Most defenders who play strong safety in the NFL don’t typically end up being household names. In fact, for the better part of a decade there has been only one name to have brought a spotlight to the position at all. Having recently completed the 11th year of his illustrious career, Troy Polamalu has again been selected to the Pro-Bowl, and during his decade of dominance dozens upon dozens of players have come and gone at strong safety without making so much as a ripple in the headlines.
The Redskins have been one of those teams who have funneled numerous players through the position over that span, even giving away talent like Ryan Clark to go play alongside Polamalu in Pittsburgh. While Reed Doughty has pulled his weight over the years, and Shawn Springs made an excellent conversion from cornerback for a short time, it’s been mostly names like Ifeanyi Ohalete, Pierson Prioleau, and Adam Archuleta who have dotted the landscape in the days since Sam Shade last solidified the position for Washington.
On the contrary, Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather made quite a niche for himself in the headlines this season, after being maligned for nasty hits that often drew penalties, including a series of violent plays that garnered him a two game suspension. An appeal reduced the suspension to only one game, after which the strong safety revolutionized his game.
As the season progressed Meriweather learned to become a safer player in order to preserve his time on the field, and coincidentally, as he learned to abide by the leagues newfound safety protocol, he actually became a better overall performer. Nevertheless the example he set through his aggressive approach to the game was one of the few positives for a defense that often lacked in physicality.
Meriweather has been known for his rough play since being drafted from the hard hitting Miami Hurricanes back in 2007. In addition to his tendency to initiate contact, he proved to be no slouch when it came to the other aspects of his craft, and in his first four seasons with the Patriots he took away 12 interceptions while being selected to two pro-bowls. However, he was released by the team during a time when it was generally thought that Patriot cast-offs would have a tough time finding a new home outside of Bill Belichick’s system. Such seemed to be the case in his one year with the Chicago Bears.
When the Redskins signed him it seemed like a reach, coming from a franchise with many glaring holes to fill and not much room to spend on player salaries. Yet, by his second season Meriweather began to develop into the player he was touted to be when entering the NFL as a first round pick. His place on the Redskins defense may have looked like a constant audition, but he wasn’t exactly alone given that he shared that synopsis with almost everyone who has played in the Redskins defensive backfield for the last few seasons.
Now that he is due to be a free-agent this offseason, Meriweather is by no means an expendable player. Replacing him at the safety position would not yield a certain improvement, and furthermore might compromise the consistency that the Redskins need to embrace going forward.
Should the Redskins have their eyes on signing Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd, granting the fact that they will have deeper pockets to spend with than in the previous two off-seasons, that would leave Bacarri Rambo in a position to make a possible shift to strong safety. Rambo and fellow 2013 draft pick Phillip Thomas are both familiar with playing strong safety and Thomas will be returning to the lineup after missing his entire rookie year due to a Lisfranc injury.
As much upside as the two second year players may offer, having as many veterans around to mentor them would secure the teams depth at defensive back. Plus Meriweather is closer than they are to being the kind of strong safety who can transcend the position, which would give the Redskins defense a more aggressive edge. It’s possible that his best years are yet to come, and given another chance in familiar surroundings he might just hit the ground running.