The defensive backfield was the strong suit of the Washington Redskins defense in 2008. For that matter, it probably was the strongest unit on the team.
It would be great if the team could just carry that area of strength into the '09 season intact. However, some decisions must be made and some major change is possible.
The first piece of the puzzle is cornerback DeAngelo Hall. After being picked up in midseason following an unceremonious dumping by the Raiders, Hall worked his way into the starting lineup and played well.
There are signs that he may be growing up and that his "MeAngelo" days are behind him. He is an unrestricted free agent and if the Redskins can get it for something like the numbers being floated around—about $12 million guaranteed and $45 million over six years—it's a no-brainer to bring him back.
What I don't understand is why Hall and Carlos Rogers are being presented as an either/or proposition. Rogers was playing at a Pro Bowl level for the first half of the season, and he wasn't awful when he was demoted to nickelback when Hall moved in to the starting position.
He has a year left on his contract. If there is no collective bargaining agreement by next year Rogers will be a restricted free agent, meaning that the Redskins can make him a qualifying offer and get a first-round pick if he signs elsewhere. In any case, there is a good chance that the Redskins will control his rights for the next two seasons.
I can understand wanting to recoup the second-round pick that the Redskins gave up in the Jason Taylor trade, and it's likely that Rogers could fetch such a selection in a trade. But it's unlikely—possible, but unlikely—that whoever the Redskins might pick up in the second round would have the impact that Rogers will.
Remember that he was coming off of major knee surgery and that nobody thought he would be able to play until October at the earliest. Rogers probably never will be an elite corner, but with an offseason devoted to conditioning and full participation in OTA's rather than to rehab he could be a very good one. The Redskins should be looking to extend his contract rather than trade him.
If a corner must go, it should be Shawn Springs. Yes, he's still a productive player but he carries an $8 million cap number this season. There would be a net savings of about $6 million if he is released. That money could go to good use in other places, like signing Hall and extending Rogers.
In this case, it would be better to let him go a year too early than keep him around a year too long. All of the calf problems last year suggest that he's becoming too slow to heal, a huge red flag.
I can take or leave Fred Smoot. He rarely gets smoked but he has trouble making plays on the ball when he's in position to do so. There would be a cap hit of, by my estimate, about $1.5 million to release him.
The mystery man is Justin Tryon. He got into 14 games last year, mostly on special teams. Still, he saw considerable action as a dime back and you didn't hear his name much.
Generally, that's good for a rookie defensive back. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the players ahead of him on the depth chart, Tryon just may get a chance to show what he can do in 2009.