Grading the Redskins: Starting over at safety

Grading the Redskins: Starting over at safety
February 1, 2013, 1:30 pm
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Over the next two weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2012 and evaluate its outlook for 2013.

Go here to see the rest of the posts in the series.

Position: Safety

Grade: D

2012 starters: Madieu Williams (16 games), Reed Doughty (10), DeJon Gomes (4), Brandon Meriweather (1)

Key reserves: Jordan Pugh

Key free agents: Williams


The Redskins’ safety corps was in turmoil before the season even started.

On the day of the final cutdown about a week before the start of the regular season Tanard Jackson, who was supposed to start at free safety, was suspended for a year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Then Brandon Meriweather, the starter at strong safety, aggravated a knee injury he suffered in a preseason game and it was announced that he would be sidelined for the start of the regular season. Further problems with his knee would keep him out of all but one game.

The team already was starting over at the position. LaRon Landry, the starter at strong safety in 2011, left via free agency and the previous season’s free safety starter, O. J. Atogwe, was released. So Plan A for replacing them was already in the trash can by the time the season started.

Plan B was starting Madieu Williams, an eight-year veteran who had been benched by the 49ers early in 2011, and DeJon Gomes, a second-year player who wasn’t quite fully developed. Veteran utility man Reed Doughty eventually took the starting safety job and he, Gomes, and Jordan Pugh, who was signed after the first game, shared time at strong safety all year long.  

The results were about one might expect from a patchwork unit. Along with the cornerbacks, they own the 4,511 passing yards allowed, the worst in team history by over 300 yards.

The worst single moment for the unit came late in the game against the Giants when Williams did the one thing he couldn’t do when he let Victor Cruz got past him to catch an Eli Manning pass for 77 yards and a touchdown that erased the Redskins’ lead and won the game for New York.

That was the season for the safety corps in a nutshell. The unit did improve some during the Redskins’ seven-game winning streak to close out the regular season but it remains an area that needs to be addressed this offseason.

Fast forward

It’s hard to project what the safety group will look like in 2013. It is very possible that it will be substantially different from what we saw in 2012.

Williams is a free agent and it is unlikely that he will be resigned. Although Meriweather is under contract and could be back it would be risky to rely on him to be the starter given the four separate knee injuries he suffered. Jackson is also under contract for 2013 but under the terms of his suspension he can’t communicate with the team or set foot in Redskins Park until at least August 30.

Doughty, 30, is slated to earn $1.15 million next year. It seems likely that he’ll be around to earn it but with the Redskins in a salary cap crunch there is a chance they could go younger and cheaper in that roster spot.

That cap squeeze is likely to prevent the Redskins from going after a premiere free agent safety like Buffalo’s Jarius Byrd or William Moore of the Falcons. That leaves the draft and it would surprise nobody if the Redskins used their first pick, which is in the second round, for a free safety who can either start or contribute heavily from the beginning.

Things may improve marginally next year but unless they can find a late-round gem in the draft or someone like Gomes can develop into a solid starter it seems likely that we will continue to see issues at the position until the Redskins have a full salary cap and draft in order to deal with it.