Ryan Clark: How the Steelers Utilized Free Agency Correctly at the Redskins' Expense

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Washington let Ryan Clark (25) walk after wasting money on an expensive Free Agent. Will they ever learn? Mandatory Credit: Jamie Mottram & misterirrelevant.com

The beginning of the Free Agency period marks the beginning of a tried and true March tradition for N.F.L. fans: watching the Washington Redskins aimlessly throw money around at Free Agents like Charlie Sheen at anything that moves at a “Gentleman’s Club.”  Over the years it has sometimes hurt to watch as the Washington brass have given ridiculous sums of money and contracts to players which have neither the talent, or work-ethic, or bill of health etc. to live up to the lofty expectations which come with said contracts.  That is exactly why when I think of the Washington Redskins and Free Agency, I think of names like Dana Stubblefield, Dan Wilkinson, elderly Deion Sanders and Bruce Smith, Jeff George, and the ever-popular Albert Haynesworth.

The Steelers on the other hand have used Free Agency in a completely different manner than the Redskins over the years, and exercised temperance and frugality with regards to the markets as opposed to a “making it rain” strategy.  This tried and true policy has served Pittsburgh well, as they have acquired some pretty fantastic and important players over said span.  That’s why names like Kevin Greene, Duval Love, Kimo von Oelhoffen, Jeff Hartings, James Farrior, Mewelde Moore, etc. come to my mind when I think of the fantastic work Tom Donahoe, Kevin Colbert, and the rest of the Front Office have done to consistently upgrade the franchise and put a winner out on the field for us to watch.

Thus, I want to point out a particular instance where Washington’s “free-wheeling” strategy in Free Agency caught up with them and how the Steelers benefited from playing the situation “cool.”  So in the spirit of the Free Agency season, I felt it would be interesting to analyze how one of Washington’s biggest Free Agency blunders (Adam Archuleta) paved the way for Ryan Clark to become a member of the Steelers.

Pittsburgh and their Free Safety needs circa. March 2006

After winning Super Bowl XL, Pittsburgh was faced with a bit of a quandary at the Free Safety position.  2004-2005 starter Chris Hope was due to become an Unrestricted Free Agent and Pittsburgh was not willing to shell out the dough for him.  Granted, Hope was a starter and a contributor to a Super Bowl winning Defense, but the market for his services was way out of the Steelers’ usual price range for Free Agents so he was allowed to walk.  In need of at least depth at the position entering 2006, Pittsburgh was likely going to need to find someone to compete for the starting job in Free Agency and in the Draft.  Thankfully, the Redskins were able to provide Pittsburgh with an opportunity to fill their need at Free Safety, because of Washington’s overly-aggressive Free Agent strategy.


Washington, their Outspending Parade, and Ryan Clark

Archuleta (31) had some issues in pass coverage to say the least. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

Coming off of a playoff season in 2005, the Redskins were big spenders once again when the 2006 Free Agency period started.  As per usual, Washington over-spent and signed former Super Bowl XL hero Antwaan Randle El from Pittsburgh for 7 years and $31 Million after a 35 Catch season with 1 regular season TD grab.  However, Washington’s biggest financial Free Agent blunder that offseason happened shortly after when the Redskins went after Free Agent Safety Adam Archuleta of the St. Louis Rams.

Looking to upgrade their Defense (9th in Points & Yards in 2005), Washington saw a great deal of value in acquiring Archuleta and sought to make him their new Strong Safety next to Sean Taylor.  Archuleta was one of the 2006 offseason’s most “hot” commodities due to his terrific 5 year run in St. Louis.  Archuleta had made 410 Tackles in his previous 5 seasons with the Rams, notched 15.0 Sacks, scored 3 TD’s, and logged 3 INT’s.  Plus, he was a tough defender (former LB at Arizona State) to boot, and was thought to be a significant upgrade to then-Coordinator and bounty installation expert Gregg Williams’ Defense.

The table was set for Washington to go after Archuleta, and went after him they did.  While Archuleta was more inclined to sign with the Bears because their Head Coach Lovie Smith was his Defensive Coordinator with the Rams, the Redskins threw the proverbial “kitchen sink” at him financially and he was signed to the then-most expensive deal ever for a Safety: 7 Years $35 Million.

When Washington signed Archuleta to such a lucrative deal and in turn gave him the starting Strong Safety spot, the Redskins essentially showed their former starter at the Position from 2004-2005 the door in the process.  Luckily for him, he was an Unrestricted Free Agent and could test the Free Agency waters to sign with any team to his liking.  I’m sure most of you in “Steeler Nation” know his name, that’s right, it was Ryan Clark.


One Success and One Disaster: Clark vs. Archuleta

Archuleta’s “One Year Wonder”

In a way, it is kind of disheartening to talk about Adam Archuleta’s brief and unsuccessful one-year stay in Washington.  For the kind of money Archuleta was thought to be worthy of and the production the Redskins only got out of him in 2006 was nothing short of embarrassing for all parties involved.  To me, the 2006 season should serve as a reminder to Redskins fans that blindly throwing money at players does not equate to success.

Archuleta’s paltry final 2006 stat line read:

60 Tackles, 1 Pass Defended, 1.0 Sack, Zero INT’s, Zero FF’s, Zero FR’s, and 7 starts in 16 games.

Why only 7 starts in 16 games?  Essentially, Archuleta was exposed as a terrible Safety when forced to cover extensively and could not keep up with speedy pass catchers.  A shell of his former aggressive yet controlled self in St. Louis, Archuleta bombed along with the rest of the Redskins’ Defensive Backfield and lost his job!  By game 8 Archuleta was benched, and lost playing time to an aging former Pro Bowler Troy Vincent, and Reed Doughty.  Plus, it didn’t help that Archuleta felt like he was not being utilized correctly or to his skill strength by his Defensive Coordinator either.

Upset by his lack of output, Archuleta was traded to the Chicago Bears the following offseason for a 6th Round Draft Pick!  That’s right folks, a 6th Round Pick was enough for Washington to rid themselves of a player which they thought could significantly upgrade their team and present a historic contract to as well.  Things did not improve for Archuleta, because by 2008 he was done with pro football after he was cut by the Raiders in the preseason after making the transition to Linebacker.

Flop status aside, Archuleta’s let-down in Washington is only one side of the coin however when discussing him as a Free Agent blunder.  One also must account for Ryan Clark’s success in Pittsburgh and appreciate Colbert and Co.’s due diligence when they signed him for a nominal fee of $7 Million over 4 years.

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