One of the biggest issues the Washington Redskins face this offseason is how to resolve the future of LaRon Landry. The free agent strong safety is one of the more dynamic players on the Redskins defense, but he has been beset by injuries in the last two seasons.
The 27-year-old is currently troubled by a long-standing Achilles problem, but has resisted the option of surgery. With his health status so uncertain, the Redskins will likely be reticent to offer the five-year veteran a long-term deal.
If Landry is allowed to test the market, the Redskins could end up losing a valuable defensive playmaker. But if the front office opt to give Landry a one-year contract and the former 2007 first-round pick returns to form and proves his health, he will be able to command huge money when negotiating fresh terms.
In this scenario, the Redskins could well find themselves engaged in a bidding war for Landry's services 12 months from now. It's a tricky dilemma for Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen and the simplest solution might be to look for a fresh start at the strong safety position.
But Landry wouldn't be easy to replace. When available, he is a key part of Jim Haslett's defensive structure. Here is a list examining the credentials of four potential replacements for Landry, should the Redskins decide to look for a more low-risk alternative.
Fourth-year pro Dwight Lowery proved to be a pleasant surprise after joining the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011 and taking the step up to a starting role. The 26-year-old made 13 appearances for the Jaguars defense, including 11 starts.
Lowery has decent size for the position at 5'11" and 198 pounds. Having also played for the New York Jets and Rex Ryan, Lowery has experience and knowledge of 3-4 schemes. He is a good blitz man and has nice zone instincts in underneath areas.
Lowery recorded two interceptions and knocked away eight passes this season. He is a reasonable hitter, but may lack the measure of physicality needed to be the kind of force against the run and box player the Redskins covet.
Lowery is an improving player who is capable of being an active member of the defense all over the field. For reasonable terms, Lowery could be a smart, low-key pickup.
Jim Leonhard is a versatile safety who would add plenty of aggression, smarts and 3-4 knowledge to the Redskins schemes. The seven-year pro is a savvy player with the skills to operate effectively in the box and call and adjust defensive signals.
His experience playing in Rex Ryan's 46-based schemes has given him excellent blitzing skills and his diminutive 5'8", 188-pound frame belies Leonhard's solid and sure tackling skills. At 29, Leonhard would give Washington's defense some veteran experience in a key area of the defense.
The major drawback to a move for Leonhard concerns his injury history. He has been the victim of several issues in the past two seasons and ended 2011 on injured reserve. Like Landry, Leonhard has the skill set to be the focal point of a defensive scheme, provided he can stay healthy.
Like Jim Leonhard, Abram Elam can offer a wealth of 3-4 experience and also possesses the skills to be at his most effective as a box player. The 30-year-old has ideal size for the position at 6'0" and 212 pounds.
Elam is a fierce hitter and excellent run support and force defender. He is also a dangerous weapon on the safety blitz, having operated in some version of the 46 with both the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns.
The downside to Elam is his lack of range in coverage. He can be beaten by speed and fellow safety O.J. Atogwe would be forced to compensate for Elam's presence by attempting to marshal the deep zones by himself.
Elam would be a cheap option for the Redskins and has the ability to supplement the front seven with a legitimate attacking threat. However, he would have to do a lot to prove himself to be more than just a stop gap replacement for Landry.
Oakland Raiders youngster Tyvon Branch would be a superb replacement for Landry. The 6'0", 205-pounder is a physical safety who is at his best when patrolling the line of scrimmage.
Branch is a fierce tackler and an excellent blitzing safety. At 25, Branch fits well with the Redskins attempts to construct a younger roster.
He offers a versatile skill set thanks to good range and instincts in coverage. Branch is also a useful weapon on special teams, particularly in punt block alignments. He would give the Redskins a varied set of genuine playmaking skills.
It will probably require a hefty contract to get Branch away from Oakland, but the investment could be worth it for the durable fourth-year man who hasn't missed a game in the last three seasons.
Due to Landry's contract and injury status, it is not a question of finding an upgrade; It is more about seeking an alternative with less question marks surrounding him.
If the Redskins do decide to replace Landry then they should only consider the safeties who excel in the same areas he does. That means finding an alternative who is strong in run support, dangerous on the blitz and smart enough to handle the underneath zones.
Of the players on this list, Leonhard's own injury history and Elam's age are issues that could offset their cheaper cost. Lowery and Branch satisfy more of the Redskins requirements. They have the youth, durability and versatility to be safer, long-term options.