I'll begin these deeper looks inside the Washington Redskins' offseason plan by evaluating the players current on the roster at the position, then suggesting a course of action that the team take.
Position Priority Level: Medium
I think the Redskins need to be honest with themselves as to how much they should reasonably invest in the secondary this offseason. Clearly, they need to invest something. They've let Carlos Rogers and LaRon Landry walk in consecutive seasons. Right now, the only impeding free agent who started games last year is Madieu Williams, who is unlikely to be retained for performance reasons. Although, I suppose the Redskins signed him in the first place due to performance reasons. Cedric Griffin, the team's nickel corner from a year ago, is also an unrestricted free agent.
Analyzing the free agents: Tanard Jackson is probably the best member of the secondary who is eligible to sign elsewhere, but he didn't play last year because he was suspended, and needless to say did not live up to expectations. Anything the Redskins get from him in the future is a huge bonus: he will not command a multi-year contract on the open market.
Cedric Griffin had a very nice rebound season for the Redskins this past year, before he was suspended for PED use. It's been five years since Griffin was a top cover corner. At this point, his reliance on supplements (whether or not they are legal is not something I'm particularly concerned with re: fringe players) is a necessity for his career to continue, if it continues. Expecting him to do more than simply match his performance for 10 games from the past season would be foolish. He's one name amongst a ton of veterans who will be available for the Redskins a couple months into free agency at little cost when the market settles.
Madieu Williams' pro career is probably over (insert jokes about how this was true in 2009 now). It's possible the Ravens might go bargain-basement to try to replace Ed Reed while giving the job to a couple of their young talents, but with the exception of that, the Redskins are the only team that would consider offering him a contract for 2013.
If the Redskins are to re-sign one of the three, Cedric Griffin is the likely target, but his upside is no. 2 CB in an absolute pinch, taking some pressure off of Richard Crawford's development. It's likely that none of the three will be with the Redskins beyond training camp next season.
Analyzing potential targets for release: DeAngelo Hall is set to make $8 million. The Redskins don't have an immedate in house replacement (Crawford, eventually), but a pay cut for Hall is an absolute necessity for him to stay on the roster. I say pay cut because guaranteeing even one more dollar to Hall than the Redskins have already paid him would be the very definition of lunacy. Hall will turn 30 this offseason. He can still play in the NFL, clearly, but the Redskins stripped him of his captain duties midway though last year, and all of a sudden started winning. Hall never was a cornerstone player here, but became offically expendable at that point. And $8 million doesn't belong in the same sentence as expendable. The justification for Hall on last year's roster was pretty weak, but at least his $6 million salary bought the Redskins time. Buying another year of not addressing the CB position would come at a 33% cost increase.
Brandon Meriweather played 44 plays last season, the entireity of which against the Philadelphia Eagles. He looked really good, but again, it was just 44 plays in a blowout win against the weakest opponent the Redskins faced last season. He's currently rehabbing from ACL surgery. The smart move -- and this isn't fair to Meriweather -- would be to release him and reinvest the money elsewhere. But because he didn't look bad last year, and the secondary needs help from anywhere at this point, you can see a situation where the Redskins pay him the full value of the contract he signed last year despite a DUI he got while on the Redskins and missing 15 games with various injuries last year. Such is the life of a team without a strong head of the personnel department (it's okay, you do solid work, Morocco Brown, you just don't have the final say).
The best move would be to retain Hall at the cost of Meriweather ($2.5 million), and move on with just one of the two, but Hall is at far more risk of release because of his salary. Hall would certainly accept an extension that converts his base salary into a signing bonus, but he's young enough where he doesn't have to accept a pay cut: he can get $8 million on the open market.
Regardless, the Redskins need an influx of good players in the secondary, no matter who they retain.
Analyzing the players who will be retained: Josh Wilson is the best player in the Redskins secondary, he's the best cover corner on the Redskins by a significant margin. Overall he had a good season. He was hurt in the middle of the year, and his performance suffered. He played poorly against the Panthers for the second straight year, a big factor in that loss. Down the stretch, like many of his teammates, he was exceptional. He's entering a contract year in 2013.
Richard Crawford is a 7th round rookie from the class of 2012 who showed some promise. However, the Redskins buried him on the depth chart for the playoff game when Cedric Griffin returned from injury. He will not be handed a job in 2013, though he's good enough to win the nickel role in camp. His main competition for the job figures to be a draft pick or a veteran on a one year contract. He might very well be an above average punt returner, and enters camp as the favorite to return punts this year.
Chase Minnifield is a highly sought after college talent from Virginia who has an NFL pedigree and is coming off microfracture surgery and a torn ACL last year. His pro career might be over before it gets started, but he'll have the whole offseason to show he can play at this level.
Reed Doughty had a rebound year in 2012, his best season during the Shanahan era. He's still mainly a special teamer, but is an asset as your third or fourth safety. Doughty always gets exposed in coverage, asked to handle the free safety role despite limitations in his ability to find the football, but gets by as an effort player in a league that needs coverage skills to a greater degree each passing year. He's not a lock to make the roster by any stretch of the imagination, but for half the investment, he provided three times the return of Meriweather last season.
DeJon Gomes is going up into somewhat of a make or break year. He improved in limited opportunity in 2013, but the problem was that the opportunity was limited because of his own early season struggles. If Gomes had developed as the Redskins had hoped, Jordan Pugh is not necessary. Reed Doughty took his job three weeks into the season when he got caught looking in the backfield on the first play of the game against the Bengals. He's got a good mind for the position, but he's not a quick twitch athlete, and like every safety who has played for the Redskins in the last five years, is less effective the further he gets from the line of scrimmage. The reason why paying a veterans salary to a rehabbing Meriweather is so insane is because Doughty, Gomes, Jordan Pugh, and likely even Jordan Bernstine all excel when asked to do exactly what Meriweather did well for 44 plays last season. Gomes becomes expendable if he doesn't win a starting job this year.
Jordan Pugh was picked up midway through last year because he was available, and played a fair amount because Gomes never really seized control of his opportunity. Gomes and Pugh can both cover a bit, but are limited athletically and easily replaceable around this time of year. They become more necesssary in the fall when injuries start to pile up. You can play football without a fullback or speed receiver on your roster, but no team is playing a season without a second safety.
Jordan Bernstine missed his rookie year due to injury. He's essentially a younger Reed Doughty with upside. The Iowa product has speed and hits hard, profiles as more of a free safety than a box player, mostly due to necessity, and will make his impact on special teams as he tries to earn his way into the rotation.
Jerome Murphy played three snaps for the Redskins last season at cornerback in Week 16. He played 29 snaps against the Redskins last year, for the Saints, in Week 1. Before that, he was famous for being one of 10 Rams corners to get hurt in 2011. Before that he was a third round draft pick of the Rams in 2010. His career really never got going for the Rams, and he's probably not part of the Redskins' plans either. But he's currently able-bodied, which makes him the fourth best corner under contract with the Redskins.
Analyzing the ways to improve the secondary though the Draft: My favorite player who will be available when the Redskins pick in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft is Rutgers' CB Logan Ryan (linked is the video cut up of his performance in the 2011 Pinstripe Bowl, two years ago, here's one from this year, here is a more recent clip). I'm not necessarily in favor of taking Ryan in the second round though, as I would only take a CB there if a projected first round pick falls that far (at least a few projected first rounders will be available when the Redskins pick). I've linked Ryan since I feel he's capble of replacing Hall right away, but it's more likely that if the Redskins are saving $8 million, they'll be able to get a veteran to fill Hall's shoes and get a corner later in the draft.
Safety is a much deeper position in the draft, and the Redskins will have their pick in both the second AND third round of safeties with sideline to sideline range. But the Redskins also have more safeties on the roster than they do corners, suggesting that while corner is the more dire need, they value the safety position more.
Analyzing the ways to improve the secondary though the free agent market: the safety market is very, very strong, because along with the name players such as Ed Reed, Ronde Barber, and Charles Woodson, a lot of players under the age of 30 will also hit the market. Jairus Byrd is probably the top FA target out there, but fellow probowlers Dashon Goldson and LaRon Landry join him. And then the second tier is strong: William Moore, Chris Clemons, Glover Quin, Kenny Phillips, and Pat Chung will all be starting somewhere in 2013. That's 11 FAs who can start somewhere at safety.
Addressing corner is going to be a bit more expensive, as there are just four starting caliber players who may exchange hands: Aqib Talib, Brent Grimes, Sean Smith, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. All except Grimes are under the age of 28. Leodis McKelvin, Kyle Arrington, Jerraud Powers, Tracy Porter, and Antoine Cason are all expected to be available, but are a clear second tier. But on the flip side, they'll be more affordable.
Conclusion: The Redskins are probably going to have to replace DeAngelo Hall is the starting lineup. Logan Ryan would be a clear need pick in the second round, but could start from day one. Cason or someone like Stanford Routt might make more sense as a stop gap signed before the draft on a one year contract. Or they could get Hall to shorten his deal to one year and just address the position that way.
But the real focus is going to remain on replacing Madieu Willams. If Jairus Byrd gets tagged, expect the Redskins to shift focus to Louis Delmas or Patrick Chung.
Who plays free safety on the Redskins next year is going to be a major determinant in the quality of their defense a year from now. It's also the one place on the whole team the Redskins can vastly improve their performance from 2012. The key is to not overpay for the solution. Which is easier written than executed.