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Roster move: Commanders release CB D.J. Hayden

Down to 67 players now

Oakland Raiders v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Just yesterday, I published an article that talked about D.J. Hayden, so maybe it’s my fault he got released today.

For anyone who missed yesterday’s article, here’s what I had to say about the veteran defensive back:

D.J. Hayden was signed by the Commanders in December, and then signed a future contract in January. Hayden is an 8-year veteran with essentially the same skillset as [CB Darryl] Roberts, meaning that there is really no reason for the team to have both of them on the roster.

I wrote more extensively about Hayden when he was signed in January. Here’s a bit of what I wrote in that article:

he was the 12th overall player selected in the 2013 draft, going to the then-Oakland Raiders.

His career to date comprises 92 NFL games with 41 career starts and over 4,500 regular season snaps. Hayden has played both boundary corner and slot corner in his career, depending on circumstances.

Early in his career, he played primarily as a boundary corner, but in his 4th season with the Raiders he moved to the slot. When Oakland didn’t pick up his 5th year option, he went to the Lions on a one-year prove it deal; there the coaches played him at boundary corner almost exclusively.

Last season, Hayden got a number of tryouts with teams, but, then 30 years old and coming off an injury riddled season, he didn’t manage to get a contract with any team. It’s possible that Hayden was simply looking for more money than anyone was willing to pay in last year’s cap-strapped environment.

Hayden didn’t join a team until mid-December, when Washington signed him to the practice squad around the time that COVID starting impacting the roster. Hayden was actually active for the Week 16 game against the Cowboys, and played 11 total snaps — 4 on defense, and 7 on special teams.

Hayden is not a superstar, but he is a very experienced player who has been both a starter and a backup in his 8-year career. Per PFF, Hayden has played 1,840 snaps as a boundary corner and 1,970 as a slot defender. He has also lined up as a free safety for a few snaps in nearly every season. He was a regular contributor to special teams for both the Raiders and the Lions. His one game played for Washington last season shows that he is still able and willing to play ST snaps.

And, as recently as the 2019 season, Hayden was considered to be among the best slot corners in the league.

Hayden will never live up to his draft position, but I’m sure that he’ll be hoping to use his positional flexibility and long NFL experience to earn a spot on the Washington defense as a backup corner able to play on the boundary, in the slot, and on special teams.

With Hayden’s release, the Commanders’ roster drops to 67 players (68 if you still count Landon Collins until June).

Without him on the roster, the team does not seem to have a natural slot corner under contract. I suppose the plan could be to move Kendall Fuller back to slot coverage, though I doubt it. Another possibility is that the defense may rely almost exclusively on the hybrid S/LB that they call the “Buffalo Nickel”. Because of the unusual timing of Hayden’s release, I tend to think that the team has identified a free agent that they like better — a player with whom they may have negotiated an agreement-in-principle who will actually sign his contract on May 2 or later to avoid impacting the compensatory pick calculations.

And, of course, the front office may be hoping to select a skilled slot defender in the draft as well.

In any event, goodbye Mr. Hayden; it’s true we hardly knew ya. Good luck in whatever comes next.