Looking back: When the Oakland Raiders signed Ted Washington (New England) and Warren Sapp (Tampa Bay) as free agents, the team envisioned a defense that would wreak havoc on opposing teams.
Havoc was wreaked all right – on the Raiders. Oakland’s defense finished the season ranked 30th out of 32 NFL teams after finishing dead last in 2003. Granted, when a defense plays so poorly, none of the 11 players should be exempt from blame. The fact remains, however, that the Raiders got very little in return on their investments with Sapp and Washington.
The Raiders switched their base defense from the 4-3 to 3-4. That move perhaps did not help Sapp’s production but, to put it mildly, he did not the transition very well from 4-3 tackle to 3-4 end.
The offseason moves pushed John Parrella into a backup role while undrafted free agent Tommy Kelly showed promise and led the team with four sacks. That total should tell you just how invisible the Raiders pass rush was throughout the season. Sacks might not tell the whole story on pressuring quarterbacks but when your leader in sacks has four that’s not a ringing endorsement for making a quarterback’s job difficult.
Looking ahead: There has been a lot of talk that the Raiders could release both Sapp and Washington after neither move panned out for them. Even in his best seasons, Washington has been more of a tactical factor than a statistical one. For that reason, Washington might warrant another shot and would be a higher probability of staying in Oakland than Sapp. The 365-pound Washington’s role has always been to clog up multiple blockers in order to free up other defenders.
The position change did not have helped Sapp’s production but that argument also misses the point. Sapp was in a three-year decline before signing with the Raiders, when he played his natural 4-3 tackle spot in Tampa Bay. Plus, when a team signs a player for seven years, $36-million with a $7 million dollar signing bonus, it should expect more than 1.5 sacks. Sapp’s contract is reportedly such that’s more cost effective to keep him but a four-year decline is a pattern not an aberration.
Parrella, meanwhile, is reportedly due to make $3 million dollars this season. The 35-year old Parrella can be a valuable asset but he could possibly be a salary cap casualty especially if the Raiders decide to keep either Washington or Sapp or both. Plus, can the team afford a three-million dollar backup?
Kelly certainly looks like a keeper. How much potential he has remains unknown but if nothing else he could supply depth. Terdell Sands is the only other tackle by trade on the roster. His 6-7, 335-pound frame is more noticeable than his performance.
Vince D’Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org