denver, Knighton played 48.1 % of the Broncos' defensive snaps (including playoffs).
In his first and perhaps only year with the Redskins, Knighton played 369 defensives snaps or 35% of the unit total. He also contributed 92 special teams snaps. You can see that it was a significant drop-off, which is probably a good thing but also something that cuts his market value.
The one thing that cannot be measured in any quantifiable way is leadership and how strongly his fellow defensive line teammates feel about his knowledge of the game.
Baker freely admitted that his BFF helped him with his film study immensely, which he feels contributed strongly to a breakout season. Ricky Jean Francois told me Knighton is like “another defensive coordinator” on the field, because he knows more than everyone else does.
How do you value that if you are the Redskins or another team? Washington coaches probably know this already and you would hope that they would not totally dismiss this, but ultimately there are many other factors that probably will work against Knighton.