The Redskins are part of the way through the process of retooling their 2017 roster. While the major part of free agency is over, they still can add a few veterans all the way through training camp. They have 10 picks in the draft that starts April 27. In this series, we’re going to take a look at what has changed on the Redskins roster since the season ended and what they need to add to remain competitive in the revived NFC East.
2016 final game starters: Duke Ihenacho, Will Blackmon
Neither was the planned starter at the beginning of the year. DeAngelo Hall was put in injured reserve in Week 4 and David Bruton was put in IR and later released.
Departures: Ihenacho, Donte Whitner (unsigned)
The Redskins showed no interest in bringing back Ihenacho, who started 10 games. The word was that the coaches thought that he freelanced too much and he led the team in missed tackles with 15 even though nine defenders played more snaps.
Whitner started nine games after being signed off the street in Week 5, a statement on how desperate the Redskins were for any kind of help. The Redskins have not shown any interest in his return.
Projected 2017 starters: Su’a Cravens, D.J. Swearinger
The move of Cravens from nickel linebacker to safety will be among the most scrutinized changes during the offseason program, in training camp, and the regular season. Speed is the primary concern. He ran a 4.69 in the 40 last year at his pro day. Only three safeties at last year’s combine ran a slower time. Jay Gruden said recently that he is confident in Cravens’ play speed; we will see how it turns out.
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Swearinger will line up at free safety. He was primarily a hard-hitting strong safety in his first two years in the NFL. After joining the Cardinals late in the 2015 season he began to play some free. The Redskins apparently liked what they saw on film enough to sign Swearinger to a free-agent contract. His ability to play in space as the last line of defense also will be under the microscope this year.
2017 reserves: DeAngelo Hall, Will Blackmon, Deshazor Everett, Josh Evans
This is a shaky group. Hall will be 34 before the season ends and he has missed significant time due to injuries in each of the last three years. Blackmon played pretty well in six starts but he turns 33 around midseason.
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Evans is an interesting prospect. He was signed in Week 5, cut two weeks later, and then re-signed for the final game. Although he didn’t play a defensive snap in Washington he did start 36 games in three seasons in Jacksonville. Since Hall and Blackmon both converted from cornerback to safety just last year so Evans is by far the most experienced backup safety on the roster.
Everett, also a converted cornerback, played just 40 snaps on defense, all in the last four games. He got a key interception against the Eagles in his first appearance. The third-year player will be an interesting project to watch.
Where can the safeties find improvement?
I think that the two new starters are the obvious path to improvement. In Cravens and Swearinger the Redskins will start two young safeties who have the potential to be around and improve for the next several years. There may be some bumps at the outset but the hope is that they can be a solid tandem.
This year’s draft in unusual in that it is strong at the safety position. With Hall and Blackmon unlikely to be around in 2018, the Redskins could use some depth at the position. If they take one early, it would take some creativity for Greg Manusky and new defensive backs coach Torian Gray to work him into the lineup. But it would be one of those good problems to have.
Locks and bubble players
Swearinger and Cravens are the only sure locks. Hall probably is, too, assuming he rebounds from his ACL tear and makes a downward adjustment to his $4.25 million salary.
The team will keep four or five safeties so Blackmon, Everett, and Evans all could stay. But adding a draft pick to the mix could have them competing for the remaining one or two roster spots.