Not so long ago – think 2016 – the Washington Redskins had arguably the worst starting safety tandem in the NFL. Then in 2017, they signed free agent D.J. Swearinger, who is currently trending toward a career-best season.
On Tuesday, the Redskins acquired Pro Bowler Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from the Green Bay Packers. Now football thinkers in 2018 are pondering where the duo ranks among the league's best safety combos.
“It’s going to be something they ain’t ever seen before, man,” an excited Swearinger said in the Redskins locker room Wednesday. “I don’t think they ready for it.”
Swearinger wasn’t ready to comprehend a text from his workout pal Clinton-Dix Tuesday. “Coming to you, bro,” it read. Swearinger, the NFL leader with four interceptions, initially assumed the context referenced the ongoing statistical rivalry between two friends who worked out in Miami this offseason.
Having not checked out news on Twitter, Swearinger remained in a state of ignorant bliss until a text from another arrived. Then reality settled in. “Oh, that’s what he’s talking about!” Swearinger exclaimed.
The trade itself said plenty about the organization’s mindset heading into Sunday’s Week 9 matchup at FedEx Field. Washington parted with a 2019 fourth-round selection for a player whose contract expires following this season. That means the Redskins have Clinton-Dix for at least nine regular season games. At 5-2 and with a 1 ½ game lead in the NFC East, the trend suggests more.
Two other division teams made aggressive moves before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Philadelphia acquired wide receiver Golden Tate one week after Dallas shipped out a first-round selection for pass catcher Amari Cooper. The Redskins made their own splashy move.
"I can tell you one thing, I've been impressed by [the Redskins'] secondary and they're ability to ball hawk," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "Between their safeties, their corners, their ability not just from interceptions but forcing fumbles. So, add another guy to the mix that has a real awareness for the football, I think that's a good addition. "
Even though Coach Jay Gruden downplayed the move as being all-in – “I don’t know what year we haven’t been all in” – the competitive aspect wasn’t lost in Swearinger.
“I feel like they’re really getting this defense right. They’re banking on getting this defense right,” the safety said. “I got some extra help for sure in the back end. A veteran guy, a Pro Bowl guy. Takes a little weight off my shoulders. Takes some weight off the corner’s shoulders just having another veteran guy. You can’t really coach experience.”
The move boosts Washington’s starting lineup right at a point where a change may have occurred regardless. Montae Nicholson, Swearinger’s safety partner for much of the last two seasons, had a “small procedure on his hip” this week, Gruden revealed. It’s unclear if the second-year player would be ready to face the Falcons. The Redskins were already light with safety depth even before placing rookie safety Troy Apke on injured reserve this week.
Clinton-Dix’s presence as Washington’s new centerfielder allows Swearinger to display his “natural ability” at strong safety. “It’s going to be scary having him back there flying around,” Swearinger said.
Better that kind of scary at safety than compared to the frightening 2016 version. Also, better to wonder how the starting tandem stacks up against the league’s best than fear your squad might just have the worst. The Redskins have no such worries now.
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