Over the next few weeks, CSNWashington.com’s Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2013 and evaluate the outlook for 2014. This morning, we’re examining the situation at safety. This afternoon, we’ll take a look at possible solutions, so be sure to come back.
2013 starters: Brandon Meriweather, Reed Doughty
Key reserves: Bacarri Rambo, Phillip Thomas, Jose Gumbs, Trenton Robinson
Free agents: Meriweather, Doughty, Gumbs
Rewind: Things didn’t get off to a promising for the Redskins’ safeties.
Fourth round draft pick Phillip Thomas suffered a Lisfranc injury in an exhibition game, ending his rookie season before it even began. And Meriweather, a year after missing all but one game due to injury, was sidelined for the opener with a groin strain. A week later, Meriweather was involved in two controversial helmet-to-helmet hits in Green Bay. The first one knocked Packers’ rookie Eddie Lacy out of the game. The second sent Meriweather to the locker room early. Meriweather was later suspended for a game after two more helmet-to-helmet blows vs. the Bears.
Rambo, meantime, claimed the starting free safety spot in the offseason but the rookie lost the job after two only games due to poor tackling. He ended up appearing in eight games on defense.
Although Meriweather (two interceptions, sack) rebounded from his troubled start and played quite well in the second half of the season, there were but a few highlights for the unit overall. In fact, pretty much all you need to know about the Redskins’ situation at safety is this: cornerback E.J. Biggers was asked to play free safety, even starting there early in the year. He had not played safety since high school.
Fast forward: Yet again, questions persist at safety entering the offseason with Meriweather and Doughty scheduled to become free agents next month and last year’s draft picks—Thomas and Rambo—still unknown quantities.
Meriweather, 30, played well enough down the stretch to warrant a short-term, reasonably priced extension. Yes, he’s injury prone and will always be under the microscope due to his history of questionable hits. But he also forces opposing players to keep their heads on swivel. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
If Meriweather is re-signed, GM Bruce Allen will need to add at least one starter via free agency since it’s probably too risky to expect either Thomas or Rambo to start at the other spot.
Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd and Cleveland’s T.J. Ward are expected to be the top two safeties available next month.
As for backups, Doughty is reliable and capable. He’s also the special teams captain. But at 31, the Redskins are going to have a tough decision to make about a player they drafted in 2006. Gumbs, meanwhile, earned one start last season and deserves the opportunity to battle for a reserve job.
The key to fixing a problem that has long been a festering one in Washington, though, will be landing a top free agent. Meriweather and Byrd as starters, with Thomas and Rambo serving as backups, sounds like a decent upgrade, doesn’t it?