NFL free agency is in full swing and the Washington Redskins are making moves. Breaking Burgundy will keep you up-to-date one signing at a time.
News: The Washington Redskins agreed to a three-year, $13.5 million deal with former Arizona Cardinals safety D.J. Swearinger.
Aiming to improve their 28th-ranked defense from 2016, the Redskins added the dual-threat strong safety on the first day of free agency. Only 25-years-old with four years of NFL experience under his belt, Swearinger is a former second-round pick of the Houston Texans. After two years in Houston, he was cut and went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was then cut again in November 2015 before joining the Arizona Cardinals for the remainder of 2015 and 2016.
Previous seasons: Swearinger is coming off a career-year where he collected 56 tackles (five for losses), three interceptions and two sacks in 12 starts and 16 games played. The former South Carolina Gamecock started in 10 games his rookie year, intercepting one pass and totaling 54 tackles.
In each of the three seasons, Swearinger has started at least 10 games, he has had at least 50 tackles, but not all of them have been glamorous.
Among the reasons Swearinger was cut by the Texans was because he missed 16 tackles in 2014 and gave up some big plays. At one point he was ranked the 36th-best coverage safety in the NFL during that season.
Swearinger had a bounce-back 2016, where he was Pro Football Focus’ seventh-rated coverage safety in the NFL and was given an 86.1 overall grade by PFF. Missed tackles have still been a concern for the hard-hitting safety, but his tackling efficiency did go up from a 5.3 in 2014 to a 6.9 in 2015.
Strengths: Swearinger packs a punch at 5’11” and 208 pounds, much like his idol, Sean Taylor did. Swearinger has the speed, strength and vision to play inside the box and help in run defense, as well as keep up with receivers like Brandon Marshall and Mike Evans, both of which he grabbed an interception off of while covering in 2016.
Swearinger was just one of four players to have more than 50 tackles, three interceptions, and two sacks in 2016, evidence of his versatile skill-set. One of those other four players was New York Giants safety and 2016 AP First Team All-Pro Landon Collins.
Weaknesses: As mentioned previously, Swearinger has struggled with tackling efficiency and in his Houston days was responsible for numerous blown coverages. His 2016 campaign was a different story, but adjusting to a secondary that is far from the level of play seen in Arizona may be a challenge for Swearinger.
Although Swearinger will get to play with his high school teammate Josh Norman, Washington’s secondary will rely on Swearinger much more than the Cardinals did, but Swearinger seems ready for the challenge.
“I’m going to pick up where Sean Taylor left off,” Swearinger said in an Instagram post “That’s a lot of weight but I’m putting that on my shoulders…Sean Taylor reincarnated.”
Cravens currently wears Swearinger’s number 36, paying homage to Taylor who wore the number his rookie year with Washington. Swearinger has worn 36 since his high school days, but nobody has worn number 21 since Taylor’s death in 2007.
Depth chart outlook: The safety position is one that has been in flux for years now in Washington. DeAngelo Hall moved from cornerback to safety in 2015, but has only been healthy enough to start 11 games in the last two seasons. The last time a safety started all 16 games for Washington was Madieu Williams in 2012. Washington also used former corner Will Blackmon at safety last season and stop-gap Donte Whitner. Duke Ihenacho was perhaps the most constant presence, but he is a free agent along with Whitner.
Follow Jacob on Twitter @trox3.