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D.J. Swearinger's sudden release alters Redskins' offseason plans

D.J. Swearinger's sudden release alters Redskins' offseason plans

Jay Gruden had enough.

At least that’s the apparent message upon learning the Washington Redskins released D.J. Swearinger Monday. The strong safety, a frequent public critic of the coaching staff, made another series of strong statements following Saturday’s road loss at Tennessee.  

By choosing this moment and more specifically this player for some arguably needed pushback, Gruden and other decision makers shoved safety higher on the team’s 2019 need’s list.

How high? Putting aside the uncertainty with quarterback Alex Smith’s leg injury, safety is now arguably the No. 1 priority entering the offseason.

Several positions could make that claim including edge rusher, guard, inside linebacker and tight end depending on other personnel choices entering free agency. Safety ranked fifth in NBC Sports Washington’s recent projection for 2019 needs.

To some that seemed overcooked considering the presence of Swearinger, who was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate this season. That rank primarily indicated the concerns at the other safety slot and overall depth, but also the possibility of Swearinger not returning due to his penchant for outbursts. 

The safety played in all 31 games for the Redskins during his two seasons after signing a 3-year, $13 million contract in 2017.  His release costs the Redskins $1.33 million toward the salary cap for next season.

Now that the Redskins are eliminated from the playoff race, Swearinger’s departure ahead of Week 17 is more about the future than the present. Therefore it would seem to reason based on this personnel move that Gruden returns for 2019 despite recent speculation over his future. The Redskins have missed the playoffs in four of his five seasons as head coach.    

Should the Redskins re-sign free agent linebacker Preston Smith, the edge need drops down the 2019 needs list, though more pass rush help is required. Same with keeping ILB Zach Brown (though that seems like a dubious assumption considering his recent benching) and tight end Jordan Reed, though the two veterans are potential cap casualties.

Washington’s offensive line remains a strength, when healthy, but the left guard spot needs a talent transfusion. None of the in-house candidates are obvious starters, but some are capable of filling in if available resources are spent elsewhere.

At safety, there is no backup plan for Swearinger. Should free safety and 2019 free agent Ha Ha Clinton-Dix not return, the Redskins would be down two starters.

Montae Nicholson, the one potential replacement for Clinton-Dix, was suspended for the final two weeks of the season following a recent arrest for his involvement in an altercation. Nicholson also barely played after Washington acquired Clinton-Dix before the NFL trading deadline.

Troy Apke, a 2018 fourth-round pick, made zero impact defensively before landing on injured reserve. Deshazor Everett remains more of a special teams option.

Amazingly, the Swearinger-Nicholson tandem gave Washington its best starting safeties in years. This position more than any other on the roster compared to the drummer drama for the fictional rock band Spinal Tap. No matter whom the organization signed or drafted, the plan always exploded in their face.

That seemingly changed last season. Swearinger provided the secondary with an assertive presence. This season Swearinger turned in some of his better work, particularly early in the campaign, though concerns with his tackling inconsistency exist. He had two games with two interceptions including the Week 8 road win over the Giants.

Washington selected Nicholson in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. Injuries limited the Michigan State product to eight games during his rookie season, but he started six. His size combined with impressive coverage range stood out. Gruden called Nicholson the Jordan Reed of the defense because of how he positively affected game plans.

Yet his struggles this season led to Washington trading a 2019 fourth round pick for Clinton-Dix. The one-time Pro Bowler hasn’t produced at that level for the Redskins. The Swearinger release could swing leverage with any upcoming negotiations Clinton-Dix’s way.

Swearinger’s pointed criticisms Saturday were hardly his first in the public forum. Along with X’s and O’s concerns, he’s been a frequent critic of how the stay-medium Gruden runs practices during his two seasons in Washington. Swearinger, who denied reports that he was disruptive during a previous stint with the Houston Texans, has played for four teams in six NFL seasons. 

His exit from Washington certainly changes the perception at safety going forward and where the position ranks on the list of team needs entering the offseason. 



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Landon Collins: 'You never know what kind of Kirk Cousins you're getting'

Landon Collins: 'You never know what kind of Kirk Cousins you're getting'

Kirk Cousins started 57 games during six seasons with the Redskins and, well, um, it's hard to come up with one word to describe his time in Washington. 

There were certainly highs, none higher than the hot streak Cousins went on late in 2015 to capture an NFC East title. The Redskins closed that season on a four-game win streak where Cousins threw 12 touchdowns against just one interception. 

There were also lows. In Week 17 of 2016, the Redskins needed a win in the season finale to get in the playoffs while the Giants had already clinched the NFC East title. The Redskins had everything to play for, the Giants ended up resting a number of their starters. Still, the Redskins lost, and Cousins threw a dagger interception late in the game to seal their fate. For the game, Cousins finished with 287 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, but the pick to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was the season killer. 

The point here is not to drag Cousins. He was the most durable and most stable quarterback the Redskins have had in decades. He never got hurt, and while he turned the ball over, he could deliver downfield strikes and run the team's offense at all times. 

The point here is to say Cousins is not always the most consistent QB, and that's backed up by Redskins safety Landon Collins.

"Like I was with the Giants, you never know what kind of Kirk Cousins you're getting. Right now they're getting Pro Bowl Kirk Cousins over there," Collins said on Monday.

Collins faced Cousins plenty of times when the safety played for the Giants, and New York found plenty of success against the quarterback. In nine career games against the Giants, all as QB of the Redskins, Cousins threw 12 interceptions. 

So when Collins talks about slowing Cousins down, it's not from a hypothetical place. 

"Pressure. Pressure. When I was with the Giants, I know we put a lot of pressure on him, put a lot of guys in his face, a lot of blitzes, lot of different systematic fronts and stuff like that, disguises," the Redskins safety said. 

Cousins will come into Thursday's game against the Redskins on fire. He's thrown 10 TDs against just one INT in the Vikings last three games, all wins. In Detroit on Sunday, Cousins went for more than 300 yards passing with four touchdowns and wasn't sacked once. 

"Right now he's playing like a Pro Bowl Kirk Cousins," Collins said. "We would say at the Giants, 'You don't know what kind of Kirk Cousins you're going to get.' Right now they're getting Pro Bowl Kirk Cousins, and he's playing at a high level right now."

At 1-6 the Redskins defense doesn't scare anybody. The team has had some success upfront, however, causing pressures and getting to passers. Washington has 16 sacks on the season and the front five has gotten things going after a very slow start.  

Cousins isn't unique. Pressure causes turnovers for defenses. Players on both side of the football know that, and that's what Collins want to see in Minnesota against Cousins.

"That's the biggest game plan: try to force him into mistakes. Right now he's playing at a high level, so it's going to be hard. He's playing against a lot of good teams and he's been going against a good defense. That's probably made his skill level and his play much better."


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Chris Thompson says confidence is a major factor in decision on whether or not to start Dwayne Haskins

Chris Thompson says confidence is a major factor in decision on whether or not to start Dwayne Haskins

After yet another Redskins' loss, the questions of when is Dwayne Haskins getting the starting spot? grow louder and louder.

Many question the rookie's readiness. Surely, putting Haskins in a game with a volatile offensive line would be detrimental to his confidence. For deciding when to put Haskins out there, should the possibility of shattering a young quarterback's confidence play a major role? Running back Chris Thompson says yes.

“Confidence is definitely everything. It’s everything," Thompson said on The Sports Junkies Monday. "For quarterbacks and young quarterbacks at that, young players period.”

Thompson said critics on social media and analysis on sports networks such as ESPN are inescapable and can have a larger influence on younger players.

“We can’t seem to stay away from it [social media] and on top of playing bad, which already messes you up,” Thompson said.

In the meantime, Thompson said the coaches are working with Haskins on preparing him for the future.

‘I think the coaches are really just trying to groom him and get him ready for the future and not really try to push him too much now," Thompson said.