Heading into the 2019 season, expectations were sky-high for the Washington Football Team defense. The additions of high-priced free agent Landon Collins and first-round pass rush specialist Montez Sweat added even more optimism to what could be. It seemed like this unit was poised to jump into the NFL’s elite.
Spoiler alert, that didn’t happen.
Washington ranked in the bottom ten of all defenses in yards per game, points per game and third-down conversion percentage. New defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was brought in to help remedy the group’s woes and the first step he took in doing that was switching their base alignment from 3-4 to 4-3 formation.
“It just makes sense to have them covering less and rushing more,” Del Rio told Washington Football Team Nation’s, Larry Michael. “I’ll keep it as simple as that.”
In addition to changing the way they attack offenses, there will be several players available this off-season that could help address some of the defense’s weaknesses. Let’s look at some potential free agents that the Washington Football Team could target.
James Bradberry, 26, Cornerback
The former Samford Bulldog was drafted by the Carolina Panthers to replace current Washington Football Team corner, Josh Norman. He was thrown into the fire immediately starting his pro career, regularly lining up across the likes of Mike Evans, Julio Jones and Michael Thomas in the NFC South.
In four seasons, Bradberry started 60 games and had at least ten passes defended each year. Bradberry also has eight career interceptions, with a career-high of three coming in 2019.
With Norman a likely cap-casualty and Bradberry’s former head coach Ron Rivera now calling the shots in the nation’s capital, this move would make a lot of sense.
What could keep it from happening? Despite never having high interception numbers, Bradberry is arguably the top CB option in the free-agent market and at his age, will likely command a hefty deal that could price out the Washington Football Team.
Justin Simmons, 26, Free Safety
Simmons has been a productive starter for the Broncos for the last few years but he broke out in his fourth season as a pro.
Not only did Simmons tie for second on the team in tackles (93), he led the defense in interceptions (4) and pass-deflections (15) en route to being named the 2019 All-Pro second team.
The Manassas, Virginia born Simmons would fill a hole at free safety that the Washington Football Team have seemingly had since the untimely passing of Sean Taylor.
Washington’s incumbent starter Montae Nicholson continues to struggle with consistency and technique. Troy Apke only has one interception in his career and the rest of the players on the roster at that position will likely be fighting for a roster spot next summer.
Similar to Bradberry, the question here is whether the Washington Football Team will be willing to dish out a large contract. They certainly were with Collins in 2019 but is it wise to have two of the highest-paid safeties in the same secondary?
Cory Littleton, 26, Inside Linebacker
Littleton has been one of the best players on the Rams defense not named Aaron Donald since taking over as a starter in 2018.
He does everything. Last season, he led the Rams in tackles, passes defended, fumble recoveries and tied for first in interceptions and forced fumbles.
The 2018 Pro Bowl and All-Pro second-team selection have been praised as one of the best coverage linebackers in the league, regularly taking on speedy tight ends and even some slot receivers. He also graded as the league’s best defender in tackling according to Pro Football Focus.
Washington has oft-injured Reuben Foster, Cole Holcomb, Shaun Dion-Hamilton and Josh Harvey-Clemons as the inside linebackers under contract for 2020. With a shift to the 4-3 coming, roles could be changed with certain players moving to the strong side and others staying at middle linebacker.
Regardless, anyone who occupies that position be asked to drop in coverage and none of the incumbents have proven to be able to do so at an above-average level.
Assuming the scheme allows him to play to his strength, adding Littleton would surely help the Washington Football Team improve their league-worst third-down conversion percentage.
If they were to make a big splash on a defensive free agent, this could be their guy.