The Redskins not only altered their quarterback depth chart in the trade for Alex Smith, they also shook up things at cornerback by including Kendall Fuller in the deal. Where does the trade leave that area of the defense?
The cornerback position was mostly unscathed by the injury bug that hit the team so hard last year. Josh Norman missed two games with a broken rib and Bashaud Breeland missed one with a knee injury. Other than that, the entire depth chart was available for all 16 games.
That depth chart had Norman and Breeland as the starters on the outside with Fuller coming off of the bench as the slot corner. When they needed a starter due to an injury or a fourth cornerback on the field, it was Quinton Dunbar. Rookie Fabian Moreau was active all 16 games, but he played just 59 snaps and fellow 2017 pick Joshua Holsey barely got his feet wet with nine snaps.
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With Fuller gone in the trade, they definitely will have to replace one of those top three corners. And Breeland is an unrestricted free agent. While Jay Gruden spoke positively about the prospects of a Breeland return in 2018, financial realities may make that difficult. Breeland just turned 26 and he has been a starter for four years. His resume will command a deal with an average annual value that will push $10 million, perhaps exceed it. With the Redskins looking at three more years of having Norman under contract with cap numbers ranging from $14.5 million to $16.9 million, they have to be careful of spending too much at one position.
One approach the Redskins could take to fill the one or two holes at the top spots is move up their 2017 draft picks and fill in the No. 5 and No. 6 spots with some combination of draft picks and mid- or lower-tier free agents. Their other option would be to go to free agency and/or the draft to get their top corners.
The ideal situation, both in terms of the salary cap and the team in general, would be to plan on Holsey being the slot corner and let Dunbar and Moreau compete for the starting job on the outside. That would put the top four corners under team control for at least the next three years. Norman has three years to go on his free-agent deal, Holsey and Moreau are entering Year 2 of their four-year rookie deals, and Dunbar just signed a three-year extension. The home-grown talent would be rewarded.
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However, it’s not that simple. Holsey may not be ready to take on the slot role, which essentially is a starting position (Fuller played about 65 percent of the defensive snaps last year). Dunbar is definitely better suited to play on the outside. Early indications are that Moreau also would be better outside but it’s too soon to tell whether or not he could thrive in the slot.
The free agent Cornerback market has some intriguing names. Kyle Fuller, Kendall’s older brother, can play in the slot but he will cash in on a solid 2017 season and command one of the generally costlier deals that outside corners get. Malcolm Butler of the Patriots, despite his mysterious Super Bowl benching, also is going to get top dollar.
But if the Redskins are thinking of going after a big-name free agent at cornerback despite the cap risk noted above, they might as well keep Breeland, who is very capable of sliding in and covering the slot receiver.
Free agency starts in about five weeks and we will have a much better indication of the team’s plans at cornerback after that.