- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Safety Ryan Clark's value extends beyond what he gives the Washington Redskins on the field because, at 34, it's uncertain exactly how much he has left. Various reports say Clark didn't have as much range in 2013 as he did previously. Perhaps that's the case. Maybe all he has left is one more season. Maybe that one season was 2013. I don't know.
But, keep in mind, while the Pittsburgh Steelers let him walk because he'd lost a step, the Redskins have been seeking a safety who had any steps to begin with. They weren't losing steps; they never had any.
Keep in mind, though, that players don't turn careers around in the NFL at 34. If Clark has indeed diminished as a player, the Redskins will find out. The word out of Pittsburgh is that, perhaps by compensating for a slight loss of speed, Clark took chances he would not have in other seasons, but their perspective on that position is different than the Redskins'. We'll find out this summer what Clark has left as a player.
His worth, though, will come in other ways -- something previous safeties, such as Madieu Williams, could not provide. Reed Doughty was a good leader in terms of his approach. Clark, though, has performed at a higher level and won Super Bowls. He's a national figure, thanks in part to his ESPN work. He brings a different cachet for younger safeties.
The Redskins have two young safeties who were 2013 draft picks in Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas. Both have a lot to learn. Both may never get there. Thomas' issue could be his recovery from a Lisfranc injury; Rambo needs to play a lot better, improve his tackling and also must earn the position next time. I'm skeptical that Rambo will develop into the sort of starter Washington eventually needs. The Redskins could also still draft a safety and let him also learn under Clark.
And one way to develop players is by having veterans, such as Clark, around. DeAngelo Hall has become a good leader; Clark has long been an excellent one. He'll become the sort of voice they lost when London Fletcher retired.
And, if you want to sign a guy like free-agent receiver DeSean Jackson -- there's no denying Jackson's talent, nor is there any denying his issues when it comes to his approach to the game -- then you'd better have a strong locker room to deflect any potential issues. Clark helps here as well. In Pittsburgh, he was a leader on very good teams. In 2012, for example, when receiver Antonio Brown and corner Ike Taylor had a few training camp scuffles, Clark served as an intermediary. He helped a young Sean Taylor back in the day with Washington.
Clark will not be a ballhawk -- he has just 15 career interceptions. His game has long been about subtleties: make a big hit to intimidate receivers; take away a target with coverage; make sure players are lined up properly. All those aspects will help.
Finally, Clark adds another level of toughness. When he arrived in Washington the first time, he was a young kid trying to prove he could play. At 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, he was not the ideal size, but his mentality enabled him to overcome any deficiencies. Contrast that with some of the Redskins' younger players who performed like they were above certain tasks (special teams).
My guess is Clark will open the season trying to prove what he has left. That's his mentality. The Redskins hope they benefit from that because they already know he'll help in other ways. His impact could last beyond a season.
2dJohn Keim and Adam Caplan