The Washington Redskins will enter the month of April with five safeties under contract who have experience starting NFL games. That does not include Madieu Williams, who the Redskins will allow to walk as an unrestricted free agent, nor does it include Jordan Bernstine, the Redskins' seventh round pick from 2012 who missed the entire season with an injury.
For a team team that broke it's training camp last year with six safeties on the roster (not including Tanard Jackson, who had been suspended by the NFL), this isn't that surprising. And although the safety position was a major liability in 2012, those problems were caused primarily by Williams being forced into the lineup by a general lack of experience and injury concerns thoughout the season.
I think most observers expected the Redskins to make the safety position a priority in free agency — and they still might look to upgrade in the draft — but given how much competition they entered the offseason with, it can't be terribly surprising that they haven't made a move at the position yet.
They did make one move, though: they reduced Brandon Meriweather's base salary for the upcoming season. The Redskins had all the leverage, and needed to use it. Meriweather had one year left on his deal, and wasn't going to be able to get a multi year deal on the market coming off a year where he played fewer than 50 snaps following two years where he was benched by two different teams. The Redskins don't save quite as much cap space as they would have releasing Meriweather outright, but it's in the ballpark.
That, more or less, was the move the Redskins made in free agency, picking Meriweather at a cap value at $1.65 million over Kenny Phillips at a higher number. Phillips is the better player, but the Redskins are betting they can get starter-level play out of Meriweather at a more efficient price tag.
It's a fairly aggressive move, and it sets up the Redskins to move to fix their defensive backfield issues completely internally. At least at the safety position.
As far as the draft goes, expect Washington to be interested in safeties that fit their system, but with the top three free safeties (Johnathan Cyprien, Kenny Vaccaro, and Matt Elam) all expected off the board before the Redskins select, I believe this will foster a trade down strategy out of the second round, making cornerbacks a more-likely target on day two. For what it's worth, I do not expect the Redskins to reach for Phillip Thomas (Fresno State) or LSU's Eric Reid in the second round. One name I keep hearing associated with the Redskins is Georgia Southern's safety JJ Wilcox. The Redskins could look at Notre Dame's Zeke Motta or USC's TJ McDonald on day three.
However, due to the makeup of their roster, the Redskins are under no obligation at all to draft a safety. They could take their current roster into the upcoming season, and still expect much improved play from their safeties. It's hard to make the same assertion about corners, where the Redskins also have six players under contract, but Josh Wilson is the only one of the six with any meaningful experience. Given that teams have to play three corners on about 50% of defensive snaps, it's nonsensical to try to head into the season with Richard Crawford, Chase Minnifield, and Jerome Murphy as your no. 2, no. 3, and no.4 CBs, no matter how high of a grade each player has. Even if they are your third, fourth, and fifth CB on the depth chart respectively, there's still considerable room for improvement.
I do expect the Redskins to make at least one FA acquisition and two draft choices at the corner position between now and training camp. At safety? The Redskins very may roll as is into the season. It's not what fans would have expected going into the offseason, but there's enough talent lying around already on the roster to make it work.