The Washington Redskins on Monday agreed to sign former New York Giants safety Landon Collins, potentially filling a major hole in the secondary with a player who has been to three Pro Bowls in his four NFL seasons.
The agreement was confirmed by two people with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a deal that cannot become official until the free agent period begins at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The deal is for six years and $84 million, with $45 million guaranteed, according to a person familiar with the pact. Clever financing makes the deal affordable right away costing just $4 million against the salary cap, but becomes more expensive in future years.
It is likely that Collins, 25, was Washington’s top priority in free agency. The Redskins went into the offseason with no clear answers at safety after releasing D.J. Swearinger in December and letting midseason acquisition Ha Ha Clinton-Dix test the market. Montae Nicholson, who started seven games last year before being replaced by Clinton-Dix, is on the NFL’s reserve/non-football injury list after being arrested for assault and battery following a December fight.
Last month, Coach Jay Gruden called acquiring a starting safety “a major priority” for the team in the offseason.
The price for signing Collins is a high one. Washington went into Monday’s two-day negotiating period before the start of free agency with just $13.3 million of salary cap room according to the website OverTheCap.com. Details later posted on the sports contract website Spotrac show that only $1 million of Collins’s salary and $3 million of bonus money is guaranteed for 2019, making the total salary cap hit just $4 million for the coming season. The cap hit rises to $14 million in 2020, then $17 million in 2021, $16 million in 2022, $17 million in 2023 and $15 million in 2024.
The Redskins also made a run at Baltimore Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley in an attempt to go heavy on an aggressive defense, but the market for Mosley eventually became too expensive as he reportedly agreed to a five-year, $85 million contract with the New York Jets. The limits of the Washington’s finances became evident later in the day, as a Gruden favorite, slot receiver Jamison Crowder, also agreed to sign with the Jets for a reported three years and $28 million.
Eventually, the Redskins will have to make a series of roster moves to create cap space. Their options include trading or releasing one or both of last year’s starting inside linebackers, Mason Foster and Zach Brown, and defensive tackle Stacy McGee is another candidate to be cut. The contracts of cornerback Josh Norman and tight end Vernon Davis might have to be reworked as well. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, the team is working on a contract extension for guard Brandon Scherff that will free salary cap room for next year.
Still, the Redskins filled a huge need by signing Collins, who improves a defense that was considered a strength during the first half of last season. With the Giants, the 6-foot, 222-pound Collins was considered much better as a strong safety than as a free safety, but given the Redskins need help at both positions, his arrival should boost a secondary that struggled at times. In four years, he had 437 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles and eight interceptions.
Collins also was a team captain in New York and can assume a leadership role for the Redskins, who will need a strong voice in the back of a defense that tackled poorly at times and did not cover the middle of the field well. He becomes yet another Washington defensive player who went to Alabama, joining defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne and linebackers Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson and Shaun-Dion Hamilton.
Though Collins was well liked in New York, the Giants let him become a free agent rather than use their franchise tag on him at a cost of $11.15 million for this coming season. The fact that Collins finished the past two seasons on injured reserve (with a broken forearm in 2017 that ultimately required surgery and a torn rotator cuff in 2018 that also needed surgery) might have had an impact on New York’s decision to let him leave, which received significant scrutiny among fans and media.
Growing up in Louisiana, Collins was a fan of Sean Taylor, the Redskins’ star safety who was murdered at his Miami home during the 2007 season. He wore No. 21 with the Giants as a tribute to Taylor and has talked about an affection for the Redskins because they were the team Taylor played for.
“I idolized Sean Taylor for his physical play, his passion for the game. You could see it every time he touched the field … and I like being physical in the box,” Collins told NFL.com in 2015, adding that he cried the day he heard Taylor had died.
The Collins signing makes it less likely the Redskins retain Clinton-Dix, who has said he would like to come back. With nine picks in next month’s draft, they will probably address many of their remaining holes in the secondary and at linebacker, as well as on the offensive line and at wide receiver. Team president Bruce Allen said recently that he expects as many as 12 players on the team’s Week 1 roster to be draft choices or undrafted free agents.
Mark Maske contributed to this report.
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