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Redskins’ 2015 Offseason Review: The Defense

As we prepare for Redskins Training Camp, an in-depth look at their additions on defense during the 2015 offseason.

 

Washington Redskins cornerback Chris Culliver (29) takes part in a drill during an NFL football organized team activity, Tuesday, June 9, 2015, in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Washington Redskins cornerback Chris Culliver (29) takes part in a drill during an NFL football organized team activity, Tuesday, June 9, 2015, in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

 

Significant free-agent signings and trade acquisitions:

1. Corner Chris Culliver

How he was acquired: free-agent signing announced on March 13

Contract details: reported four-year deal worth $32 million, including $16 million fully guaranteed over the first two years

Age: entering his age-27 season

My take: Culliver can play. The question is whether his knuckle-head behavior will cause you problems.

First, the play. According to Pro Football Focus, Culliver’s plus-10.8 coverage grade over the final 13 games ranked fifth-best among corners in 2014. Also according to Pro Football Focus, Culliver allowing one catch per 13.3 coverage snaps ranked sixth among cornerbacks with 300-plus coverage snaps in 2014. Culliver instantly becomes the Redskins’ best corner.

But Culliver had multiple off-the-field issues with San Francisco, which took him in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft:

  • Jan. 2013 – made homophobic comments to shock jock Artie Lange at Super Bowl media day: “I don’t do the gay guys man…I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do…Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah…can’t be…in the locker room man. Nah.”
  • April 2013 – posted a screenshot of a text-message exchange to his Instagram account. The exchange included the words “bitch” and “hoes”
  • March 2014 – charged with felony hit and run after a collision with a bicyclist in San Jose. Culliver also was charged with felony reckless driving, felony possession of brass knuckles and two misdemeanors, including driving on a suspended license.

Additionally, Culliver missed all of the 2013 season due to a torn left ACL suffered in August 2013.

Culliver’s talent and the Redskins’ need at his position made him worth signing. But there is a history to be mindful of.

 

2. Free safety Dashon Goldson

How has was acquired: Redskins sent a 2016 sixth-round draft pick to Tampa Bay for Goldson and a 2016 seventh-round draft pick in a trade announced on April 3

Contract details: signed a reported five-year, $41.25 million contract with the Bucs in March 2013. The Bucs reportedly are paying the $4 million guaranteed to him in 2015.

Age: entering his age-31 season

My take: This is a low-risk, potential high-reward move given the compensation and financial terms described above. I love that. But it’s hard to ignore recent history.

Goldson marks the fourth time in the last five seasons that the Redskins have gone down the veteran free-safety path. The first three times (Oshimigo Atogwe in 2011, Madieu Williams in 2012, Ryan Clark in 2014) did not work out.

Why might Goldson be different? Well, he was considered one of the best free safeties in the NFL at one point, earning first-team All-Pro honors in 2012 and tying for the NFL lead with six interceptions in 2011. And Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan presumably knows what he’s getting in Goldson, whom McCloughan took in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft while serving as San Francisco’s vice president of player personnel.

But Goldson has reportedly been fined an NFL-high eight times for an NFL-high $252,000 for on-field incidents since 2012. And Goldson ceded playing time in 2014 to rising young safety Bradley McDougald despite being in the midst of that big-money contract. There are reasons the Bucs were willing to essentially give Goldson away. I hope he’s great for the Redskins, but it’s hard to be overly optimistic.

 

3. Safety Jeron Johnson

How he was acquired: free-agent signing announced on March 16

Contract details: reported two-year, $2.5 million contract. The deal included a $350,000 signing bonus. Another $1.8 million is available through incentives

Age: entering his age-27 season

My take: Johnson could be the Redskins’ starting strong safety in 2015. But his sample size is small, as he started just one of 46 career regular-season games with Seattle and played on just 98 snaps last season (though he was graded positively by Pro Football Focus, earning his best grade in his lone start (in which he played 69 of those 98 snaps)).

Johnson was signed by the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent out of Boise State in 2011, when current Skins general manager Scot McCloughan was serving as senior personnel executive.

 

4. Defensive lineman Stephen Paea

How he was acquired: free-agent signing announced on March 11

Contract details: reported four-year deal worth $21 million with $15 million guaranteed

Age: entering his age-27 season

My take: Paea is coming off the best season of his career, as he 1) registered a career-high six sacks 2) registered 47 pressures, third-most among defensive tackles and nose tackles according to Pro Football Focus and 3) received a +14.4 grade for the season from Pro Football Focus. So the Redskins bought high with him. The hope is that they also bought someone who has come into his own.

Paea, who was born in New Zealand, broke the NFL Scouting Combine bench-press record with 49 reps at 225 pounds in 2011. Chicago drafted him in the second round that year.

 

5. Nose tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton

How he was acquired: free-agent signing announced on March 13

Contract details: reported one-year deal worth $4 million

Age: entering his age-29 season

My take: The takeaway is the contract. How and why did a guy who started all 16 games for Denver each of the last two seasons have to settle for a one-year deal? The answer appears to be three-fold: 1) he has a history of weight issues 2) he is not considered a three-down player 3) he is not considered a stellar pass rusher.

But what Knighton, a long-time friend of Redskins defensive lineman Chris Baker, can do well is stop the run. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Broncos were second in the NFL in yards per carry allowed on first down in 2014; the Redskins were 20th.

 

6. Defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois

How he was acquired: free-agent signing announced on Feb. 27

Contract details: reported three-year, $9 million deal that includes $4 million in guaranteed money

Age: entering his age-29 season

My take: Francois was released by the Colts on Feb. 23, saving them from the back end of a reported four-year, $22 million deal he signed in March 2013. The question is how much of the Colts waiving him was financially-based versus how much was performance-based. He did start 23 of the 26 games he played in for the Colts over the last two seasons, and he did play on 60.6 percent of the Colts’ defensive snaps in 2014, so it’s not unreasonable to think this is a productive player who just wasn’t worth what he was owed.

Francois was taken in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft by current Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan, who at the time was San Francisco’s GM.

 

Significant re-signings:

1. Safety Duke Ihenacho

When he was re-signed: March 4

How he was acquired: claimed off waivers on Aug. 31, 2014

Age: entering his age-26 season

My take: Ihenacho is perhaps the biggest wild card in the Redskins’ safety mix. He was good enough to start 14 games for Denver in 2013 when it won the AFC Championship Game but was waived by the Broncos in August 2014. He played in three games for the Redskins last season before suffering a season-ending fractured heal bone in the Week 3 loss at Philadelphia. Ihenacho also is known as a good special-teams player.  He and Johnson figure to compete for the starting strong-safety spot.

 

2. Safety Trenton Robinson

When he was re-signed: March 10

How he was acquired: signed as a free agent on Oct. 15, 2013

Age: entering his age-25 season

My take: Robinson appeared in 15 games in 2014, recording a pick in the Week 2 blowout of Jacksonville. He led the Redskins with 21 special-teams tackles in 2014 according to team statistics.

 

Draft picks:

1. Outside linebacker Preston Smith

Where he was drafted: second round (38th overall) out of Mississippi State

My take: Smith is long and lean. Like Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, Smith will be transitioning from a defensive lineman to a 3-4 outside linebacker. He and Murphy figure to battle for the starting spot opposite Kerrigan. Murphy was solid against the run but wasn’t anything special as a pass rusher in his rookie season, so an opening is there for Smith. It’s also worth noting that he did drop into coverage on occasion at Mississippi State.

 

2. Outside linebacker Martrell Spaight

Where he was drafted: fifth round out of Arkansas

 

3. Safety Kyshoen Jarrett

Where he was drafted: sixth round out of Virginia Tech

 

4. Corner Tevin Mitchel

Where he was drafted: sixth round out of Arkansas

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