Jason Hatcher talked about the possibility of retirement after the Redskins season ended, and the reality is, despite Hatcher's strong veteran leadership, that would be good news for Washington.
With Kirk Cousins currently a free agent, and tight end Jordan Reed set for free agency next season, the Redskins need to free up as much salary cap space as possible, and Hatcher carries a big number. Contract info below via OverTheCap.com:
The mammoth defensive tackle will turn 34 years old in July, and in two seasons with Washington, Hatcher's production has lagged way behind his salary. In two years with the 'Skins, Hatcher has started 27 of 32 possible games, notched 7.5 sacks and 32 tackles.
Injuries have hampered Hatcher for much of his time in Washington, and frankly, that's to be expected with a player his size and age. Hatcher's sack production dropped from 5.5 sacks in 2014 to 2 sacks in 2016, despite being surrounded by better players on the defensive line. Further, in eight years with the Dallas Cowboys prior to signing a four-year, $27.5 million contract with the Skins in 2014, Hatcher only once grabbed more than 4.5 sacks, and that came in his contract year. That 2013 season Hatcher logged 11 sacks, a true outlier for a player that has just 34.5 sacks in his 10-year career.
Sacks are not the only metric worth assessing, and it is worth pointing out that Hatcher provides a strong leadership presence in the Redskins locker room. Just walk around after a game and it's clear "Hatch" has a commanding presence in the room, and the coaches and front office speak about Hatcher with respect.
When Jay Gruden first heard that Hatcher mentioned retirement, the coach was clear in his support.
"He’s a great leader. He’s a great player," Gruden said in January. "He’ll make a decision that’s right for him and his family obviously but we’d love to have him back. He’s a heck of a player and a force, not only on the field, but in the locker room."
At the Senior Bowl, GM Scot McCloughan was asked about Hatcher's possible retirement, "He’s one of those big time leaders, but he’s got to do what’s best for him."
What's best for Hatcher remains to be seen, but what's best for the Redskins would likely be retirement. If Hatcher decides to walk away from the game, the $8.7 million cap number for 2016 and $9.75 million for 2017 would come off the books, and that money could be important elsewhere.
In comments during the NFL Scouting Combine, Gruden made it seem less likely Hatcher will retire.
"I think he’s learning towards playing," Gruden said. "We’ll have to wait and see. He’s put a lot of good years in. Body was a little bit beat up last year at the end of the year, but I think he’s starting to recover, feel a lot better so I think his mind will change a little bit as he gets closer to time to kick off."
An agreement could be reached between Hatcher and the Redskins to restructure, but that would still mean the 'Skins are paying an aging player for declining play. Generally, McCloughan works to avoid those situations.
Along the defensive front, Washington could be adding new players via the draft as well as the return of injured players Stephen Paea and Junior Galette. This year's NFL Scouting Combine revealed a lot of depth along the defensive line, and it could be a position to target for McCloughan.
Leadership is important, obviously, but so is cap space. Especially for a team trying to work a deal with their starting quarterback.