With the NFL conditionally reinstating suspended Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington, speculation has begun regarding the future of the 2012 Second-team All-Pro.
The buzz is understandable, as the last season Washington took the field in 2013, he collected 75 tackles, three sacks and 11 passes defensed despite playing only 12 games due to another suspension. That year followed a Pro Bowl season in 2012, in which he made 134 tackles and led all inside linebackers by a wide margin with nine sacks.
However, ESPN analyst Merril Hoge thinks the Cardinals would be foolish to expect a comparable level of play from the linebacker, now 30.
“When you’re talking about three, and eventually almost four [years] by the time he really gets into live action again, I think it will be very visible that you’ll be able to see that those skills have eroded,” Hoge told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM‘s Doug and Wolf on Wednesday. “There’ll be flashes, but there will never be what he once was, based on the time he’s missed.”
For reference, there are only 11 current Cardinals who were on the team the last time Washington took the field on Dec. 29, 2013.
Hoge’s analysis was from a purely practical football standpoint, focusing mainly on the effect such an absence can have on a player, especially one who relied upon his athleticism as much as Washington did.
“To me, I think it’s a huge impact,” he said. “I think there’s a seasoning that goes on with playing and practicing and getting better. Sharpening your talents and your skills. And three years is almost going dormant. I just don’t believe that you’ll ever be the same, that you’ve lost that.”
He has a point, as the list of recent players who have returned from being suspended for a season or longer and have played well is not a lengthy one. In the past decade, quarterback Michael Vick, running back Ricky Williams and cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones are the only examples of players who performed at a high level after being suspended for a season or more.
The most recent player to come back from a three-season suspension such as Washington’s is defensive end Johnny Jolly, who missed the 2010-12 seasons due to four drug-related arrests before playing 13 largely uninspiring games for the Green Bay Packers in 2013.
And for those hoping Arizona can get another team to trade for the veteran linebacker, Hoge doesn’t see much of a reason for any organization to invest in Washington.
“I just don’t know where the value would be, to be honest with you,” he said. “I really don’t.”
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