The Redskins need not one but two safeties. The team cut DJ Swearinger late last season for insubordination, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is set for free agency.
Further down the roster, Montae Nicholson’s situation is anything but certain after a late season arrest outside of a Loudon County bar. Troy Apke hardly played as a rookie, and while Deshazor Everett has long been a special teams stalwart, he’s never gotten much of a chance to be more than that.
Add it all up, and the Redskins must bring in safeties, via free agency or the draft. Jay Gruden mentioned safety as one of the key positions his team needs to address when he spoke at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
During the combine, some sources suggested veteran hybrid safety Tyrann Mathieu as the top free agent on the Redskins board.
Capable of playing cornerback or safety, Matheiu made the NFL’s All Pro list in 2015 playing free safety for the Cardinals. In six NFL seasons, the “Honey Badger” has proved his ability as a playmaker on the back end with 13 interceptions, six fumbles and seven sacks. He’s only 5-foot-9 and 170 lbs, but he logged 89 tackles last year in Houston on a strong defense.
The Honey Badger would help the Redskins, but he might not be the top target anymore.
Since the end of the 2018 season, many believed the Giants would put the franchise tag on safety Landon Collins. He just turned 25 and was named to the last three Pro Bowls. In 2016, he made the All Pro team with a dominant season that included five interceptions, four sacks and 125 tackles.
New York GM Dave Gettleman decided not to franchise Collins, and in turn, is letting the former University of Alabama star hit free agency. Collins will have plenty of suitors, and the Redskins will be in that mix.
There is some belief around the NFL that the Redskins will make a big run at Collins.
Washington will need to make salary cap space to sign Collins, but that can happen. The team could release Stacy McGee and Zach Brown and make about $10 million in room. Restructuring a deal with Vernon Davis will also add to the pile of available money.
Primarily an inside-the-box safety, Collins strength is coming downhill for big hits and not necessarily in pass coverage.
Certainly Collins would help the Redskins. That’s no doubt. But if his price tag gets to $10 million per season, is an inside-the-box safety worth that hefty cost? That’s a legitimate question, even for a player as good as Collins.
In a hypothetical world, Mathieu and Collins might actually work well together on the back end with Collins at strong safety and Mathieu at free safety. The Redskins seem unlikely to be able to afford both players though, and keep in mind the Washington defensive scheme prefers to have interchangeable safeties to not tip off the offense what player has what responsibility.
There will be other options too.
The Ravens released Eric Weddle, and he could provide leadership, durability and high-level tackling on the back end. He’s 34, but maybe the Redskins defense needs a veteran. He would also come at a reduced cost from Collins and Mathieu, and probably sign on a deal that only guarantees money in 2019.
Veterans like Earl Thomas or Lamarcus Joyner might work too, but both will carry higher price tags. Over the last few seasons in free agency, the Redskins have targeted players coming off rookie contracts for free agency. Collins fits that, and Matthieu is one-year off his rookie deal. Weddle obviously isn’t, but probably won’t require a long-term deal.
Thomas and Joyner will be looking for real cash and both players will turn 30 during their next contracts. Because of that, signing either safety would be an unusual move for Bruce Allen.
One other name to watch: Adrian Amos. A fifth-round pick out of Penn State in 2015, Amos had 73 tackles and two interceptions on a very good Bears defense last year.
Overshadowed by 2018 All Pro Eddie Jackson in the Chicago secondary, Amos can also play. He won’t cost as much as some of the other names listed, and is definitely more of a center fielder than a line of scrimmage type player.
Don’t forget too that the Redskins could keep Clinton-Dix. The organization liked him enough to send a fourth-round pick to Green Bay at the trade deadline to acquire the fifth-year player out of Alabama. Clinton-Dix wasn’t outstanding in about half a season in Washington, but if the price is right, he could return.
Of all the players listed, Amos ranked highest in Pro Football Focus’ safety rankings at 7th on the list. Weddle landed at 9th. Swearinger was 13th on the list and Mathieu was inside the Top 20 at 19th. Collins was 22nd on the list, but he dealt with injuries and only played 12 games last year.
Bottom line: There are good safeties on the market. Washington cap expert Eric Schaffer might have to move some cash around, but he’s quite good at that.
The Redskins need to sign at least one free agent to anchor the back of their secondary, and while it looked like Mathieu would be a main target, Collins might be the top of the list.