By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 20, 2006
TAMPA, Nov. 19 -- Adam Archuleta, the highest-paid safety in NFL history, plunged to a new low Sunday, when he was relegated to spectator status in the Redskins' 20-17 loss to Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium even after starting safety Troy Vincent was injured.
Vincent, 35, took Archuleta's starting position shortly after signing last month. He left in the second quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return (his status will be determined Monday), yet Archuleta remained on the sideline with the game and season on the line.
Archuleta was an integral part of an expensive 2006 free agent class recruited by Gregg Williams, assistant coach-defense, to put the defense over the top, along with end Andre Carter (two sacks all season). But few individuals have managed to make an impact in Williams's scheme -- Washington stands 30th in the NFL -- and Archuleta has been benched two straight weeks with Vernon Fox, a veteran special teams players signed off the street for depth in August, playing ahead of him Sunday.
Archuleta, who like Carter signed a six-year deal with $10 million guaranteed, declined to share his thoughts on the situation, saying he wanted to keep them private for now. But his agent, Gary Wichard, said the coaches are making an example of his client and pointed to the repeated breakdowns that have continued with Archuleta sitting out.
"Adam has been made to be a scapegoat," Wichard said in a telephone interview after watching Sunday's loss on television. "It's been proven the last couple of games that it's certainly not just Adam. Gregg Williams and [safeties coach] Steve Jackson, they wanted Adam Archuleta and they recruited him to Washington because of how they had seen him play on film.
"They know what type of player he is, and [Chicago Bears Coach] Lovie Smith wanted to sign Adam in the worst way, and so did Gregg Williams. I don't know what's changed in all of that since March, but Gregg Williams was the person recruiting Adam in free agency, and Adam hasn't changed as a player since then."
Archuleta, 28, has struggled in pass coverage, with his role steadily declining, but the entire secondary has suffered, too, including safety Sean Taylor, the fifth overall pick in 2004. That Williams would play Fox, who was signed off waivers by Detroit in 2004 and played almost exclusively on special teams for the Lions the past two seasons, ahead of Archuleta Sunday was a clear indication of where he stands on the depth chart.
Fox "has done a very good job tackling and he's come along very well in our packages," Williams said of the decision to play Fox ahead of Archuleta. "He arrived late at training camp and at this point in time we have to see what all of our guys can do."
Williams has yet to introduce rookie linebacker Rocky McIntosh into the base package, however, despite the struggles of starting weak-side linebacker Warrick Holdman and the fact the team traded two picks, including a second rounder, to move up and take McIntosh in the second round in April.
The critiques of players by coaches in meetings can be particularly caustic and Archuleta has caught their wrath on several occasions, players said, with some wondering early on if this would be a good match of player and staff.
Fox, 27, said he had no idea of why he played ahead of Archuleta, but was happy for the opportunity Sunday. "I've tried to show these guys that I'm more than just a special-teams player," Fox said, while in recent weeks Archuleta has been used as nothing more than a special-teams player.
The Redskins gave Archuleta a $5 million signing bonus, and have a $5 million option bonus on his contract due in March, according to sources with knowledge of the deal. However, should the team not exercise that option in March, Archuleta's base salaries over the next three seasons would escalate and become guaranteed, with that total equaling $5 million as well. If they cut him after the season, besides owing the guaranteed money, the Redskins would take a $9 million salary cap hit in total, a sum that could be spread over two seasons -- with about $7 million due in 2008 -- depending on the timing of his release.