This Redskins offseason reminds Landon Collins of his second year with the New York Giants. In 2016, the Giants signed defensive end Oliver Vernon, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins in free agency. They used the draft to bolster their secondary with first-rounder Eli Apple and third-rounder Darian Thompson.
The acquisitions worked. The Giants went 11-5 with a top-five defense, a massive improvement from 6-10 the year prior.
“They helped us tremendously,” Collins said.
It’s not a perfect parallel. The Giants’ trio of free agents cost more than $100 million in guarantees — a price tag that Washington didn’t come close to spending this spring. But Collins said he sees the similarities: a big-name pass-rusher (Chase Young), two new cornerbacks (Kendall Fuller, Ronald Darby) and some safety help (Sean Davis, Kamren Curl).
“I don’t see why we (won’t) have that breakout year that we want,” Collins said recently on a video call.
A year ago, Collins‘ signing was supposed to be the piece that transformed the Redskins’ defense into an elite unit. To start free agency, the Redskins locked Collins up to a six-year, $84 million contract, making him one of the league’s highest-paid safeties. The deal drew criticism, but Washington viewed Collins capable of providing the game-changing impact it desperately needed. “He can play wherever you put him,” executive Doug Williams said.
Still, the unit fell short of expectations. Washington allowed the sixth-most points (435, or 27.2 per game), the sixth-most yards (6162, 385.1) and had the league’s worst third-down defense (48.9%). Collins led the team in tackles, but had just one sack and zero interceptions.
The Redskins’ defensive backfield particularly struggled — plagued by communication issues, poor tackling and bad coverage. It’s why Washington spent much of its offseason remodeling the secondary.
Gone are Josh Norman and Quinton Dunbar, last year’s two starters on the outside. The team also released oft-troubled safety Montae Nicholson, who coach Ron Rivera said needed a fresh start elsewhere. Washington replaced the trio by signing Fuller (four years, $40 million), Darby (one year, $4 million) and Davis (one year, $4 million).
Collins called the moves “great pickups.” He said he’s watched Fuller and Darby, knowing their games well. And while he was unfamiliar with Davis, Collins called a few of Davis’ ex-Steeler teammates to find out more information. They gave glowing reviews of his speed, Collins said.
“The team has some great defensive backs that can be put around me and myself around them to make this thing work,” Collins said. “I’m looking forward to that opportunity. It’s a blessing to me because I’ve watched these guys play and they play really good.”
The Redskins also have a series of young cornerbacks that will also compete for playing time. Fabian Moreau, entering the last year of his contract, started to blossom last year once he moved from the slot to back outside (his natural position). There’s also Jimmy Moreland, Greg Stroman and Danny Johnson — all of whom have started at least one game in the past two seasons.
Collins, in particular, had high praise for Moreland. He said the 2019 seventh-rounder “was supposed to have seven picks last year” based on the reads Moreland was making off his athleticism alone. The 24-year-old was a standout in training camp, but didn’t grab an interception in the regular season. Still, Collins said he thinks Moreland is going to be “special.”
Collins, though, was asked why this year would be different. After all, it’s practically an offseason tradition for the Redskins to tout improvements, only for them to backfire. Just look at last year.
Collins‘ primary reason? The new coaching staff. The Redskins switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme and hired Jack Del Rio as defensive coordinator. Collins called Rivera “stern,” which he said was a good fit for Washington’s young core.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but it was much needed,” Collins said. “When I talk about concepts and rules, set in stone things that need to happen within a defense, this defense has it all.”
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