By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 30, 2009
The Washington Redskins, in desperate need of improved play on the offensive line for the 2009 season, yesterday released tackle Jon Jansen, the 10-year veteran who once anchored that unit but whose performance had declined over the past two seasons as injuries and age wore on him. The move means the Redskins will take a roughly $6 million hit under the NFL's salary cap and will be without their longest-tenured player, a 33-year-old who had been with the franchise during the entirety of owner Daniel M. Snyder's stewardship.
Coach Jim Zorn and a group of offensive assistants -- led by offensive coordinator Sherman Smith and offensive line coach Joe Bugel -- reached the decision about Jansen after evaluating performances during the team's minicamp and other workouts earlier this spring. That process culminated in a meeting yesterday morning at Redskins Park, for which Snyder dispatched his private plane to pick up Jansen, who makes his offseason home in Michigan.
"What we try to do is look at all the offensive linemen," Zorn said by phone yesterday. "You not only grade them, but you rank them. You go back and forth. What's the future look like here? The future looks more like it's the battle of Stephon Heyer, Mike Williams and Jeremy Bridges."
That group -- Heyer, entering his third year; Williams, trying to play his way back into the league after an absence of three seasons; and Bridges, who had 28 starts over the past three years with Carolina -- now inherits the right tackle position, which is essential not only in opening holes for Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis, but in protecting quarterback Jason Campbell.
Over a career that spanned 126 games and 123 starts -- including not a single missed snap in his first five seasons -- Jansen gained a reputation as a superior run blocker. But he lost his starting job in the preseason of 2008 to Heyer primarily because of deficiencies in his pass blocking and the fact that Zorn believed he was still recovering from a season-ending leg injury that cost him all but one game of 2007.
Heyer, though, was injured early in the year, and Jansen re-entered the starting lineup in the fourth week of the season. He made 11 starts, but Zorn entered the offseason saying clearly that the right tackle job was open entering 2009.
With that, the difficult evaluation began. The Redskins signed free agents Williams, a former first-round pick who recently weighed roughly 410 pounds, and Bridges. They worked on improving Heyer, who went undrafted out of the University of Maryland in 2007 but who coaches believe has potential. And they evaluated Jansen, who entered the workouts determined to regain his job.
"He was going to come back and show that he can be the kind of player he is, he felt he was," Zorn said. "I think when he came back in minicamp in good shape, in [organized team activities] in great shape, fighting hard.
"But to me, in evaluating the situation with Joe, with Sherman, myself, just sitting down and talking about and watching, I didn't see a difference [from last season]. I'm looking for differences. 'Okay, this is different, and that's different.' I didn't necessarily see that."
The staff then considered Jansen at center and guard, where he could have served as a veteran backup to starters Casey Rabach, Randy Thomas and Derrick Dockery.
"I didn't feel comfortable with how I perceived him backing up all those positions," Zorn said. "I was looking for the younger guys to take a lot of snaps to improve them instead of keeping Jon in a new position for him."
With that, the decision was made. Zorn said it was "hard" to relay the news to Jansen, who believes he can still play. Jansen said last night that he had agreed to a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions, his hometown team, pending a physical.
"When the day started, the hardest thing was finding out I wasn't going to be a Redskin anymore," Jansen said by phone. "And then the day took a pretty good turn for the better. . . . I think the timing [of the release] could've been better, but I don't think the result could've been better."
Beginning Monday, when the Redskins begin two weeks of full-squad workouts, Heyer, Williams and Bridges will begin the task of replacing Jansen. Heyer, 25, has started 12 games over the past two seasons, and the coaching staff is still trying to work with him in several areas, including run blocking.
"He's trying to change his body style and the way he moves," Zorn said. "I have seen some improvement. He's got a ways to go."
Williams has not played in the regular season since 2005 with Buffalo. The 29-year-old, though, has dropped nearly 30 pounds since the Redskins signed him and was at 384 yesterday, Zorn said.
"He's allowing himself to give himself a chance," Zorn said. "My biggest concern is: Can he function at a high level at the weight he is for 70 plays?"
Bridges, 29, has played with Philadelphia, Arizona and Carolina, starting four games a year ago for the Panthers. The coaching staff is still familiarizing itself with Bridges, who Zorn said has "a toughness about him that we're certainly looking for with the Redskins."
Staff writers Jason Reid and Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.