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More 2019 free agents: safeties

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Can safety actually be a position of need for the Redskins again?

Chicago Bears v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Redskins have an... interesting situation at safety in 2019.

D.J. Swearinger

Following a straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back public outburst in December, the Redskins finally released their highly vocal “team leader”, D.J. Swearinger, who was promptly claimed off waivers by his old team, the Cardinals.

Montae Nicholson

The Redskins promising young player, Montae Nicholson, was caught on camera engaged in a drunken public brawl/beatdown that resulted in a very prompt suspension by the Redskins and a move to the Commissioner’s Exempt List.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

At the trade deadline, the team traded a 4th round draft pick for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who got mixed reviews in his half-season with the team. Unless the team re-signs him prior to the 13th of March, he will become a free agent, and the Redskins will have to cross their fingers and hope for a 2020 compensatory pick to replace the 2019 pick they gave up for his 9 games as a Redskin.

247 Sports recently wrote an detailed article about the situation facing the Redskins with regard to Clinton-DIx:

The Washington Redskins have some tough decision to make in free agency, and the question whether to re-sign safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is one of them.

The 26-year-old safety has recorded 355 total tackles and 14 interceptions since entering the league in 2014, and is a player who has played well, but can still potentially take another step forward. The decision to re-sign Clinton-Dix is a difficult one for several reasons. The Redskins don’t have a lot of cap space to work with, and are currently sitting at No. 21 in the NFL according to Spotrac, and the safety is also due for a fairly large extension.

The article used Spotrac as a reference in identifying the market value of HHCD in this year’s free agent period at 5 years, $49.5m ($9.9m per year).

Clinton-Dix had a decent 2018 season. In seven games with the Green Bay Packers, he recorded just 24 total tackles but also picked off three passes. Clinton-Dix didn’t have a major impact on the Redskins in his nine games rocking the burgundy and gold, but he did rack up 56 total tackles. He recorded just three passes defensed and zero interceptions, but was playing for a team that was decimated by injuries. It’s hard to judge anyone on the Redskins from just last year.

The Packers somewhat dumped Clinton-Dix at the trade deadline last year for a fourth-round pick instead of dealing with his expiring contract this offseason. The Redskins needed help in the secondary and they love Alabama players, so it seemed like a perfect match.

Clinton-Dix is a mature player who understood the situation he was up against last year.

“Right now, I’m playing each and every game like it’s my last,” Clinton-Dix said during one of his last weeks as a Packer. “I don’t think I’m going to be here next year. That’s how I look at it. I’m just being honest with myself. You’ve got to play it game-by-game, whether we’re losing by 60 points, you’ve got to go out there and perform. This is my biggest interview of my career. So I’ve got to perform, regardless of what the record says.”

The Pro Bowl safety won fans over in his introductory press conference in Washington. He came across as motivated, and said all of the right things you want to hear from a potential leader of your defense.

“Check this out. Alright? I got practice in about an hour. I came here to play. I came here to work. And even if that’s on special teams or just helping to contribute to this team any way I can, then No. 20’s gonna be suited up this weekend, and you can bet that.”

I think the Redskins should work out a deal with Clinton-Dix. While I understand that cap space is an issue, he has the potential to be a top safety in the NFL and the Redskins are still thin in the secondary, especially at safety. With the release of D.J. Swearinger and Montae Nicholson’s arrest, keeping Clinton-Dix seems like a must.

Remaining 2018 Redskins depth chart

  • Deshazor Everett
  • Troy Apke
  • Jeremy Reaves

The 2019 Free Agent Market

Back in mid-January, I posted an look at the top free agent safeties in the market this off-season:

  • Landon Collins
  • Earl Thomas
  • Lamarcus Joyner
  • Tyrann Mathieu
  • Adrian Amos
  • Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

As far as I know, none of them has been taken off the market by being re-signed by their 2018 team in the intervening 6 weeks.

Today, I want to try to round out the list by looking at the other seven guys mentioned in the tweet above:

  • Clayton Geathers
  • Glover Quin
  • Tre Boston
  • Kenny Vaccaro
  • George Iloka
  • Jimmy Ward
  • Adrian Phillips

For reference, I thought I’d reprint the top safety salaries in the 2018 season listed on OverTheCap:

Clayton Geathers

  • Height: 6’2”
  • Weight: 220
  • Age: 26
  • 2018 team: Colts
  • Entry to league: 4th round, 2015 draft, Indianapolis
Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Just two weeks ago, Ryan Stano wrote, on Fansided, an analysis of Geathers, his role with the Colts, and his opinion about the Colts re-signing the safety they drafted in 2015:

Clayton Geathers is one the Colts’ starting safeties. He even had the best year of his career in 2018, posting 89 tackles and a forced fumble. He also started the most games he ever has, starting 12. But injuries continue to be a big issue for the young safety.

Geathers has yet to play a full season in the NFL, and only played in 14 games the past two years before 2018. Geathers missed four games this year and always seemed to find his way on the injury report when he was able to play.

Injuries are the big question for Geathers. He was finally healthy enough to show what he could do in a starting role this year, and was pretty good. Although he has yet to record an interception in his career, his tackling ability is key in the Colts stopping the run.

But you have to stay on the field to be productive. Being perpetually injured doesn’t help the team. This is going to be Geathers’ first non-rookie deal. He won’t be too expensive because of his injury history, which could work in the Colts’ favor. But do they want to go down that road again?

Having one of your safeties not be able to track the ball well in the passing game isn’t conducive to today’s NFL. You need to be a complete player at that position. If I were making the decisions, I would sign Geathers to a one year deal at best to prove he can stay healthy.

Even in that one year deal, I’m not sure you commit to him as your starting safety. He is still young, but hasn’t shown the ability to grow within a system. He still hasn’t made the leap yet. But depth is a premium in the league, so signing him to a one year deal could help with that.

A safety who averages 10 games per season? This doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that the Redskins need. The only way I would want to see Washington sign Geathers would be on a low-dollar contract with upside for staying healthy and playing in games.

Glover Quin

  • Height: 6’0”
  • Weight: 207
  • Age: 33
  • 2018 team: Lions
  • Entry to league: 4th round, 2009, Houston
Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

I’m gonna keep this one short and sweet. Glover Quin is a good football player, but the Redskins do not need to be signing a 33-year-old safety at the end of his career.

Full stop.

Here’s an excerpt from an article on his recent release from the Lions:

Glover Quin’s run in Detroit is over after six seasons.

Quin originally signed a five-year $23.5 million deal in Detroit after playing out his rookie contract in Houston. In 2017, the Lions handed the 2014 Pro Bowler a two-year contract extension worth $13 million, with $9.5 million guaranteed.

Detroit will save $6.25 million on the salary cap by dumping Quin while taking just a $1.67 million dead money hit.

Tre Boston

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In January last year, I wrote a detailed profile of Tre Boston, as I felt that he could be a high-priority target for the Redskins. To read that detailed profile, click here.

One key takeaway from last year’s research was that Tre Boston’s best comparison seemed to be D.J. Swearinger, who played well for the Redskins for two seasons.

Is there a chance that Boston could easily slip into the role left empty by Swearinger’s late season release?

From the 2018 article:

Here’s what one writer on the Chargers website, Bolts From The Blue, had to say about Boston when he signed with the Chargers as a free agent last off-season.

“While there is reason to be excited about Boston’s arrival, I don’t think the team views him as a one-stop-shop for all that ails them at the position – and they shouldn’t.

Boston is the instinctive, rangy, gambling free safety. He recognizes route combinations, has a knack for undercutting routes between the hash marks, and flashes above average ball skills. That said, he takes awful angles in the run game, is slow to diagnose running plays, and generally looks to avoid blockers and ball carriers as a run defender. Doesn’t sound like someone you want on the field in the base defense, does it? That’s why I suspect he will mainly play in sub packages (second and long, third and long), where he can focus on doing what he does best without putting him in a position to hurt the team with the things he doesn’t do well.”

It’s probably fair to say that Boston delivered more than most Chargers fans expected when he signed with them last year.

In 2018, he is likely to find an increased demand for his services.

Statistically comparable player

When I went looking for a statistical comparison for Tre Boston for 2017, I was surprised to find that the best comparison I could find was with the Redskins own D.J. Swearinger.

Tackles

  • Boston 79
  • Swearinger 79

Passes Defended (incl INTs)

  • Boston 13
  • Swearinger 14

Interceptions

  • Boston 5
  • Swearinger 4

In fact, the similarities between Swearinger and Boston go beyond 2017 statistics. Swearinger was inconsistent at the start of his career, bouncing from the Texans, to the Buccaneers, to the Cardinals. It wasn’t until the 2016 season with Arizona that Swearinger started to make people believe in his on-field play and his maturity.

As a Redskin last year, D.J. put up his best-ever numbers, posting highs in tackles, passes defended, and INTs, was voted defensive captain, and was a vocal leader on the team.

It may be that Tre Boston, similar to Swearinger, is set to finally deliver consistent quality performance year after year.

A recent article about Boston was published by a writer that knew him well when Boston’s 2018 team, the Cardinals, visited he previous team, the Chargers:

For all that’s been up and down in Wilks’ first year as Arizona Cardinals coach, a steadying force in the backend of his defense has been Tre Boston, the safety who felt the chill of that market.

Boston met with the team as a free agent in May and had enough time between then and finally signing with Arizona in July to call the Cardinals’ first offer disrespectful. Once the reality of the lack of offers hit him before training camp began, he vowed upon arriving to play himself into a big pay-day after inking a one-year deal.

The safety is backing that promise up through 10 games, and as his Cardinals prepare for a Sunday meeting with his former team, the Los Angeles Chargers.

“It’s been great,” Wilks said of Boston’s eight games, where he’s tallied 59 tackles, seven passes defensed and a team-leading three interceptions. “Tre is definitely an extension of my voice. Sometimes I think he’s trying to mimic me in some of the things he’s saying on the field.”

Boston spent 2014-16 playing for Wilks with the Carolina Panthers, but his best statistic season came last year with the Chargers. He was second on Los Angeles’ roster with 79 tackles, added eight passes defensed and led the squad with five picks.

Boston has become the loudest — by volume — voice in the Cardinals’ locker room. He’s lightened the mood for the 2-8 team while at his free safety spot stamping out big plays for a defense that hasn’t put together more than a two-game stretch of consistency.

I see Tre Boston as an easy fit in the Redskins defense, seamlessly taking over the role that Swearinger played with Washington last year. Ironically, Boston’s spot in Arizona may be redundant because it was the Cardinals who picked up Swearinger off of waivers in December.

It’s true that Boston is looking for a big payday, and the Redskins are a bit tight on cap room, but the 5-year veteran is entering the prime of his career, meaning that the Redskins could offer him an attractive 4-year contract, meaning that there would be room to do some “structuring” to lighten the 2019 cap hit.

Also, while Tre Boston will be looking to get paid, there are 32 NFL teams, at least 13 quality free agent safeties, and the NFL draft in April. He may find the market for his services (monetarily speaking) as cool this off-season as it was for most safeties last off-season.

Kenny Vaccaro

NFL: New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Similar to Tre Boston, Kenny Vaccaro was a free agent safety in 2018 when the free agent safety market was, to put it mildly, “soft”. Like Boston, Vaccaro signed a one-year deal, vowing to re-enter the free agent market in 2019 looking for a big payday. These decisions have helped swell the FA safety market this season, meaning that these quality players may, once again, face a limited willingness from NFL front officew to pay big dollars for their services.

Because Vaccaro was one of the top free agents at a position of need for the Redskins, I posted a profile on him at this time last season.

Last year’s profile suggested that Vaccaro was likely to get a contract worth about $7m per season. That was before it became obvious that he bottom had fallen out of the FA safety market in 2018. He eventually signed a one-year contract with the Titans for $1.475m.

A player who, when he was drafted in the first round of the 2013 draft, could have expected to be making four or five times as much money as his ‘18 contract paid him could be looking for a blockbuster deal that will make up the difference, but after last year’s sobering market, he could equally well be desperate to secure any decent offer early.

Vaccaro has played 16 games only once in his career. Despite playing more games (13) last season than he did in either ‘16 or ‘17, he regressed statistically. Of course, he was playing on a Saints defense that may have offered more opportunities to a free safety than the solid Titans unit might have provided last year.

Aside from routinely missing a few games every year, Vaccaro looks like an ideal player for the Redskins; he’s been in the league one year longer than Tre Boston, and this is likely his last chance to sign a truly lucrative contract, which may make him greedy, but may also make him desperate. I wouldn’t break the bank for him, but if he could be signed on a contract of around 3 years, at between $4m and $6.5m per year, I would think he’d be an attractive option for the Redskins.

George Iloka

  • Height: 6’4”
  • Weight: 225
  • Age: 28
  • 2018 team: Vikings
  • Entry to league: 5th round, 2012, Cincinnati
Arizona Cardinals v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Compared to a player like Vaccaro, who has only one 16-game season in a 6-year career, Iloka is a relative iron man, posting five 16-game seasons in the past six years.

If Iloka wants to play for Mike Zimmer, who was his longtime coordinator in Cincinnati, then he might well stay in Minnesota, but if Iloka wants to play defense in the NFL, he’ll likely move on from the Vikings.

Here is an excerpt from an ESPN article posted in October:

The path George Iloka took to the Minnesota Vikings looked like this: Cut unexpectedly by the Cincinnati Bengals on Aug. 19, he moved swiftly to find his next team, talked to a handful of suitors, then decided to sign with the Vikings three days later.

Iloka probably could have earned himself more than the one-year veterans minimum deal he signed in part because he wanted to reunite with Mike Zimmer, the man who drafted him in Cincinnati in 2012. He also saw the prospect of making regular contributions on defense for a team with high playoff aspirations.

That last part hasn’t taken shape. Iloka has yet to register a single defensive snap through the first four games of the season, with his sole contributions coming on kickoff coverage/returns and punt returns. That the Vikings added a starting-caliber safety (76 consecutive starts from 2013 to ‘17) as a reserve piece and have yet to use him behind or in conjunction with Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo is puzzling.

“Doesn’t matter,” Iloka said. “I don’t try to give it too much thought, you know what I mean? My job is just to prepare every day. It’s [the coaches’] job to manage the team and whatnot. I’m just trying to be a good locker room guy.”

Jay Gruden would be familiar with Iloka from his days as the Bengals coordinator, and reports say that Jay and Zimmer enjoy a good relationship after working together in Cincy, so it would be easy to get a recommendation from Iloka’s most recent employer.

George Iloka, who played on a vet minimum deal in 2018, looks like one more good veteran option that the Redskins could consider as a replacement for the recently departed veteran presence of D.J. Swearinger. Of these 7 second-tier options, Iloka may be my favorite when contract expectations are taken into account, though I prefer Tre Boston if salary cap is taken out of the equation.

Jimmie Ward

  • Height: 5’11”
  • Weight: 193
  • Age: 27
  • 2018 team: 49ers
  • Entry to league: 1st round, 2014 draft (30th overall), San Fancisco

San Francisco 49ers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The first thing that jumps out at me when I look at Ward’s career stats is the number of games played. A quick look at Wikipedia says:

2014: “He suffered a foot injury during the game and was placed on injured/reserve for the remainder of his rookie season.”

2016: “He left the game after suffering a fractured clavicle. On December 20, 2016, the San Francisco 49ers placed him on injured-reserve for the remainder of the season.”

2017: “He left the game after suffering a fractured forearm. On November 1, 2017, Ward was placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.”

2018: “In Week 12 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ward suffered a broken forearm. He was placed on injured reserve on November 27, 2018.”

Color me cynical, but the last thing the Washington Redskins — the most injured team in the league over the course of the ‘17 & ‘18 seasons — need is a brittle-boned safety.

My best advice to the Redskins if they get a call from Jimmy Ward’s agent? Hang up the phone.

Adrian Phillips

  • Height: 5’11”
  • Weight: 210
  • Age: 26
  • 2018 team: Chargers
  • Entry to league: Undrafted, 2014, San Diego
Wild Card Round - San Diego Chargers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Times published an article on Phillips in December:

The Chargers see Adrian Phillips as a versatile defender who is nimble enough to blanket a receiver in man-to-man coverage, stout enough to shed the block of a massive lineman and tackle a running back, and smart enough to anticipate plays from a multitude of positions.

Phillips sees himself as a somewhat insecure safety who, despite the praise of coaches and teammates and his prominent role on one of the NFL’s better defenses, is still struggling to make it in a cut-throat league in which security is elusive for so many.

“I’m definitely at a different level this season, but I don’t feel like I’ve arrived, like I’m a staple on this team, like I’m here for good,” Phillips, 26, said. “I don’t think that’s a feeling I’ll ever have, because I know what it feels like to get cut, to get released. I have to keep going, keep getting better.”

Phillips’ drive, determination and complete lack of complacency are rooted in his resumé. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Texas in 2014, the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Phillips was waived or released by the Chargers eight times in his first two seasons before he finally stuck in 2016.

Phillips cut his teeth on special teams and as a part-time defensive back on passing downs in 2015 and 2016. He emerged as a regular in the wake of linebacker Denzel Perryman’s ankle injury in 2017, racking up 60 tackles, two interceptions and six pass breakups in 15 games.

With Perryman and rookie linebacker Kyzir White out with knee injuries this season and NFL defenses trying to neutralize passing games with more nickel and dime packages, Phillips has expanded his hybrid role.

Lining up most often as a box safety — essentially a middle linebacker spot that he seems woefully undersized for against the run — Phillips has accumulated 63 tackles, one interception and eight pass breakups for the Chargers, who are 10-3 entering Thursday night’s AFC West showdown game at Kansas City.

He’s been a sure-handed tackler against the run and a fleet-footed asset against the pass. In a 20-19 victory over Tennessee in London on Oct. 21, Phillips tipped a Marcus Mariota pass intended for receiver Taywan Taylor in the back of the end zone, denying the Titans a two-point conversion with 31 seconds left.

Phillips, who is making $1.5 million this season, has teamed with cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Michael Davis, safeties Derwin James and Addae and slot corner Desmond King to help limit opponents to 224.8 yards passing and 20.8 points a game, both the seventh-best marks in the NFL.

“A.P. is our jack-of-all-trades, man,” Addae said. “He can play strong safety, free safety, nickel and dime. He’s on every special teams unit. He’s definitely one of the most valuable players on the team.”

Phillips played receiver and quarterback at Garland (Texas) High School but said he didn’t get serious about defensive film study until college.

“I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder,” Phillips said of going undrafted. “It’s a tag you never forget because the way you came up is different. They love the draft picks. Free agents, it’s like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ You were always on that side of it, so you knew how it felt.

“But I wouldn’t change any of that because it made me the player and person I am right now. Going through that struggle, even if it was self-inflicted sometimes, it made me a better person, a better player overall. You can use rejection as motivation or a reason to stop. I used it as a reason to keep going harder.”

I’m not sure why the Chargers wouldn’t re-sign Phillips; he isn’t likely to command a huge contract in free agency, and he seems to be a valuable member of the team.

If he signed with the Redskins, he would likely provide positional flexibility, creating more defensive options for the coaching staff. I’d be happy to see him in burgundy & gold, but I suspect he will be re-signed by the Bolts in the coming weeks.

Poll

Considering age, likely contract demands, on-field performance, off-field issues, etc, which of the profiled players would you want the Redskins front office to prioritize if they pursued a UFA safety this off season?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Clayton Geathers
    (19 votes)
  • 2%
    Glover Quin
    (8 votes)
  • 43%
    Tre Boston
    (155 votes)
  • 10%
    Kenny Vaccaro
    (37 votes)
  • 21%
    George Iloka
    (78 votes)
  • 1%
    Jimmie Ward
    (7 votes)
  • 15%
    Adrian Phillips
    (54 votes)
358 votes total Vote Now

Poll

From the list of profiled FA safeties in this article, which one — if the Redskins front office were to sign him to a contract — is most likely to cause you to scream, "Oh, HELL NO!"

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Clayton Geathers
    (27 votes)
  • 33%
    Glover Quin
    (104 votes)
  • 6%
    Tre Boston
    (20 votes)
  • 11%
    Kenny Vaccaro
    (36 votes)
  • 2%
    George Iloka
    (9 votes)
  • 31%
    Jimmy Ward
    (96 votes)
  • 4%
    Adrian Phillips
    (14 votes)
306 votes total Vote Now