The Redskins can’t be accused of completely neglecting the safety position the past two offseasons. Last year they spent two of their seven draft picks on the position, taking Phillip Thomas in the fourth round and Bacarri Rambo in the sixth. This year they brought back Brandon Meriweather and signed veteran Ryan Clark.
As Redskins fans well know, the position remains unsettled. They could have done more in free agency. Some thought they should have made a bigger effort to land the Bills’ Jairus Byrd, who landed with the Saints, or Carolina’s Mike Mitchell, who ended up signing with the Steelers.
But they chose not to spend heavily at the position and instead brought back Meriweather, who started at safety last year, and signed Clark, who started for the Redskins in 2004-2005 before moving on to the Steelers.
Clark lined up alongside Sean Taylor during the two seasons that Clark was here. Since Clark left, the Redskins have not had the same two primary starters at safety in any two seasons. There are the two safeties with the most starts for the Redskins each season since 2006:
2006: Sean Taylor, Adam Archuleta
2007: Taylor, LaRon Landry
2008: Landry, Chris Horton
2009: Landry, Reed Doughty
2010: Landry, Kareem Moore
2011: Doughty, Landry, O. J. Atogwe (Landry and Atogwe started 8 games each)
2012: Doughty, Madieu Williams
2013: Doughty, Brandon Meriweather
The Redskins have had some bad luck at the position, most notably the tragic loss of Taylor in 2007. Atogwe and Meriweather both had fairly healthy NFL careers before coming to Washington and suffering from some injury woes. It looked like Tanard Jackson was going to be a decent stopgap before he was suspended for substance abuse. Thomas was slated for a big role last year, perhaps even a starting job, before he suffered a Lisfranc injury in a preseason game.
But it’s not as though the Redskins have done much to try to create their own luck at safety. Their free agent signings have been second-tier players at best. Since they took Landry with the sixth overall pick in 2007 they have drafted five safeties, none taken higher than the fourth round. By devoting few dollars and low draft picks to the position the Redskins have created their own outcome.
To be fair, the safety position is getting to be very difficult to fill. “To me, that’s the hardest position to evaluate in college football is safeties,” Eagles GM Howie Roseman said prior to last year’s draft. “The guys that used to be the most explosive athletes and were playing in the back end, they’re going to play corner because they feel like maybe at corner, they can play 10 years. You look at the franchise tag numbers, the corner position is higher than the safety position. That is going to be the constant struggle. When you talk to people around the league, it’s hard to find safeties.”
A look around the NFC East bears out what Roseman said. The Eagles did manage to start the same tandem at safety, Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman, for two consecutive seasons (2011-2012). They also kept Brian Dawkins and Sean Considine together in 2006-2007. Other than that, like the Redskins, no team in the division has managed to start the same tandem of safeties in consecutive seasons going back to 2006.
As far as the Redskins go, their ability to solve the problem might depend on trying to do something beyond trying to get lucky with a late draft pick or squeezing another year or two out of an aging veteran. Historically, the chances of finding a solid starting safety with the 34th pick are pretty strong. If you look at the drafts from 2000-2013 you’ll find multi-year starters like Mike Brown of the Bears, Eric Weddle of the Chargers and Eugene Wilson, who was drafted by the Patriots and now with the Texans, who were taken between the 30th and 40th picks.
The problem is that history doesn’t mean much when you’re on the clock and staring at your draft board. Even if the Redskins would like to find a quality, long-term starter at safety in this draft, there might not be one there when they pick.
They did take Thomas (4th round) and Rambo (6th) last year. When you’re picking on Saturday you have to be patient and a little bit lucky to find a long-term starter at any position. We will see if they want to stick with those two and try to develop them as starters or if perhaps Bruce Allen is not as high on those two as Mike Shanahan was.