Over the last few seasons, Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Jason Hatcher turned himself into one of the NFL's more underrated pressure defenders. As the storylines circled around Tony Romo and the 'Boys' inability to get past .500 at any time, Hatcher went about quietly racking up impressive totals in the categories of quarterback hits and hurries. And then, in 2013 at age 31, Hatcher went off, amassing a career-high 11 sacks primarily from the three-tech defensive tackle position when Dallas switched from a base 3-4 to a 4-3 defense. He also set career highs in solo tackles (34) and forced fumbles (two), cementing his value as an elite player even as the Cowboys' defense crumbled under the weight of Monte Kiffin's outmoded schemes.
It was a great time for Hatcher to put up a career year, as he became a free agent at the start of the 2014 league year. And in the interest of improving their defense (not to mentioning taking a key player away from a division rival), the Washington Redskins responded to Hatcher's outstanding season by agreeing to terms on a four-year, $27.5 million deal. Hatcher had talked with the Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders, but the Redskins' offer was the most appealing.
Hatcher was Pro Football Focus' fourth-rated pass-rushing defensive tackle in 2013, behind only Gerald McCoy, Ndamukong Suh and Jurrell Casey, amassing seven quarterback hits and 33 hurries along with his 11 sacks. Moreover, when playing end in a 3-4 as he did in Dallas before 2013 and will for the Redskins over the next few years, Hatcher was able to bring just as much overall heat on enemy quarterbacks. He amassed eight hits and 29 hurries as a right defensive end in 2012, slipping inside to tackle when the Cowboys went to their nickel and dime fronts.
"[They] didn't show no signs that they wanted me back," Hatcher told KRLD-FM Dallas/Fort Worth on Thursday (via ESPN.com). "I know the fans are upset. They should be. They have all the right in the world to be. But I made the right decision for me. If we could've made it work out we would've, but I'm in a great place with the Redskins, a great organization. I'm looking forward to getting back to football."
Though Hatcher is getting up there in years, the third-round pick in 2006 out of Grambling still has a lot of tread on his tires -- he wasn't a full-time starter until 2011, and he seems to be getting better and better.Grade: A-. Brian Orakpo Ryan Kerrigan