Growing up a Cleveland Browns fan, Barry Cofield is no stranger to the plight of Redskins supporters. Losing football was the norm in Cleveland, so after a disheartening 5-11 campaign in 2011, Washington’s starting nose tackle found it easy to empathize with a burgundy and gold-clad fan base subjected to four straight last-place finishes in the NFC East.
“I understand where fans are coming from. I’m a big sports fan myself,” he laughed. “I know what it’s like to lose and lose a lot. That’s how it is in Cleveland.”
It isn’t like that in New York, where Cofield spent his first five years in the league, making the playoffs three times and winning a Super Bowl in 2007 with the Giants. Success came quickly to him, and he hit last offseason’s free agent market as one of the premiere defensive linemen available.
Cofield could have signed elsewhere, or even have chosen to stay in New York, but instead he opted to sign with the Redskins – the same team whose ineptitude he had witnessed firsthand twice a season for half a decade while playing for a division rival.
But instead of the same old collection of highly paid individuals, Cofield saw the makings of a legitimate organization taking shape in Washington. The change of direction the franchise had taken under Mike Shanahan ultimately played the deciding factor in his decision to sign with the Redskins.
“A lot of the foolishness that was publicized over the course of the years – the stuff that I wasn’t around for – I don’t see any of that now,” he said. “I see a team that’s well-coached [with] a lot of character in the locker room.”
So Cofield signed with the Redskins for a reported $36 million over six years. Similar contracts have been handed out to an endless list of players in Washington with similar results. Be it a lack of effort from an overpaid, underproducing defensive tackle (see; Haynesworth, Albert) or a square peg safety (see; Archuleta, Adam) being jammed into a round hole scheme, the Redskins have missed far more often than they’ve hit on free agent acquisitions.
However, Cofield has been worth every penny the front office shelled out to sign him in hopes of upgrading a ghastly front seven.
On the field, he overcame doubts that he could transition from a 4-3 defensive tackle to a 3-4 nose tackle. Cofield’s athleticism played a big part in making the necessary adjustments to his new position and unlike Haynesworth he embraced his role as a space-eater, occupying blockers to free up teammates.
“[He’s] just a team-oriented guy,” Shanahan said. “He’s taken it as a great challenge and he’s really stepped up and he’ll make a great nose tackle for years to come.”
Yet his impact extended far beyond the defensive line. As the Redskins floundered through the middle of a six-game losing streak, Cofield became a go-to-guy in the locker room and was very open in detailing what was wrong and what needed fixing.
“That’s just the way I’m wired,” he said. “I’m very realistic…We have to play good football and we [didn’t do] that [this season]. I’m going to be honest when we don’t look good.”
Though the Redskins rarely looked good after a 3-1 start, Cofield never lost respect for Shanahan’s commitment to getting the most out of a squad still learning how to win games. Furthermore, he and most of his teammates proudly share in that commitment.
“If you got a coach that can motivate you, a coach that you feel has your back and you want to go out there and play hard for him and things like that, I think that’s the foundation for a great coach and he definitely has that,” he said. "[We’re] not perfect – still a work in progress, but I feel like we’re buying into the scheme and buying into what coach Shanahan is preaching.”
Heck, if a Browns fan can be that patient, then Redskins fans ought to be able to handle another year, right?