I’ve been having an online discussion with some friends of mine about the Washington Redskins cornerback position, and I thought it was worth bringing up here.
The Redskins have nine corners on their roster:
25 John Eubanks
38 Cedrick Holt
32 Eddie Jackson
22 Carlos Rogers
27 Fred Smoot
24 Shawn Springs
29 Leigh Torrence
20 Justin Tryon
34 Byron Westbrook
40 Matteral Richardson
Springs and Smoot should start the opener, if Rogers isn’t fully recovered from the knee injury he suffered on October 28 (more on that in a bit).
Jackson and Holt have bounced around the league for a few years; they’re hoping to get enough good time on film in preseason games to be able to latch on as injury fill-ins either here or elsewhere. Richardson’s highest realistic aspiration as an undrafted, rookie free-agent is to make the practice squad.
That’s where Westbrook spent last year, and he’d like to make the 53-man roster this year. The team likely will keep five corners, so if Rogers starts the year on the active roster (again, more coming on that subject), that means there are two jobs for Westbrook, fourth-round pick Tryon, and Eubanks and Torrence, who finished up last year as the dime and nickel corners, respectively.
Some of my friends look at that and are scared witless. At a minimum, the line of thinking goes, the Redskins needed to expend one of their second-round draft picks on a corner. Perhaps they should have pursued a free-agent corner such as Drayton Florence more aggressively.
Suppose Rogers is on the shelf until October, and something happens to the “injury prone” Springs. That probably leaves Torrence as the starter, and Eubanks as the nickel. That’s a recipe for disaster, they say.
And it may well be. I do think, though, that such a scenario involves some worst-case speculation that isn’t likely to take place.
The first factor here is Rogers. We don’t know whether he will be ready for the start of the season or not. It’s being taken as a given by many that he won’t be, given the nature of his knee injury.
Ten years ago, even five years ago, his absence for the start of the season would have been a given. Advances in surgery and rehab, however, have been dramatic. We saw Carson Palmer go down with a devastating knee injury in the playoffs in January of 2006. It was thought for a while that his career could be over. He was back under center for the Bengals the next September.
Just because Palmer made it back doesn’t mean that Rogers will. Injuries are different, and different players have different healing powers. But it’s possible that Rogers will be ready for at least nickelback duty for the start of the season.
If he’s not ready, the team will have to make a choice. Assuming that he doesn’t participate in training camp because he can’t pass a physical, the Redskins could put Rogers on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. If that happens, he wouldn’t count against the 53-player limit, and he would be sidelined for a minimum of six weeks.
After that, the team would have a three-week window during which Rogers could be activated. If they don’t activate him during that time, he would go on injured reserve for the rest of the year.
If Rogers does go on PUP, the Redskins could choose to fill his spot with one of the younger players, and start the year with essentially the same group of corners that got them through the playoff run last year, and bring Tryon along in spots.
Alternatively, they could try to pick up an experienced corner who was a late roster cut, and go with that player in the nickel spot as a stopgap measure.
But what if something happens to Springs?
I’m not going to say that’s not a legitimate concern, but I did put “injury-prone” in quotes above for a reason. Springs’ fragility is overblown.
He’s been in Washington for four years. In 2004, he played in 15 games. He played in the same number in ’05. Last year, he appeared in 16 games. Only in 2006, when he had a sports hernia, a hamstring injury, and, finally, a broken scapula, did he miss significant time, and even then he was in the lineup for nine games.
Springs’ track record doesn’t exactly qualify him for iron man status or anything, but by the same token, it’s inaccurate to portray him as a china doll of some sort.
Still, he’s 33 and increased issues with injuries often accompany advancing age. Counting on him to stay on the field does carry some risk, just not as much as some imagine.
And if Springs is sidelined for more than a game or two while Rogers is on the PUP list, the defense will struggle, no doubt about it. You can’t name more than a few teams in the NFL that wouldn’t have problems if two of their three top corners were out.
All that being said, I certainly would have voiced no objection had the Redskins expended one of those three second-round picks on a corner.
In addition to providing insurance this year, a high draftee could start developing to be a replacement for Springs in the near future.
In 2009, Springs will be a year older, and he will be carrying a cap number just shy of $8.5 million.
Still, I don’t see the cornerback position as one that’s in extreme need. Should the Redskins suffer from some misfortune, some younger players will be called on to step up.
If they have to get by for a game or two with Torrence as the starter and Tryon playing nickel, so be it. Coaches get paid six-figure incomes to figure out how to do just that without getting torched.
Rich Tandler’s Redskins blog archive is located here. You can reach him by email a firstname.lastname@example.org.