Are The Redskins Working Without A ‘Safety’ Net?
When the Redskins entered the 2011 season, I doubt they had many short or long term concerns at safety. And why should they considering they had just signed O.J. Atogwe to a 5-year $26 million deal before the lockout, and LaRon Landry, the former top 10 pick, was supposed to be healthy. While Landry was an impending free agent, the Redskins knew they could tag him with the Franchise Tag if they couldn’t work out a longer term deal.
Now after yesterday’s news that Landry would be going on Injured Reserve and Atogwe would take more of a back-up role for the remaining three games, the Redskins situation has changed. Their once perceived strength at the back of their defense, now looks to be a serious weakness going forward. The question the Redskins now need to ask themselves is what to do going forward.
Now in a year where the Redskins aren’t going anywhere, being able to get a test run with the back-ups isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately, the Redskins shouldn’t expect too many breakthroughs using this strategy. Reed Doughty is now in his 6th year and has already made 8 starts this season, so the Redskins aren’t exactly learning anything new there. While Doughty is a valuable special teams player, and can help in run support, he struggles in even a spot starter role. Dejon Gomes on the other hand, is a 5th round rookie prospect out of Nebraska. He’s made two starts this year already, so these last three games will be a nice test. The Redskins though shouldn’t get too confident that they’ve found their solution, as so far he’s been fairly average (even for a rookie), and looks to lack the physicality or athleticism to be a starter.
Given their needs at other positions, it is possible that the Redskins look to try and stick out another year with Atogwe and Landry (resigning him to a short 1 or 2 year deal). But that is a risky proposition, given how many games the pair missed (and how ineffective they were in other contests due to the nagging injuries).
With Landry the Redskins might look to have a clean break and move on. Sure he might be agreeable to a one-year deal, but that doesn’t benefit Washington too much. If Landry isn’t healthy then they waste that money, and starting role for a year. And if he is healthy and has a big year, the Redskins will be then forced to pay big money with little guarantee of his long term health.
Atogwe is under contract and while not too pricey, the team could look to move on. Also the fact that Atogwe’s contract doesn’t have much guaranteed money left on it means that if they don’t feel he can regain his form they can cut him with little penalty. While it is possible they bring them back, they’d have to improve their depth, and it shouldn’t be considered a given.
Now normally you’d look to the draft to fill one of these needs next year, but the Redskins might not have that luxury. This draft doesn’t look particularly deep at either safety position, so while there is some good talent there nearly all of the starting caliber should be off the board by the end of Round 3. Which given their needs at other positions, might be too early for the Redskins to pull the trigger. Now some names to watch for in the 4th and 5th round range who could possibly start early in their NFL careers are Kenny Tate and Antonio Allen at strong safety, and George Iloka and Aaron Henry at free safety.
Unfortunately the free agent market isn’t too strong in top notch starters, and has maybe three guys that would get good money: FS Michael Griffin, SS Tyvon Branch, and FS Reggie Nelson. Of those I’d imagine that Nelson is the most likely one to be available at a modest rate. The former Jaguars bust, has revamped his career in Cincinnati and is now a strong cover safety. I would guess he has the best chance of hitting the open market given the Bengals ‘thriftiness’. He’d be a good fit for the Redskins, and could fulfill their hole at FS if they move on from Atogwe.
If Nelson is off the market (or wants too much money), the Redskins could look to do some bargain shopping and sign a pair of 2nd tier free agents to short term deals. While it would mean a lack of star power in the back end of their defense, it would mean that they aren’t taking too many resources (i.e. cap room or draft picks) from filling their other needs. If he wasn’t injured my top choice would be Jets FS Jim Leonhard. With him on the mend, I’d look to Jacksonville’s Dwight Lowery to fill the FS void. Lowery a former mid-round cornerback selection from the Jets, has turned his career around as a free safety. He always had excellent ball skills and instincts, but didn’t have the 4.4 speed to stick at corner.
For the strong safety spot I’d look to bring in Bears back-up Craig Steltz. Steltz has played primarily on special teams, but has performed well when given some chances to get playing time.
A starting pair of Lowery and Steltz, might not instill fear in many offenses, but it should be a good stopgap option for the team that allows them to focus on their other bigger needs. While it might be tough for some to say goodbye to Landry and Atogwe, it is possible that it is the best for the Skins long term.