The Washington Redskins made changes defensively to add some much-needed depth at safety Wednesday, but their corresponding moves raise questions about General Manager Scot McCloughan’s offseason acquisitions. The team signed free agent safeties Donte Whitner and Josh Evans, who both took part in Wednesday’s practice, while releasing defensive end Kendall Reyes and placing safety David Bruton Jr. on injured reserve.
Bruton, who signed a three-year deal worth $9.15 million during the offseason, suffered a concussion in Sunday’s victory over the Cleveland Browns and was placed in the concussion protocol. He finished with 28 tackles and a sack in four games but struggled in pass coverage and didn’t stand out on the field.
The Redskins have lost their starting safeties in consecutive weeks after DeAngelo Hall tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against the New York Giants in Week 3 and was placed on injured reserve.
“We don’t have the luxury of having a lot of spots right now and we had to make a decision,” Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said. “Not knowing how long [Bruton] was going to be out, we had to make a decision to get another safety in here to play. We chose to bring two of them in here.”
The Redskins parted ways with Reyes just seven months after signing him to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million in March. Reyes, 27, competed for the starting job at right defensive end in training camp and the preseason.
However, his impact was minimal, and Ziggy Hood — signed to a non-guaranteed contract in January — outplayed him. Reyes had missed two games because of a groin injury.
Reyes becomes the second failed free agent signing along the defensive line under McCloughan in the past two offseasons. Washington cut Stephen Paea, the top free agent signing of Washington’s 2015 class, during the final week of the preseason. Paea wasn’t a good fit in the team’s 3-4 defense, while Reyes failed to make as much of an impact during his short tenure with Washington as he did in his four seasons with the San Diego Chargers.
The Redskins also didn’t re-sign nose tackle Terrance Knighton, who had signed a one-year deal, during the offseason following a disappointing season last year in which he couldn’t maintain his weight. They haven’t closed the door on bringing the free agent back this season, however. Knighton and veteran nose tackle Jerrell Powe, who was limited during training camp because of a heart arrhythmia procedure, are among the options for Washington if it chooses to bolster a weak defensive line down the road.
To this point, McCloughan hasn’t been able to improve the defensive line after two offseasons. It was a top priority heading into the draft, but the Redskins passed on a number of defensive linemen in the first round and selected wide receiver Josh Doctson, who has plenty of long-term upside but has been limited with a lingering Achilles’ injury. The Redskins didn’t select a defensive lineman until the fifth round, when they took Matt Ioannidis, who didn’t make the 53-man roster before the season but was promoted from the practice squad in Week 3.
“This is a team thing and obviously from a defensive-rank standpoint, we want to be better,” Gruden said. “And we’re going to strive to be better, but we’re not blaming the defensive line. We’re not blaming the safety position or the linebacker position. I think everybody, in general, needs to be playing better and that’s a challenge for all of them.”
Whitner arrives with the most experience of the two safeties the Redskins signed.
A three-time Pro Bowl safety, Whitner said he previously had an offer from the Los Angeles Rams and worked out for the Giants, who had called him back while he was at Redskins Park on Wednesday. Whitner turned down the opportunity to join the NFC East rival because of what he felt was a promising roster in Washington.
“I just see a lot of potential in this team, in this football team, knowing that it’s a first-class organization and just believing in myself and knowing what I can bring to a secondary,” Whitner said. “[There’s] certain things I can teach [with] certain guys just to get that much better and to ultimately go out there and win football games because that’s what it’s all about.
Whitner said the process has been stressful since April when he was released by the Cleveland Browns right before the start of offseason practices. Whitner said there were some teams that said he would’ve been a more attractive free agent commodity if he had been released earlier during the offseason.
“I believe that I can play,” Whitner said. “Cleveland decided to go young. Nothing against those guys, but I feel like the way that they released me and waited so long to do so, I feel like someone had a personal vendetta. I don’t know who it was. It couldn’t have been somebody from the new coaching staff, so it might’ve been somebody from the front office. I’m not sure about that, but that’s last year’s chapter. That chapter is over.
“I’ve always played the game with a chip on my shoulder, but I think it adds to it. I really do. Over the last 10 years playing in the National Football League knowing where you’re going to play and then you get slapped in the face with a release on the last day of free agency before you report to offseason training. If I was sleep walking or anything before, I’m definitely woke now and ready to play the game.”
Evans joined the Redskins after three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 25-year-old made 37 career starts and finished with 53 combined tackles, two passes defended and a forced fumble last season.