Offseason questions: How will the cornerback position shake out?

Josh Wilson

Josh Wilson (26) is the only proven starting cornerback returning for Washington. (Associated Press)

The Washington Redskins made their lone free agent addition to the secondary last week, signing former Tampa Bay Buccaneer E.J. Biggers.

The four-year veteran adds a body to a cornerback unit that remains rather thin. Six-year veteran Josh Wilson takes over as the senior member of the cornerback corps, and Biggers is the second-most experienced. Falling in line behind them are third-year pro Jerome Murphy, who drew spot duty late in the year, Richard Crawford, who is coming off his rookie season; Chase Minnifield, who missed all of his rookie campaign because of knee surgery; and practice squad corner Korey Lindsey.

Washington needs to find a starter to line up opposite Wilson, and someone to cover slot receivers in nickel packages.

The players won’t hit the field for OTAs until early May, and a lot can change between now and then. But for now, the left cornerback position would be a three-way competition between Biggers, Crawford and Minnifield, one person with knowledge of the situation said.

There are a fair number of questions about all three, however.

The 6-foot, 185-pound Biggers, who started a career-high 12 games last season, has played both on the outside and the inside on nickel packages. One person familiar with Biggers’ game described him as “a fast cover guy,” who despite his youth, is improving and has valuable experience as a starter.  Biggers has struggled against bigger receivers, however, and there are conflicting opinions around the league about whether he can be a quality full-time player. One plus for Biggers, who signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million with a base salary of $635,000, is the fact that he has played for secondary coach Raheem Morris and will be familiar with the concepts Washington runs.

Crawford shined as a punt returner, but this offseason will try to prove that he is the guy to replace DeAngelo Hall or hold down the nickelback duties. The 5-foot-10, 189-pounder lacks size, however. He filled in at times on the outside and in the slot, with mixed results. After struggling early in the season, Crawford did better when given another chance late in the year. He still has a significant amount to prove before Washington’s coaches would hand him a starting job.

Minnifield, the former U. Va. star who went undrafted after having microfracture surgery in the winter of 2012, is a local fan favorite despite never taking the field for Washington. Once considered a second-round talent, Minnifield did well during offseason workouts with Washington, but re-injured his knee and was released before the start of training camp. After clearing waivers, Minnifield was placed on Washington’s injured reserve list.

On the road back to full strength, Minnifield will try to show that after two knee surgeries in a year, he is back to his old self and capable of making an impact for the Redskins.

So, how will things shake out at corner?

The Redskins haven’t publicly commented on the matter, but two people with knowledge of the situation said the team plans to add more help through the draft and possibly the signing of an undrafted rookie or two. The team also could wind up signing a veteran free agent.

Washington also has needs at free safety. Last year’s starter, Madieu Williams, is a free agent, and neither DeJon Gomes nor Jordan Pugh seems like the full-time answer. Tanard Jackson, who missed all of last season while suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, would be a shoo-in for the job, but Washington won’t know until Sept. 3 if the league will re-instate him.

With needs at several positions in their secondary, Washington likely will select the best player available with the 51st overall pick, one person familiar with the team’s deliberations said. Fortunately for the Redskins, this year’s draft is deep at both cornerback and safety, so the team could wind up finding starters – or talented contributors – in rounds two through four.

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