With the NFL’s first full-throttle marketplace opening two weeks from today, the Redskins have only re-signed one of their own potential free agents (Center Will Montgomery), leaving a list that includes such key performers as three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker London Fletcher, rising tight end Fred Davis and hard-hitting but oft-hurting strong safety LaRon Landry.
However, Washington has gotten stronger in the front office, literally and quite possibly figuratively, with the hiring of former defensive end/slash national champion weightlifter Phillip Daniels as director of player development.
No disrespect to Daniels’ predecessor, Bobby Crumpler, but there’s just a different bond between players and a man who used to be in their cleats compared to a former assistant strength coach.
Daniels has spent his whole life in locker rooms. He played 14 years in the NFL, not counting 2008 when he missed the season after tearing his left ACL on the opening day of Redskins training camp. During the six seasons that Daniels spent in Washington, there were few Redskins who were so highly-regarded by the players, coaches and media. In fact, on the day that he was cut last July, he and coach Mike Shanahan spoke about his returning to the organization in some capacity some day. A conversation with general manager Bruce Allen early this month soon made that idea a reality.
Other than the players who joined the team in 2011, Daniels has gone to war, so to speak, with everyone in Washington’s locker room, a fact that should immediately engender a level of trust that could take someone else in his role quite some time to establish.
“I think the job’s going to be easier for me than might be for some other people because I played 15 years,” said Daniels, who played for Seattle and Chicago before coming to Washington in 2004. “I know how players think and what they need. I want the players to be able to come to me about anything. I don’t want guys not to trust me because I’m part of management now. I want to help them do the right thing.”
Daniels likes and believes in Davis and offensive tackle Trent Williams, each of whom was suspended for the final four games of 2011 after failing three drug tests. Each player faces a year-long suspension if he tests positive again.
“Trent and Fred made some mistakes, but they’re both good players and good guys,” Daniels said. “I think they’re going to be fine.”
The 38-year-old Daniels, who’s working on the five classes he needs to earn his degree from Georgia, believes that while he can help all the Redskins to finish their educations and look to their post-football futures, he can be especially valuable with younger players like Davis, 26, and Williams, 23.
“I want the guys to understand that careers are short in this league,” Daniels said. “The average career is three and a half years. You’ve gotta find the right system and the right situation for you. I played 10 years in Greg Blache’s defense. If you don’t take it serious with your first team, you might never get another shot because teams around the league talk all the time. I never made a Pro Bowl, but I lasted 15 years because coaches and organizations trusted me.”
Daniels also wants to make the players more trusted members of the community, especially in the District, not just in the comfortable suburbs around Redskins Park.
“Guys have got to build their brand in the community,” Daniels said. “We need to get more guys into DC. I want to see all the guys doing something in the community on Tuesdays.”
But on those other days, it’s not going to be easy for the competitive Daniels not to ask for his old No. 93.
“It will be hard for me to be standing there during practice and not put my two cents in, but (defensive line coach Jacob) Burney already told me to come on over whenever I want to. Of course, I know all about the D-line. I want to learn more about the rest of the team. I’m going to start with the DBs and work my way through the meeting rooms. I want to be a defensive coordinator some day. I talked to Coach (Joe) Gibbs, Greg Blache and (Blache’s predecessor) Gregg Williams and (longtime NFL defensive lineman) La’Roi Glover, who has the same job that I do with St. Louis, before I took the job. Coach Gibbs reminded me how many hours the coaches put in. I think this will be a good transition back into football for me.”
And a good move for the Redskins, too.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March.