The Return of Dana Stubblefield. 05/11/01 8:00 PM
In Ashburn, Virginia on February 23rd, 1998 The Washington Redskins in an effort to bolster their very own defensive line signed unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield from the San Francisco 49er’s to a six-year $36 million dollar contract.
Dana drafted by San Francisco in the first round of the 1993 NFL Draft (26th overall) from Kansas became a three-time Pro Bowl selection, 1994, 1995 and 1997. The six foot-two, 315-pound defensive lineman seemed to be the answer to Washington’s inability to stuff their oppositions running game and apply pressure to the quarterback.
While in Washington Dana though very optimistic soon found out that the atmosphere in the locker rooms and in and around the front office was much more different than what he had in San Francisco. He came to realize that something was very different between the two organizations.
He was very upset in leaving San Francisco for at that time of his departure he felt he was never in the long-term plans of the 49er front office. He indicated his desire to play but salary cap constraints and ownership turmoil within San Francisco was apparently a culprit in his exodus.
Dana was expected to have an enormous impact in Washington especially after having an illustrious career with San Francisco and being a three-time Pro Bowler. Ownership and management in Washington were smiling from ear to ear with this acquisition. However what was to transpire over the next three years was quite a contrast.
He only accumulated seven sacks in 38 games and was soon characterized as an underachiever on a team that soon earned the name of a bunch of underachievers. In essential he cashed in on his past accomplishments as he was rewarded a giant of a contract including a $8 million signing bonus and turned over almost belly up on the field for the Redskins.
The Stubblefield that left the 49er’s was the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He had 15 sacks in 1997 and 39.5 from 1993-97. He went on to the Pro Bowl three times. Last season in 2000 with the Redskins he was 11th on the roster in tackles with 39 and 2.5 sacks.
Dana joined Dan Wilkinson known as (Big Daddy) on the Washington defensive line, both looked so much alike that many people could not tell them apart as they both were within the same weight and bulk category as mammoth defensive tackles. Both were acquired to strengthen the Redskins run defense, which was ranked 27th (out of 28 teams), 29th (out of 30), 30th, and 28th since Norv Turner became head coach of the Redskins in 1994.
What ultimately happened though was a defense that just seemed to get progressively worse as time went on and Stubblefield and Wilkinson could not stop the bleeding, even after signing stellar contracts to make a positive impact.
Stubblefield became increasingly upset over the never changing coaches and front office personnel, he felt the instability starting to take hold throughout that organization and he was reminded about his successes in San Francisco.
While a Redskin in 1998 his impact was absolutely zero as an injury sidelined him for more than half the season, he started in seven games and had just 1.5 sacks. In 1999 he came back to start all 16 games but had only 3.0 sacks and in 2000 he started in 14 games and had 2.5 sacks with 39 tackles.
On March 1st, 2001 The Washington Redskins, facing a midnight salary cap deadline, cut defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield. He joined Tre Johnson, Irving Fryar, Keith Sims and Andy Heck as former starters as Washington struggled to get under the $67.4 million salary cap.
The eight-year veteran after becoming an unrestricted free agent soon looked for some kind of places to call home again. Several teams soon pursued him, including the Cincinnati Bengals and the New England Patriots. Cincinnati is believed to have offered him the best deal, about $2.5 million annually, but it soon became obvious where Dana really wanted to go and that was back home to San Francisco.
Dana Stubblefield soon after being released by the Washington Redskins said his curiosity was aroused the day he was released when he received a call from 49er;s defensive-line coach Dwaine Board. Board at the time was looking for information on free-agent middle linebacker Derek Smith, whom the 49er’s eventually, signed.
“I told him I’d been released and to put my name out, that I was interested in coming back,” Stubblefield said. Stubblefield was then invited to audition for the 49er’s almost as soon as Board received the information.
After he finished his audition for the 49er coaches he stayed in the area and worked out with several San Francisco players, including close friend Junior Bryant. He even helped to greet some of the draft prospects who visited with 49er’s officials. And his wife Kim was very much interested in finding a home within the Bay area again.
With the audition 49er’s unrestricted free agent Brentson Buckner was starting to see where the 49er’s were heading and began to look for a new home himself. When Stubblefield arrived in the 49er’s parking lot for a team workout he was greeted by a fans sign. It read: “Bring home Stubblefield please!!”
After the workout was completed both General Manager Bill Walsh and Head Coach Steve Mariucci were completely impressed, and indicated they wanted to sign him before the on-coming NFL Draft. “His workout went very, very well. He’s in excellent physical condition; very strong, very quick,” Walsh said. “We were impressed with the workout. He has a number of really great years ahead of him.”
“It is home, It’s an I-left-my-heart-in-San-Francisco type deal,” Stubblefield said. “I was a little nervous of coming back in, but when I drove up to the building, it felt like I was coming in for a normal workout. But, I was coming in trying to find a job.” “He still has a lot left in him. He certainly looked good today;” said 49er’s defensive tackle Bryant Young, who is close friends with Stubblefield.
The warmth and the positive experience was overwhelming to Stubblefield as he truly felt a kinship and a sense of reunion with his former teammates, the majority of fans had already signaled their intentions as to his possible return, even after Brentson Buckner had played solidly in 2000.
“If you put a spy camera on my shoulder and walked through this building with me, you can tell it’s purely not about money. There’s a lot of love in there amongst both sides,” said Stubblefield, noting his wife already was looking for a new home in the Bay Area.
His relationship with defensive tackle Bryant Young was one of two comrades going off into battle next to each other as a tandem with each other they formed one of the league’s most potent interior tandems during the mid 90’s. But just shortly after the 1997 season the cap-strapped 49er’s could not compete with the Washington Redskins six-year, $36 million offer. So Stubblefield bolted.
After that, his production nearly came to a halt, Many in the league believed Dana was an overrated athlete that just seemed to be playing for only the money. But the fact is that the defensive tackle he played alongside with was no where the caliber of former teammate Bryant Young.
Playing alongside underachieving defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson acquired through a trade with Cincinnati. Stubblefield never recorded more than three sacks in any of his three years in Washington. The Redskins, with the highest payroll at $92.4 million, ranked 27th in the league against the run in 1999 and improved to only 22nd last year. Stubblefield had just seven sacks in three seasons.
“That chapter of my career is over, those chapters are done,” Stubblefield said with a laugh, dismissing his disappointing career in Washington with a wave of the hand. “I’m moving on.”
Although Stubblefield whom three years ago was an unrestricted free agent and was looking for money and got it, what he did not account for though was inner happiness. And he seems to have found that once again with his return to San Francisco.
“You should have seen him when he worked out here,” said one insider with the 49er’s. “He looked like the old Dana, smiling from ear to ear and dropping in to visit offices.”
With Dana the 49er defense was once one of the most feared in the league since his departure it has never been quite the same. They initially felt like they found a suitable replacement for Stubblefield with the vastly underrated Junior Bryant, but Bryant’s career could be over after suffering a disk injury that kept him out of all but two games last season.
Last season Brentson Buckner played well in Bryant’s place; with up to seven sacks or as you will know as many as Stubblefield had in three seasons with the Redskins. He did a solid job in that position and stayed injury free and showed great intensity.
But when Buckner became an unrestricted free agent, the 49er’s chose to concentrate on Stubblefield almost immediately after Washington cut him. In all likelihood you probably would have to if you view highlight reels of both these guys. Without a doubt, Buckner is not the player Stubblefield is when he is on his game.
The NFL buzzards all swooped down on Stubblefield as his career turned soar in Washington; they felt that Stubblefield had become complacent when he signed a megabucks deal with Washington. However real analysis has shown that he actually suffered from the loss of Bryant Young, one of the game's best at his position. When Stubblefield and Young were together there was in my opinion no better combination of defensive tackles in the league as a whole.
Because Young requires double and sometimes even triple teaming, there’s a whole lot of room for his partner to maneuver, and the sack totals of Stubblefield, Bryant and Buckner the past four seasons will serve that as evidence to that.
As the 2001 NFL Draft approached so did the negotiations with Dana Stubblefield increase as well as Brentson Buckner’s desire to jump from the 49er’s and resume playing elsewhere. His moment came on April 21st, 2001 when just a few hours before the beginning of the draft was about to commence he reached a contract agreement with the Carolina Panthers.
Brentson Buckner signed a three-year contract with Carolina, At 29-years old he resurrected his flagging career last season with the San Francisco 49er’s starting all 16 games and notching career highs in both tackles (55) and sacks (seven). A six foot and two inches and 310-pounds he plays with emotion, Buckner entered the league as a second-round choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1994.
Buckner was a former Clemson standout that played well at the outset of his NFL career, then slumped by his third season and was waived by the Steelers in the summer of 1997. Buckner then played one year in Cincinnati (1997) before signing with the 49er’s as a free agent in 1998.
Many critic’s and scouts were surprised Buckner had not drawn more interest in free agency and several considered him a better player than some of the more high-profile defensive tackles who have switched teams. The 49er’s made a push to re-sign Buckner, but the parties never could come to an agreement.
The Carolina Panthers quietly brought in Buckner for a visit and coaches were so impressed with his conditioning and commitment, the push was on to sign him. After the deal was struck the weight was instantly shifted onto the 49er’s to sign Dana Stubblefield even more.
The urgency was real and General Manager Bill Walsh and Head Coach Steve Mariucci went hard at work to find a way to accomplish this task. On April 26th three days after the NFL Draft a deal was struck to bring Dana Stubblefield back home to San Francisco.
Stubblefield signed a six-year, $29.227 million contract that Thursday with the 49er’s. He is convinced he and his close friend again can become the league’s most formidable inside duo.
“It’s something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time and something I thought would never happen again.” Stubblefield, 30, said. “The deal’s done and now we can finally get on to having some fun.”
“Bryant Young and Dana made the best (defensive tackle) combination in all of football at one time, not too many years ago,” 49er’s General Manager Bill Walsh said. “They’re young men with careers ahead of them. We feel we’ll have as good as or the best combination of two defensive tackles in all of football with these two men.”
Stubblefield will instantly step into the starting lineup where Brentson Buckner was last season, who signed with the Carolina Panthers just hours before the draft was about to commence. Many fans in the 49er sense were upset at the way Buckner was ignored and brushed aside when Stubblefield came onto the scene, it seems that wave of disappointment has started to ebb now.
“Dana, to me, is in a classification of great players,” Walsh said. “Brentson Buckner will do an excellent job in Carolina, I’m happy for him and for (Carolina coach) George Seifert. But we have acquired one of the great players in football. He has proven that.”
Dana and Bryant remain optimistic and friends even when Dana left the friendship still remained, the three years apart has not been a picnic for either player. In their first year apart, both suffered season-ending injuries. Stubblefield’s knee was injured mid-way through the 1998 season, and Young suffered a broken right tibia in a Nov. 30th win over the New York Giants.
When Stubblefield was struggling to find more positive statistics in the following two seasons after the injury, Bryant Young made a miracle comeback despite playing with a 16-inch stabilizing rod in his leg.
Just this March, the 49er’s rewarded Young, a seven-year veteran. With a six-year, $37.5 million deal, including a $12.5 million signing bonus. Young has averaged 10 sacks per year the past three seasons.
Stubblefield, according to team officials will have a salary cap figure of $527,000 for this season, he considers himself a better player than when he left three years ago. “My partner, Bryant, and I, we’re both smarter now,” said Stubblefield, the 49er’s top draft pick in 1993. “I’m sure (Young) reads offensive lines a little better than he did previously. We’re both smarter in that aspect.”
What will be the time frame in order to rediscover that forgotten chemistry between Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield? “This mini-camp is all I need with my man Bryant Young; Stubblefield answered. Young’s response: “ It’s definitely not going to come easy. It’s going to take some work, and the first step is mini-camp.”
I believe the questions will remain right up to pre-season time as we will never really know how well they work in contingency with each other again until they face real quality opposition. Pre-Season will determine that almost suddenly as we get a look at their teamwork. The emphasis will be on Stubblefield to erase all his old ghosts from Washington after coming under intense scrutiny because of his departure in the first place.
“We’re going to ask for more (from Stubblefield) than just playing defensive tackle alongside of Bryant Young;” 49er’s Coach Steve Mariucci said. “We’re going to ask him to be one of the leaders and set the example for numerous youngsters on our team.”
We have to be overjoyed at the signing of Stubblefield if but for one reason and that is to shore up a defense that has struck bottom these last three years. Thinking back to the pairing of Stubblefield-Young on the front line sends goose bumps up and down my spine as I observed one of the best tandems in league history work cohesively together game after game.
They helped win a Super Bowl in 1995 and anchored a defense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL in 1995 and 1997. “This is something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time, something that I didn’t think would ever happen again,” a rejuvenated Stubblefield said.
“Now he’s back. He’s 30 years old, in good shape. He’ll be the oldest guy on the defense, older than Bryant Young even,” he continued. “He’s been to the top before. He knows what it takes. He knows what a good defense is, and what a good defense isn’t. And he’s going to help us build that defense back up.”
Not only does the tandem of Young and Stubblefield figure well into the running game equation but it also signals a dramatic increase in the pass rushing of this team. With the selection of California defensive end Andre Carter in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft, in combination with Stubblefield alongside Young we will see a pass rush we have not seen in over three long years.
At the press conference after the announced signing, Stubblefield had a quick answer as to whether he was the same player he was in 1997. “Probably better,” Stubblefield said.
Even General Manager Bill Walsh brushed aside the defensive tackles three lackluster seasons with the Redskins by claiming, “Dana is in a class among the great players in the league, He’s proven that.”
The upgrading on defense has been a top priority for the 49er’s the past three seasons. Bill Walsh has said more times than not that you need great players on defense in order to go to the top, and that has certainly been the prodigy of his administration and the direction he has taken with this franchise. Remember in the three seasons that Dana Stubblefield was with Washington the 49er defense has ranked 23rd, 28th and 29th in the NFL.
In another related topic with Dana was his alleged assault charge on his own wife on November 9th, 2000. The charge was eventually dropped as prosecutors had little evidence.
Prosecutors abandoned the charge less than an hour before the trial was to begin. The accusation stemmed from a domestic dispute in September. “Simply, a crime was not committed,” said Peter Greenspun, Stubblefield’s attorney. “Kim and Dana Stubblefield are pleased that this case is now concluded.”
Dana Stubblefield was arrested at his home in Great Falls, Va., on September, 20th after an argument about luggage escalated and Kin Stubblefield called police. Police said there were no signs of physical injury and that Kin declined medical treatment. Stubblefield was later released on $2,500 bail and told not to have any contact with his wife for 48 hours.
“Nobody got hurt, nobody was drinking, nobody was doing anything out of the ordinary,” Stubblefield said the day after his arrest. “Just one of those normal arguments you get with your wife.”
Stubblefield said only words were exchanged with his wife. And he insisted there was no contact. This incident further blemished Stubblefield with the NFL skeptics and press corps. The media was encamped outside his home for some time and berated him constantly.
The press conference announcing Stubblefield’s return to San Francisco was filled with high hopes and great expectations. General Manager Bill Walsh enjoying the last few days of his position before making the transition for Terry Donahue was determined to bring Stubblefield back into the fold before his days as general manager were over.
“The 49er’s are where I belong,” said Stubblefield. “It was apparent once I got to Washington that the attitudes were different. The 49er’s are all about winning championships and that attitude exists in this building.”
Stubblefield’s college career was a catalyst for his drafting in the first round back in 1993 by San Francisco. He earned All-America and All-Big East Conference honors following his senior season at Kansas. He tied for second on the team with 11 tackles for losses that season; selected MVP of the Aloha Bowl after registering four sacks on Brigham Young University quarterback Tom Young (Steve’s brother). Posted career-high 77 tackles, including 10 sacks en route to all-conference honors as a junior in 1991. Was twice named Big Eight Player of the Week during his career and Majored in education.
After being drafted by the 49er’s in 1993 he was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year; he was the first since Bruce Taylor in 1970 to be honored as the league’s top defensive rookie. He was Team Leader in sack (10.5) and sack yardage (61.5) and had three multi-sack games. He started in 15 games.
In 1994 He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career. Started 14 games and finished with 39 tackles, a Team High (8.5) sacks, four passes defensed and two recovered fumbles.
In 1995 He was named second-team All-Pro by Associated Press. Selected to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive season. Started every game and led the team's defensive linemen with 40 total tackles. Added (4.5) sacks. Four passes defended and one interception. Had post-season Career High 10 tackles (all solo) and one sack in the National Football Conference Divisional Playoffs against Green Bay on (01-06).
In 1996 Dana played and started 15 games, missing one with sore back and ribs. Finished with 39 tackles, one sack, one interception and three passes defended.
In 1997 this was his breakout year as he defined himself ultimately as a big time playmaker on defense with the San Francisco 49er’s. He was far more than just a run stopper, having finished second in the NFL with 15 sacks. In addition Dana recorded 65 total tackles, including 46 solo stops and started all 16 games for the 49er’s to earn his first start in the Pro Bowl and his third overall honor (also in 1994 and 1995).
He became the first player in National Football Conference history to be named National Football Conference Defensive Player of the Week in back-to-back weeks. Earning the first award against Dallas on Nov. 2nd with a two sack, three tackle performance and recording a four sack, five tackle performance against Philadelphia in an encore performance on Nov. 10. He also had four passes defended against the Eagles in that game.
Two weeks later against the Chargers, Dana recorded two more sacks. His performance in November earned him National Football Conference Defensive Player of the Month honors. Dana also earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Associated Press, Football Digest, and College and Pro Football Weekly. He also received the NFL Defensive Most Valuable Player from Pro Football Weekly, and the George Halas Award from the NEA.
In addition, Dana earned first-team All-NFL honors from AP, Sports Illustrated, Pro Football Weekly, The Sporting News. Football News, Football Digest and USA Today.
In 1998 He signed with Washington and had a mediocre season because of a knee injury that kept him out for more than half the season. In seven games he recorded 41 tackles, including 32 solo stops, and two tackles for a loss. He also added 1.5 sacks, 14 quarterback pressures, and three passes defended to his season totals.
In 1999 He turned in a more solid season rebounding from his knee injury. He was a mainstay at defensive tackle, starting all 16 games and both playoff contests. He tallied 52 tackles, 34 quarterback hurries (third on the team), five passes defended 3.0 sacks and one fumble recovery.
In 2000 He started in 14 games and had a tackle total of 39 with 32 of them being solo, he also recorded 2.5 sacks and one fumble recovery. It was shortly after this season when he was cut by the Redskins because of salary cap purposes.
What will Dana Stubblefield do in 2001? Will he duplicate his breakout season as a 49er back in 1997 and be a defensive mainstay for years to come. All of us certainly hope so and pray for that to be a reality.
The 49er front office believes Dana can return to his old form and rejuvenate a defense that has struggled to find its identity ever since he left three years ago. Bill Walsh calls him a one of the great playmakers of the game. If he has his endorsement certainly that is enough for me.
I cannot say I am thrilled with the way defensive tackle Brentson Buckner was treated, especially after he intentionally waited in hopes that the 49er’s could work something out in signing him and acknowledging his wished to stay a 49er.
I will come to terms and agree though as with Bill Walsh has said: “Brentson was a warrior and he came to play every game,” Walsh said. “But Dana is classified among the great players in the league. You’re not able to compare the two men. We’ve acquired one of the great players in football.”
At 30-years old Dana will be a veteran the franchise is sorely left without especially after the Ken Norton Jr. and Jerry Rice exodus from San Francisco. He comes at a time that seems perfect for leadership and raw encouragement for our rookie class; he will also have a lasting effect on our second-year players as well.
I have confidence and great expectations of Dana Stubblefield and I hope he can find that inner extra to give his very best to this organization many will be waiting and watching as I will when I travel there this November. We have the keys now all we have to do is drive the car for a defense that has been ridiculed and maligned we can show the world that the 49er’s are investing towards being a playoff contender.