When the Falcons were preparing for what was viewed as their “redemption season” in 2017, Ra’Shede Hageman’s role appeared to be unclear. The signings of Dontari Poe and Jack Crawford made him somewhat expendable. His roster spot wasn’t necessarily at risk, especially coming off his best season in Atlanta. What was uncertain was the role he would play on a suddenly ultra-talented defensive line. That uncertainty changed on September 2nd when Hageman had been placed on the commissioner’s exempt list.
After facing domestic violence charges stemming from a March 2016 incident, the league decided to take action. The Falcons took action two days later by waiving Hageman after receiving more details from the criminal investigation. Hageman was one of several key defensive contributors to the Falcons’ Super Bowl run. His emergence played a vital role in stifling the likes of Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. Despite his impressive progress following two underwhelming seasons, Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff were left with no other choice. They had to cut ties with him.
Hageman hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016. While New England and Minnesota showed interest, they opted not to offer him a contract. Hageman suffered another major setback as he got arrested for DUI in June 2018. That resulted in him receiving another suspension, which means he will miss the first two games of the 2019 season. For all his past troubles, the Falcons decided to recently offer him a workout. They signed him to a one-year deal a few days later.
Given his draft pedigree and freakish traits, it always seemed likely that Hageman would receive another opportunity. Nobody could have expected the team who cut him nearly two years ago to give him a second chance. It’s a strange move, albeit a relatively low-risk one. Hageman isn’t guaranteed to make the roster, let alone play a major role on the defensive line.
This decision appears to be the latest example of Quinn and Dimitroff wanting to give their guys as many opportunities as possible. High round picks such as Peria Jerry, Sean Weatherspoon, Peter Konz, Sam Baker, and Vic Beasley are players who have been given (or currently being given in Beasley’s case) ample opportunities to prove their worth. Hageman is the latest player to join the list. Here are the pros and cons of signing the troubled defensive tackle.
Between their recent signings (Adrian Clayborn, Tyeler Davison) and Hageman being given one last opportunity, this move isn’t a major investment. It’s more of an attempt to see if they can add another solution to a problematic area on the roster. The lack of defensive tackle depth was evident last season. Terrell McClain failed to make an impact, while Deadrin Senat faded after a promising start to his rookie season. Clayborn and Davison should provide a much-needed boost on the interior. Clayborn will be strictly used as a pass rusher in Quinn’s nickel package. Based on how he was used in New Orleans, Davison will likely line up alongside Jarrett in the base package.
Hageman is capable of being an asset in multiple ways. He can be effective sporadically in base to go along with causing havoc as a pass rusher in nickel. Quinn’s heavy rotational system is at its best when he has a plethora of versatile players at his disposal. That is the biggest reason why Hageman, Clayborn, and Courtney Upshaw thrived in 2016. Each player was used in different roles with Beasley, Dwight Freeney, and Brooks Reed as the primary edge rushers. Hageman doesn’t come across as a versatile player, yet he developed into one when Quinn needed him.
For all the questions about his character, Hageman knows this is his last opportunity. He can’t afford another setback. He can’t afford to play with a lack of discipline or effort. To have no margin for error should only add further motivation. There is no denying Hageman’s talent. His raw power and impressive quickness for a player of his size made him an intriguing option. Although he never found the consistency required to become a genuine difference maker, Hageman possessed the talent to make a difference in a rotational role. Poor technique, gap discipline, and off-field problems prevented him from living up to his draft status. Combining his attributes with the right coaching may make him into the disruptive asset he was in late 2016.
Whenever someone is involved with something domestic violence related, it’s always going to be a major red flag. Hageman was charged with three misdemeanors in March 2016. Although the domestic violence charges were recently dropped, this isn’t something that will ever be forgotten. It’s well documented that domestic violence is one of the biggest problems in not only the NFL, but also the entire country. For anyone to be linked with a domestic dispute causes immediate concern.
This isn’t the first time Quinn has given a second chance to a troubled player. Jalen Collins had a chance to salvage his career after receiving a second suspension for violating the NFL’s policy for performance enhancing drugs. The former second-round pick proceeded to play badly in the preseason and get suspended yet again. While Collins didn’t get into legal trouble like Hageman, he let down the organization in similar fashion after playing a key role in their Super Bowl run.
It should be noted that Hageman was underwhelming for the majority of his career. Teams would specifically target him when they ran the ball. There were noticeable moments of Hageman not playing with much effort. He clashed with the coaching staff at times as well. It became apparent that the possibility of Grady Jarrett and him becoming a terrifying duo wasn’t going to happen. Instead, the coaching staff experimented with him as a strong-side defensive end, before eventually inserting him back inside.
If Hageman was unable to establish himself then, what makes you think he can do it at 29 years old following two seasons of being out of the league? Does it make sense to bring back a player with his troubled background, who was arrested less than a year ago? Is it worth giving a second chance to a player who is largely known for underachieving in a multitude of ways? These are the questions that need to be asked.
The potential reward of signing Hageman certainly outweighs the risk. There is no denying he is capable of making an impact. After being humbled and doing everything he can to prove himself off the field, it’s understandable why Hageman is viewed as a potential asset in Quinn’s eyes. One major question still has to be raised when assessing this decision. How does the same head coach and general manager sign a player, who they gave up on nearly two years ago and who hasn’t played football elsewhere?
Regardless of his draft status and commendable work off the field, it remains a strange decision to give a second chance to a player who brought far more negatives than positives to the team. Hageman failed to develop as a once highly touted prospect. His poor attitude as a player and destructive actions as a person isn’t exactly something that warrants a redemption story. Nevertheless, Dimitroff’s persistence and Quinn’s willingness has granted him an opportunity to revive his career. It’s in Hageman’s hands to justify their decision in giving him a second chance when no other team did.