In a short 12 days, the buffet lines of NFL free agency will open up for Daniel Snyder after 2 years of eating off the Dollar Menu. The Redskins are expected to show a Leribeathean amount of restraint due to the amount of cap money available, lack of a 1st round draft pick, and amount of holes on the roster.
Over the next two weeks, we will be offering up groups of free agent options at the main positions of need for the team. Carefully examine the options, consider the cap, vote, and make your case for which candidate fits the team's needs. If there is anyone we missed add them in the comments. Redskins free agents won't be included(except J.D. Walton, but do we really count him as a Redskin FA?) so consider that some of our own players will be re-signed.
The first position on the docket is one that has haunted the Redskins for years, Safety. Currently there are 3 safeties on the roster, FS Bacarri Rambo and Trenton Robinson and SS Phillip Thomas. Rambo was penciled in as the starter at FS from the start of training camp, but struggled with tackling and was benched early in the season. Phillip Thomas suffered a Lis Franc foot injury in preseason and did not play a down, and Trenton Robinson was a mid-season signing for special teams. Phillip Thomas is reportedly rehabbing well, and is scheduled to be back by OTAs.
Brandon Meriweather, Reed Doughty, and EJ Biggers are free agents agents this year, and also played a majority of the snaps at safety last season. Unless someone decapitates Reed to take his spot, he will most likely be re-signed to his usual role as starter due to injury/suspension/incompetence. Meriweather's contract was voided, and Haslett did not mention him as a priority guy to re-sign this season, but there are reports that Biggers could be re-signed for the utility CB/S role he played last season. Jose Gumbs is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent, and there has been no word on an extension.
So where does that leave the safety spot for the 2014 season? It's pretty much the same that it has been since Sean Taylor's murder, a giant question mark. The hope is that Phillip Thomas can take over SS position and Rambo will improve over his shaky rookie campaign. The safety draft class is a mixed bag of talent after the top two guys, so the Redskins should be looking to bring a veteran in for at least one spot in the backfield.
1. Chris Clemons, Miami Dolphins:
Clemons became a starter in 2012 and started all 32 games for the Dolphins over the past two years. He has three of his four career picks in the past two years. Clemons rated as Pro Football Focus' 19th-best safety in 2013 but was ninth in pass coverage, just one spot behind Jairus Byrd and two ahead of T.J. Ward. Clemons made a base salary of $2.5 million last year after signing a one-year deal in free agency.
2. Mike Mitchell, Carolina Panthers:
Mitchell had a breakout season last season, his fifth in the NFL, "setting career highs in starts (14), tackles (66), sacks (3.5), pass breakups (8), interceptions (4), and forced fumbles (2)." And he hits hard. Moved from strong to free safety when Charles Godfrey was injured.
3. TJ Ward, Cleveland Browns:
Ward had a great season this year which included 112 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2 interceptions including a game clinching pick-six against Buffalo. Pro Football Focus ranks Ward as their 4th best safety. Ward has also improved his pass coverage. This year Ward allowed just 29 of 49 passes thrown his way to be completed, for a total of 250 yards and he allowed only one touchdown all season. Ward is also a big hitter and he is going to be the top safety on the market if Jarius Byrd gets franchised. There is also a possibility that the Browns will franchise him if they can't re-sign him before the deadline.
4. Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans Saints:
Has experience at both safety spots, slot corner, and outside cornerback. Drafted as a cornerback, but was converted to free safety in his second year. That year he had 64 tackles, 1 sack, 12 pass breakups, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble, and earned a second-team All-Pro selection. He is a young free safety who could be one of the best option in the second tier of free agents to sign for a long term deal.
5. Antoine Bethea, Indianapolis Colts:
Bethea will turn 30 before the season starts, and has been in the league for 8 seasons with the Colts. He will be more suited to playing in the box, than at free safety. He will most likely be a cheaper option than some of the younger guys available and could provide veteran leadership to the young duo that was drafted last year.
2013 stats: 110 tackles (80 solo), 1.0 sack, 1 fumble recovery, 2 interceptions and six passes defended