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Montae Nicholson and Troy Apke's development will determine success of Redskins' safeties in 2019

Montae Nicholson and Troy Apke's development will determine success of Redskins' safeties in 2019

Perhaps no position group on the Redskins is more interesting the safety position in 2019.

After releasing former safety and defensive captain D.J. Swearinger after Week 16 of the 2018 season, the Redskins had a big hole to fill on their back line. They made a splash in free agency, signing former Giants safety Landon Collins to a six-year, $84 million contract, solidifying the strong safety position.

In four years with the Giants, Collins made the Pro Bowl three times and first-team All-Pro once. He's been super durable, playing in 59 of a possible 64 games.

For a group that has a lot of "interesting pieces," Collins is the "one lock," according to NBC Sports Washington's Trevor Matich.

Collins may be listed as a safety, but he's at his best when he plays closer to the line of scrimmage.

"He's a safety, but he plays like a smaller, faster linebacker," Matich said. "He's a presence in the backfield and the line of scrimmage. Receivers and running backs need to know where he is at all times, because if they don't know, they will find out in the most painful way."

But when determining how successful the Redskins back line will be in 2019, a lot depends on the play of whoever is starting opposite Collins. When week 1 arrives, third-year pro Montae Nicholson will most likely be the guy.

"Montae Nicholson will have the first chance to start at free safety, with some switching out at strong [safety]," Matich said. "Nicholson has what you need there. He was a linebacker in college, but he's got the tools to play safety in the NFL. He's tall. He runs a 4.4 forty. He's fluid."

Nicholson was a fourth-round pick in 2017, but quickly made a strong impression as a rookie. But his inability to stay on the field has hindered his development. He started in six of the eight games he played, but suffered two concussions and a shoulder injury that prematurely ended his rookie season. A year ago, Nicholson started the season as the Redskins starting free safety alongside Swearinger, but a midseason trade for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix forced Nicholson into mainly a special teams role. He had some trouble off the field towards the end of the 2018 season, ending his season prematurely.

Clinton-Dix signed with the Chicago Bears in the offseason. Now, the free safety position is Nicholson's to lose in 2019. 

"[Nicholson's] progression was hindered because of injury," Matich said. "If he's able to pick up from where he left off a year and a half ago, he should develop into the complemental Landon Collins. Collins, the enforcer, Nicholson, the rangy guy that can reach out and deflect passes against tall tight ends and wide receivers."

With Collins and Nicholson the presumed starters, next in line is second-year speedster Troy Apke. In college, Apke started out at Penn State as a wide receiver before converting to safety; he is still very raw at the position.

In his rookie season a year ago, Apke was primarily used on special teams. With a year under his belt, it'll be interesting to see what kind of contributions he has at the safety position.

"He's very raw at that position, but he has what you can't coach: speed," Matich said. "He runs in the 4.3s, which is what you would expect from a fast corner[back]. Put that at safety, and it extends the range from that position. But because of his lack of experience, it takes time to develop."

Both Apke and Nicholson are raw but have the tools to develop. How much they develop in 2019 will have a great deal to do with how successful the defense is.

"The Redskins safeties have a lot of interesting pieces, it just depends on how they come together," Matich said. "If those young guys can develop, their length and speed on the field, knowing what to do and what to do with it, the Redskins safeties will not just be interesting, but they will contribute to victory."


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NFL trade deadline is 2 weeks away and the Redskins should absolutely be selling

NFL trade deadline is 2 weeks away and the Redskins should absolutely be selling

With the NFL trade deadline coming up in two weeks the Redskins front office needs to plant a for sale sign in front of their Ashburn facility. The problem is they might not attract many buyers.

Just about any player not named Terry McLaurin should be available on offense, and while the defense has a few more performing assets, Washington team president Bruce Allen should be taking any and all calls about possible trades. In fact, Allen should be making calls, trying to move players for future draft picks. 

One thing Allen absolutely should not do is give up future assets. At 1-5 and playoff prospects nearly dead, the Redskins are in no position to deal away draft picks. 

The reality at Redskins Park might not be realized yet, but this is a team that needs a major rebuild. The Burgundy and Gold got their first win of the season on Sunday in Miami, and while there were some encouraging signs, don't confuse the victory with accomplishment. Miami was giving up 40 points-per-game and the Redskins scored just 17. Had Ryan Fitzpatrick completed a pass on a two-point conversion attempt in the final seconds of the game, the great Redskins meltdown of 2019 would be in full swing. Instead, the ball fell to the turf, and the Redskins squeaked out a win. 

Squeaking out wins over a hapless Dolphins team means very little when it comes to overall roster organization. And the harsh truth is Washington needs more talent or chances to get more talent in a bad way. 

The problem with trying to sell at the trade deadline, however, is having players that other teams want. Outside of young players like Terry McLaurin and Daron Payne, the Redskins don't have many marketable pieces. Could Adrian Peterson maybe help a team making a playoff push? Sure, but what would that squad give up for Peterson, considering he was unsigned for months of the 2018 offseason. What about Ryan Kerrigan? Good teams can never have enough pass rushers, but it seems unlikely Washington would even consider moving him.

There is one big piece that Washington can dangle in trade conversations: Trent Williams. 

The seven-time Pro Bowler hasn't shown up in 2019 and it's painfully obvious to all parties that he's not coming back. 106.7 the Fan's Craig Hoffman reported that the Redskins won't move Williams this year, which seems crazy but believable given the absurdity of Williams' lengthy holdout and the Redskins insistence on thinking it will end.  

The time to trade Williams was months ago, and it's just grandstanding to continue bashing the team for something that is so obvious. Still, trade Williams now. Get draft pick compensation or player compensation, whatever works, but get it done.

There are internet rumors that Tampa might be looking to move young tight end O.J. Howard and Washington could be interested. If it's a straight player swap, that is worth considering. Howard has up to two years remaining on his rookie deal, and the Redskins options at tight end are in bad shape. Jordan Reed is on the injured reserve list and there are real questions about him never playing again. Vernon Davis is 35 and in the last year of his contract. Howard would be a talent upgrade and he's an Alabama alum. The Redskins love 'Bama guys. 

The Williams/Howard rumor could be pure nonsense too. Allen has been very clear he has no plans to trade Williams, repeatedly, and so far has stuck to his word. Allen even said last week that there has been "no dialogue" with any other team. 

Last season the Redskins bought at the trade deadline, bringing in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for what the organization thought would be a late-season playoff run. Washington sent Green Bay a fourth-round pick for Clinton-Dix, and the price ended up being too high. Clinton-Dix was barely, if at all, an upgrade over Montae Nicholson and for most of his time in Washington he seemed focused on his pending free agency. 

What that trade did prove was Allen is willing to wheel and deal at the trade deadline. He should do the same this year but in the opposite direction.

Sell. Don't buy. 


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The Eagles cut Zach Brown but don't expect a Redskins reunion

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The Eagles cut Zach Brown but don't expect a Redskins reunion

Zach Brown had a rough week.

The Eagles linebacker made headlines prior to a Week 6 matchup when he said that Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was the "weak link" on the Minnesota offense. By the time Philadelphia left Minneapolis, Cousins had thrown for more than 300 yards with four touchdowns as the Vikings routed the Eagles 38-20. After the game, Brown got asked about his Cousins' comments, and the linebacker didn't want to discuss his comments at all. 

On Monday, things fared even worse as the Eagles cut Brown. 

In six games this season he registered 29 tackles and two tackles of loss. He was playing fine, but not good, and Philadelphia's management clearly decided the juice wasn't worth the squeeze with Brown after his Cousins' comments.

For Redskins fans thinking about a possible ZB reunion, think again. Last year, Washington's coaches and management came to the same conclusion as Philadelphia just did. 

Brown signed with the Redskins in 2017 and played well that year. He was leading the NFL in tackles for much of the season until he was lost to injury in December. The team re-signed him in 2018 to a three-year, $21 million deal, but things went bad about halfway through the year. Brown lost his starting job to Shaun Dion Hamilton and openly talked about the "writing on the wall" with his role in Washington. 

In March, the Redskins released Brown before free agency opened. Philadelphia signed him later in the offseason to a one-year incentive deal, and he didn't even last half the season. 

Brown has talent. He's a good tackler and has elite speed for the position. In 2016, Brown posted 149 tackles and four sacks with the Bills, but Buffalo elected not to bring him back. He then landed in D.C. before his eventual release. Now he's available again and the Redskins defense has been anything but stellar. 

Don't expect Brown back in Burgundy and Gold though. The team cut him less than a year ago, and while there has been a coaching change, the smart money says Brown won't be back.