Friday, March 15, 2013
What will Washington add to New England?
By Field Yates
Following up with some trickle-down thoughts from the signing of running back/return specialist Leon Washington:
1. What he brings. The talents of Washington are obvious: He's among the best kickoff returners in the history of the NFL (he is tied with Josh Cribbs for the record for most kickoff returns for a touchdown in a career with eight), and was second in the league last season with an average of 29.0 yards per return. He's also a capable change-of-pace back and receiver, which is similar to what Danny Woodhead has brought to the team.
2. What it means for Woodhead. One of the first questions to come to mind after signing Washington was whether the Patriots would be moving on from Danny Woodhead, a current free agent. While the two have some similarities, Woodhead brings better offensive value. Washington's deal is a one-year contract, and it's still possible Woodhead could be brought back for purposes of a competition.
3. What it means for Demps. Given Washington's return value, some have also asked what it means for Jeff Demps, who spent last season on injured reserve. Demps has also recently expressed an interest in simultaneously continuing his track career while playing for the Patriots. Establishing yourself in the NFL is a difficult job as it is, and one would think the team would prefer for Demps to be focusing all of his time and energy this offseason on football. While Demps offers promise as a returner because of his world-class speed, Washington has proven his effectiveness over seven seasons. The two could be in a competition for the job when training camp begins.
4. Return value. The Patriots were 25th in the NFL with an average kickoff return of just 21.2 yards in 2012. That's an area they need to upgrade, and whether it's Washington or Demps, they appear to be on their way toward doing so. Both bring an element of speed and open-field running, which should go a long way in beefing up the return game.
5. 90-man roster. With rosters expanding to 90 players in the offseason, it's a good time to add players and build competition. The Patriots will have plenty of time to sort out roles and assignments during the course of the offseason and training camp. The addition of Washington to the roster is a low-risk and savvy move by the team from this view, adding competition and skill to an area where it was needed.