When Phillip Buchanon was re-signed by the Washington Redskins this offseason, it came with the caveat that he was first going to have to serve a four-game suspension. Little was offered up as an explanation then, and not much since, all Redskins Nation knows is that the suspension was for a violation of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Washington did not have to cut a player to make room for Buchanon, at least not yet. Suspended players don’t count against the 53-man roster, so their teams receive a grace period of seven days, to make arrangements to keep the roster at 53 players, and re-integrate the player. That gives the Redskins until October 10th to decide who to get rid of, to make the necessary slot available.
Buchanon spent the entire time at home in Miami, as he is not allowed to do anything with the team while under suspension. The nine-year veteran showed up at Redskins Park on Tuesday (with the suspension being over), still wearing a sling due to a shoulder injury that he suffered in the final preseason game. He took the sling off while in the locker room, but will less than two weeks be enough to not only get back into game shape, but for the shoulder injury to finish healing? Buchanon stated that he’d be at the Park all week receiving treatment on hi shoulder, and that he had already, ‘had his bye week’ with four weeks on the shelf.
The Redskins had hoped that in his absence, any one of Kevin Barnes, Byron Westbrook, or Brandyn Thompson would step in for Buchanon and fill that nickel role; but none of the three have really impressed that much in the regular season.
Westbrook is a special teams stalwart, so his job would seem safe – but what of the other two? Barnes has been a bit disappointing as it was expected that he could step right in and make Buchanon’s absence seem moot. Most would agree that hasn’t been the case. Barnes has struggled at times, and certainly hasn’t done anything to set himself apart from the other incumbents. Thompson was a 7th round draft pick in 2011, and would seem the most disposable, but he may have the most up-side of the bunch. He’s played well enough that releasing him and hoping that he will clear waivers and be signed to the practice squad, is not a foregone conclusion. He was held out of the Rams game with a hamstring injury.
The 31-year old Buchanon has 20 career interceptions, and played really well for Washington last year. On top of being a good nickel back, he can probably be counted on more than the others in an increased role, if DeAngelo Hall or Josh Wilson got injured. It seems ridiculous that he would get cut after the suspension, as some rumors have speculated. It’s a lot more likely that he is in the Redskins’ plans; he wasn’t just signed as a favor to Drew Rosenhaus; and that Washington will have to make room for him on the roster this week.
So there is a bit of a sticky wicket as to what to do.
Mike Sellers is the first name many mention as ‘expendable.’ Not only has he been inactive for games this season, but even when active, the Redskins preferred to use a less than healthy Chris Cooley at fullback (where he’s never played before), than plug Sellers into the offense. He’s a leader and a special teams monster, as well as being able to back up both the fullback and tight end positions, but will that be enough to keep Big Mike around?
Perhaps the most obvious place to look for somewhere to make a roster slot would be wide receiver. The Redskins have eight receivers remember – eight guys when most NFL teams carry five, maybe six. The reason they kept so many was because decisions were too tough to make. Is that still true a month into the season?
Donte Stallworth and Terrence Austin have been sharing duties as the last receiver on the game sheet, while Leonard Hankerson hasn’t even seen the field yet. Hankerson would seem safe as a 2011 3rd round draft pick that management knew would take time to develop, despite him being the least ‘productive’ on game days. He definitely wouldn’t clear waivers to go to the practice squad, so cutting him isn’t really an option.
Both Stallworth and Austin have done very little with their opportunities – not that they have had many – but both were active this past week thanks to the hamstring injury to Anthony Armstrong. Austin is another player with tremendous youth and potential, and has the added benefit of being the Redskins’ back-up kick and punt returner. The back-up return role is significant, give that Brandon Banks certainly hasn’t done much the last two weeks to warrant holding down a precious roster spot for a guy that doesn’t contribute anywhere but on special teams. That isn’t to dog Banks at all, and he’s still arguably the Redskins’ most electrifying play-maker when ‘on’, but he hasn’t been on the last two weeks, and the new kickoff rule has limited his chances to make a mark.
The person getting cut could also obviously come from the list of players that have been inactive for the Redskins. This past week against the Rams, that list consisted of WR Anthony Armstrong, CB Thompson, FB Darrel Young, LB Markus White, OL Willie Smith, WR Leonard Hankerson, and DL Darrion Scott. Narrow that list to healthy scratches, and you’re left with White, Smith, Hankerson, and Scott – Armstrong, Thompson and Young were all out due to injuries.
Hankerson was already discussed. Smith was an undrafted rookie, and could be moved to the practice Squad, but the Redskins only kept eight offensive linemen to begin with. Like Smith, Scott is one of few back-ups at his DE position, and cutting him would leave the Redskins short-handed if someone got injured. White has too much talent, and too bright a future to risk losing him on the waiver wire – even if the Redskins would seem to have a glut of linebackers.
That really only leaves Stallworth and Sellers, doesn’t it?
While cutting Stallworth or Sellers could happen – keep an eye on Thompson’s injury that has him sidelined at the moment. If the Redskins bring Buchanon back on to the roster, Thompson might not even see the active roster. There is no danger of him not clearing waivers, if you put him on IR.
There wouldn’t be much point to an article like this, if it didn’t drill down to just one selection. Narrowed down to Stallworth and Sellers, it has to be Stallworth, as tough as it is to let go a guy who has been such a class act since coming into a tough situation. He hasn’t barked at all about sharing time with Austin, and he’s just gone about his work in a professional manner.
Situations like this often yield unexpected results. Teams zig, when you’re sure they’ll zag. So as much sense as it makes to see Stallworth draw the short straw, don’t forget to keep an eye on Thompson’s hamstring injury. If it looks like something that might keep him out of the line-up for a while, it might keep him out for the whole season.
Then the Redskins wouldn’t have to make any decision at all.
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Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Mark Solway