The National Football League is as cut-throat as it gets. Look no further than NFL kickers who are heroes one day and targets of death threats the next. In a league where every game matters, each team’s 53-man roster leaves no room for error, and with training camps set to begin around the league this week, some tough decisions are about to be made.
But why the Washington Redskins waited until July 23 to cut the team’s leading tackler from last season, inside linebacker Mason Foster, is as equally head-scratching as it is cold-hearted.
Last season, Foster returned from a torn labrum in his shoulder to become one of the NFL’s top tacklers once again, leading the Redskins with 131 stops, good enough for seventh-most in the league. The third-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft was an All-American playing college football for the Washington Huskies. He spent time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears before arriving in D.C. back in 2015.
Foster just turned 30 years old back in March, and after 100-plus tackles in two of the last three seasons, seemed to be entering a prime stretch in his career.
The biggest knock on Foster by Washington fans is that he struggles in pass coverage, even though he ranked fifth on the team in pass breakups (5) and third in interceptions (2) last year. And although he reportedly lost 15 pounds this offseason to improve his quickness, Washington still gave him the axe.
Foster’s agent Blake Baratz made sure to air his grievances with Washington’s move loud and clear on Twitter that afternoon.
From where I’m sitting, all this move does for Washington is make a problem they already had even bigger and more obvious than before.
For starters, Reuben Foster, who Washington signed coming off domestic violence allegations, tore his ACL and LCL and is on injured reserve for the year. To patch that hole, the team signed 28-year-old Jon Bostic — also a liability in pass coverage — making this his sixth team in seven years. They have second-year player Shaun Dion Hamilton (27 tackles in 16 games last year) and rookie fifth-round pick Cole Holcomb out of North Carolina. Josh Harvey-Clemons is a safety-turned-middle linebacker that hasn’t exactly panned out, too.
As far as true inside linebackers on this roster are concerned, that’s it.
And for the record, the free agent market for quality inside linebackers in July is basically nonexistent.
It’s one thing to say Washington wanted to get younger and faster, or maybe trim the salary cap as Mason Foster was owed $4.25 million in the final year of a two-year contract. But waiting until this point in the offseason to do it and having no apparent contingency plan to replace him?
It’s no wonder this franchise has only made the playoffs four times since 2000 and hasn’t reached the NFC Championship game in 28 years.
Now that Foster is a free agent, I can only hope the veteran linebacker gets picked up by an NFC East rival in the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants or Dallas Cowboys and wreaks havoc on head coach Jay Gruden and the team that cut him loose.