Under Bruce Allen, the Washington Redskins were one of the most injured teams in football over the past few seasons. Critics of the Redskins’ former president argued that the team’s poor health extended beyond misfortune.
The thinking went like this: Allen took risks on players with lengthy injury histories and the roster lacked the depth necessary to cover when those players eventually got hurt.
So it might have been comforting to some, then, when new coach Ron Rivera spent his first offseason with the Redskins chasing after players aimed at bolstering Washington’s depth. A month into free agency, the Redskins brought in 13 new players and re-signed four others.
But Rivera, like Allen, hasn’t shied away from taking a chance on those who have landed on injured reserve.
Ronald Darby figures to replace Quinton Dunbar in the starting lineup, but he’ll have to prove he can stay on the field after missing 20 games in the last three seasons.
Likewise, safety Sean Davis is coming off a shoulder injury that limited him to just one game in 2019, and the 25-year-old underwent shoulder surgery two years prior to that.
Even Kendall Fuller, the team’s top free-agent signing, missed time due to a broken thumb last season before eventually returning in December.
The Redskins are betting on all three being able to boost their secondary.
Will it backfire?
“The biggest thing is these are guys that had success, limited success in terms of being healthy and being on the field,” Rivera said last week. “But when they have been on the field, they’ve been very good and that’s the thing that we like.”
Rivera raved about what Davis and Darby could bring to the defense. He said the safety is “on the cusp” of taking the next step, comparing him to former Panthers safety Mike Mitchell.
During Rivera’s time in Carolina, the Panthers brought in Mitchell from the Oakland Raiders and watched him blossom into a solid starter who eventually landed a five-year, $25 million deal from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
As for Darby, Rivera focused on the cornerback’s ability instead of his injury history. He raved about Darby’s “quick twitch,” his “tremendous” anticipation.” It was an addition, Rivera said, that will allow the Redskins to have better matchups on defense.
Both Davis and Darby have said they are now healthy.
“I’m good right now,” said Darby, whose most significant injury was a torn ACL in 2018.
“My shoulder’s good,” Davis said.
Fuller, meanwhile, returned to form after his thumb injury. In fact, he arguably rebounded from an up-and-down year upon his return. With the Kansas City Chiefs, Fuller found his way back to the lineup and grabbed the game-sealing interception in Super Bowl 54. Beyond that, Fuller has been able to stay healthy — despite recovering from microfracture knee surgery when drafted by the Redskins in 2016.
When Rivera discussed new tight end Richard Rodgers, he gushed about the former Packer’s success against his teams in Carolina, how quarterback Aaron Rodgers described Rodgers as a “safety valve.”
Rivera, though, made no mention of Rodgers’ tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles — where the tight end battled knee and foot issues across two seasons, appearing in just eight games.
Rivera’s signings, though, don’t seem to come with a risks associated with some of Allen’s biggest deals. Fuller is the only addition with a contract that lasts longer than two years.
That’s vastly different from signing the oft-injured Jordan Reed to a six-year, $48 million deal.
The Redskins should be able to survive if Darby, Davis or Rodgers get hurt.
Their losses wouldn’t be nearly as painful as when Washington lost Reed and Chris Thompson, another injury-prone star in former coach Jay Gruden’s offense.
Rivera is also banking on a revamped training staff, jettisoning longtime trainer Larry Hess and replacing him with Ryan Vermillion. In the last three seasons, the Redskins have had at least 20 players land on injured reserve each year.
“Sometimes, you need to fill the void,” Rivera said. “By bringing in some of the guys that we have, we’ve filled the void, but we’ve also felt that these guys are going to come in and compete, they want to compete so I’m excited, I really am.
“I’m excited about the guys that have decided to come and be a part of what we’re trying to build.”
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