* With the 2020 season in the books and free agency less than one month away, NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux and Ryan Homler grade the Washington Football Team's position groups before the 2021 signing period begins. Next up: safety.
Safeties signed: Landon Collins, Kamren Curl, Jeremy Reaves, Troy Apke, Deshazor Everett
Safeties hitting free agency: N/A
Entering the 2020 season, the safety position at Washington could be referred to as "Landon Collins and then what?" Besides the big-ticket free agent from the offseason prior, it was unclear who was going to contribute to the last line of defense in Washington.
The label then became "now what?" after Collins suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 7. Even if his play was not great early on in the year as lack of playmaking and missed tackles persisted, he was the most experienced and highest-upside player available.
What was left was what felt like an incomplete puzzle. Deshazor Everett? A strong, hard-nosed tackler that provided leadership and took over at free safety after Troy Apke struggled mightily, but special teams was where he really shined. He also went down with an injury late in the season. Apke? The potential was always there but his demotion early in the season showed that he just didn't have what it took to play the position at the level necessary.
The two players that completed the puzzle and really became the best combination Washington had down the stretch were potentially the two most unlikely candidates. It was practice squad member Jeremy Reaves and seventh-round pick Kamren Curl that got the job done.
Perhaps the Week 17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles was the best example of the work they did, as both recorded interceptions in what was a 20-14 win dominated by the defense. It was the first of Reaves' career, capping a season in which he took advantage of Ron Rivera's decision to give him an opportunity rather than bring in someone else.
As for Curl, it was a breakout rookie year in which she showed he was truly one of the steals of the draft. PFF's highest-rated rookie safety, he defended the pass well, created turnovers and proved to a sure-handed tackler as well. With him, Washington has a talented defender for the future.
Both should be in the mix in 2021 and unless Collins is a surprise cap casualty, he should be as well. Still, it's somewhat hard to get a read on where exactly the position stands as free agency approaches.
Curl seems locked in as a starter given his strong rookie season and trajectory, and pairing him with a healthy Collins at strong safety feels like it should create a great tandem, right? That really depends on Collins can return from his injury and pick up the level of play from where it was at with Washington prior to his absence.
If that doesn't happen, then the questions all come back. Reaves was solid, but is there enough faith that he can be a starting-caliber safety for 16 games? The sample size as of now makes it hard to tell. The return of Everett is good for depth, but it would still benefit Washington to see if reinforcements can be brought in.
Trade/Free Agency Options
The big names at the position are Anthony Harris and Justin Simmons, but their price is above what Washington should be looking for this offseason.
More ideal candidates could be Malik Hooker or Keanu Neal. Both are still young (25 and 26, respectively) and have plenty of upside, with injuries in the past potentially lowering their value in the current market. Xavier Woods and Jaquiski Tartt are other solid options.
Additionally, the league is expecting a lot of veterans to enter the market soon. If some safeties land there, it would be in Washington's interest to take a look.
The draft could be a great place as well, but that's further down the line.
Pre-Free Agency S Grade
Assuming Curl continues to grow his game and that Collins returns, the safety position sits around a B- grade at this time.
It's not bad and that's largely due to the two names just mentioned. Beyond that, the water gets a little murkier. Reaves is a great depth piece, but relying on him as a true starter comes with some risk. The same can be said for Everett, though his special teams performance should never be discredited. Apke has yet to prove that he can be trusted.
Therefore, additional options could be useful, especially if the best-case scenario for Curl and Collins doesn't happen right away. The safety position has potential, but it's not exactly airtight at this time.