Thursday, April 30, 2009

NFL free agency interviews: Kevin Ewoldt of Hogs Haven

Here's the final post from my series of interviews for this piece for The Good Point on free agency in the NFL, featuring an extended interview with Kevin Ewoldt of the great Washington Redskins site Hogs Haven. Previous posts in this series include my interviews with Sean Yuille of Pride of Detroit and Michael Bean of Behind the Steel Curtain. My questions and Kevin's answers are below, with minor edits for clarity. I also highly recommend this recent post from his site, comparing the Redskins' front office to those of the Patriots and Colts, and this older interview with Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis about the Capitals' franchise-building philosophy and how that might translate to football.

Andrew Bucholtz: Is there any free-agent signing by the Redskins over the last two decades that stands out as particularly bad to you? Did it seem like a bad idea at the time, or did it prove that way in retrospect?

Kevin Ewoldt: There are a lot: Deion Sanders, Steve Spurrier [ed note: free-agent coach], Adam Archuleta, Brandon Lloyd. The ones that sting the most are actually the ones where Washington traded draft picks away in return for the busts. Draft picks are how you keep youth on your roster. For Brandon Lloyd, the Skins traded a third-round pick and a fourth-round pick before awarding him a $10 million signing bonus. For T.J. Duckett, the Skins also traded a third-round pick. In return, T.J. only carried the ball 38 times in his career with Washington. Jason Taylor we acquired for a second-round pick and a sixth-round pick. The players in exchange all played one year (Deion, Duckett, Taylor). Lloyd played basically 1.5 years.

A.B.: Conversely, is there any free-agent signing that stood out as a particularly good move? If so, what worked about it (i.e. the money, the length of contract, filling a needed hole, etc)?

K.E.: London Fletcher stands out as a great signing. The Redskins went in the right direction when Gregg Williams and Joe Gibbs were running the show. London is the anchor of the Skins' defense and is the hands-down vocal leader of the locker room. He plays with heart and is a true leader.

A.B.: In the Leonsis article, you mentioned that "over-extending the length of contracts to aged vets" was the worst quality of the Redskins' front office. How would you rectify this if you were in Vinny Cerrato's shoes? Would you impose hard caps on money or term for veteran players (i.e. no one over 30 is offered more than X million over Y years), would you try to move towards shorter-term contracts throughout the organization, or would you evaluate each situation individually?

K.E.: The Redskins continually trade away draft picks, so their only option in filling holes is free agency. If I were in Vinny's shoes, I would be realistic about the situation. If you take a look at the all the successful franchises, the head coach plays a major role in the draft and free agency: [Bill] Belichick with the Patriots and Bill Cowher those years with the Steelers. The Redskins are very impatient with coaches, so the new incoming coach has to inherit the current roster and they basically have one to two years for success. That is a recipe for failure in my eyes. You need continuity.

A.B.: On a similar note, do you think teams that are active in the free-agent market should focus on younger, riskier players that haven't proven a lot yet or veterans with a track record?

K.E.: I think it depends on the situation and position. I wouldn't rule out either. I would certainly make the player's personality a factor. Brandon Lloyd had publicized issues with his coaches in San Francisco, and it was his downfall in DC as well.

A.B.: With the Haynesworth signing, at the time you wrote, "Lord help us all if this is true." Do you still think it was a bad move, and if so, what's the biggest problem with it (money, term, or just the wrong player)?

K.E.: I think Haynesworth is a good addition IF he stays healthy. If he only plays one or two years, then obviously it would have been a bad deal. Since there will likely be no salary cap next year and the Redskins have a ton of cash there isn't a lot of risk here. The team did not have to give up any draft picks which matters most to me. I'm hoping the Redskins can use their first pound pick this year to help take advantage of all the holes Haynesworth will create (assuming all the stud offensive lineman are off the board).

A.B.: Do you see the Redskins keeping up their big-spending habits in free agency moving forward? Why or why not?

K.E.: Absolutely. As long as Snyder and Cerrato are in charge, nothing will change regarding the big-spending. They always believe we're only one or two players (or coaches) away from a championship. I disagree with that. The team improved when Joe Gibbs was in control. He knew what players fit his system and who was coachable. Greg Blache, the Skins' defensive coordinator, was againt the Jason Taylor trade/signing, but the front office did it anyway. That speaks volumes.

A.B.: Imagine Dan Snyder has asked you to draft a blueprint for building a winning franchise. What would you include under the "Free Agents" section (i.e. what rules would govern your ideal franchise's free-agency moves)?

K.E.: See the Ted Leonsis article. Free agents should compliment the roster and the core group of players on the squad should push them. It is backwards in Washington. The free agents receive their fat checks and simply just play. I do think the front office has improved a bit in their signings. The Skins are now paying the big bucks for players under 30 years old.

Thanks again to Kevin for taking the time to answer my questions. You can check out his site here.

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