ASHBURN, Virginia — The Washington Redskins’ outlook at safety changed dramatically this weekend with Su’a Cravens’ possible retirement. It’s created a question for the franchise and an opportunity for several players.
Keep in mind with Cravens: He had not yet played a game in the NFL at safety after serving as a nickel/dime linebacker his rookie season. There was uncertainty about how well he’d do in 2017. So it’s hard to say exactly what the Redskins have lost. That said, he had been working with the starters since the spring so they clearly viewed him as their best safety option. He offered energy, size and instincts.
However, he’d also missed valuable time this summer with a knee injury.
But now the Redskins have no choice but to replace him; whether it’s for a month or the season remains to be seen. The Redskins can leave him on the exempt list for up to a month before a decision must be made about his future. It also will be interesting to see how Cravens would be welcomed upon his return. After all, some teammates were upset with his wanting to retire — and with telling them in a group chat Saturday.
Washington’s Su’a Cravens had been working with the starters at safety since the spring. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Here are Washington’s options:
Deshazor Everett: He’ll get the first shot at the starting job; how long he keeps that position will be up to him. Everett has improved since switching to safety in the 2016 offseason. He adds toughness to the defensive backfield and will be a core special teams player if nothing else. In an ideal situation, Everett would be a key backup and special teamer. But he’s been presented a golden opportunity to prove he can be more.
“I’ve got total confidence in Shaze, man,” Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger said. “Ever since Su’a was hurt, he’s been in there making good plays, making good strides, getting better week to week.”
Montae Nicholson: The rookie fourth-round pick missed a lot of training camp while recovering from a shoulder injury. But he quickly showed in camp that he liked to play physical, coming up hard against the run — something he also did in preseason games, too. Even with Cravens here, Nicholson might have been their future starter at safety anyway (Cravens has more versatility and covers better; but if he slipped Nicholson would be there). He’s considered explosive with good range — the Redskins always liked the speed they saw in college. At 6-foot-2, 216 pounds, Nicholson is built well for the position. He’s the one to watch develop out of this group.
Stefan McClure: He was the summer surprise — there’s always one — and up until the preseason finale, it’s hard to say he would have made the roster. But he played well — and it wasn’t just that he made a couple plays, it was how he looked in doing them and what he was doing right. It also makes sense that with the Cravens situation unfolding on cutdown day, they’d keep someone extra. McClure, a 2016 undrafted free agent out of Cal, signed with Washington one week into training camp. The Redskins like how well he moved in the secondary and that he played physical. If nothing else, he could provide young legs on special teams.
DeAngelo Hall: He’s included here because in six weeks he could be an option. The Redskins placed Hall on the physically unable to perform list as he recovers from last season’s torn ACL. There’s a good deal of respect for him in the building and they wanted his leadership (and wisdom) around, too. Hall has been serving almost as an assistant coach since camp opened. The hard part is that Hall was still transitioning to safety when hurt in Week 3 last season. Where will his game be when he returns? That’s what the Redskins want to see. At the least, he’d give them veteran depth. If he can give them more? They’ll be happy. But a lot will depend on how others have developed during this time.
One (possible) bonus for Washington: Swearinger. Though he’s in his first season with the Redskins, Swearinger took charge of the secondary in a big way. He’s vocal and decisive in his calls. He’s playing with his fourth franchise, but he’s coming off his best season and the talent that helped him become a second-round pick in 2013 remains. His leadership and communication skills will help any newcomer playing alongside him.
It won’t make all the difference — a strong pass rush (and a healthy Junior Galette) would help, too. Ultimately, the other safety will have to make plays or at least prevent them. But the Redskins hope other factors can soften any blow from losing Cravens.
“It’s next-guy-up,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “It’s like that with 31 other teams in the NFL. It’s the way of the world of this business. We move forward. We’ve got those guys behind us that can do it. We’ll put a good product on the field come Sunday. Trust and believe that.”