Updated: Feb 18, 2021
With the NFL season in the books, teams will turn their focus to free agency and the draft. As is the case every year, tough roster decisions will need to be made for teams against the cap. In Washington's situation, many fans believe Landon Collins should be part of the purge, after being lost for the season with a left Achilles tendon tear in October. The emergence of rookie, Kamren Curl, after he replaced Collins in the lineup, drastically improved the athleticism in the secondary and has led to a tricky situation in the safety room for Jack Del Rio. In fact, Curl was rated as one of the top rookie defensive backs in the league.
Ron Rivera will have to figure what he's going to do at the starting FS, which is in dire need of an upgrade. Troy Apke will most likely get released, leading to a dead cap number around $176k and by releasing him, Washington would save $920k. As for Deshazor Everett and Jeremy Reaves, both provide value on special teams and can play both safety positions. It's becoming apparent that Washington has an abundance at SS with a need for a true single-high FS.
Which brings us to the discussion of trading or releasing Collins. In the following we'll discuss multiple options Washington will have/not have with Collins.
Per the Spotrac.com CAP summary below, Washington would have a signifcicant dead cap hit if Rivera trades or releases Landon Collins this offseason. Rivera could possibly make the move in 2022 with a more manageable dead money cap hit, but even in that situation the the overall cap hit is costly. In some situations, teams can move on from large contracts after the first two years when contracts are front loaded. However, Collins had the highest dead money cap hits in the first three years of his contract.
Although Washington will reportedly have approximately $43 million in CAP space, they'll need every penny to make upgrades on both sides of the ball. Add in the fact that Collins is a player that owner Dan Snyder personally courted, and a trade/release this year seems extremely unlikely.
Playing a Hybrid Role
Some have suggested that rookie SS Kamren Curl slide over to FS when Collins returns to the lineup. As mentioned, Curl was one of the top rated rookies and players at his position in 2020 so that would make little sense. Roster decisions will be made based on talent and not salary; at least they should. Rivera has shown that he'll roll with the player he believes has the most upside and not be swayed by salary or draft position. So where does that leave Collins?
At only 27 years old, Collins shouldn't be viewed as washed up. Collins is best utilized as an in-the-box safety with his primary focus on stopping the run and playing downhill. Some teams will often go with three safety looks when facing heavy receiver sets. This is one way to get Collins more involved and slowly transition him to more of a Dime LB.
This could be the ideal way to get the most production from Collins and although it might seem like a stretch to some, Collins has the body type to add more mass without losing too much explosion. Through 7 games, Collins registered 41 TAK 3 TFL's 2 sacks, 1 FF 1 int and 1 PBU prior to tearing his Achilles. Collins has a lot more in the tank and a new role would certainly prolong his career.
With Collins coming off an ACL injury, it might take time to figure out his role in 2021 and beyond. In his short time in Washington, Rivera has shown a fondness for versatile players like Logan Thomas who switched to tight end after playing quarterback at VA Tech. Another example, Khaleke Hudson, was used in the "Viper" role which was introduced to the Wolverines' defense by coordinator Don Brown in 2016 and blends the job functions of an outside linebacker and cover safety. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio would be wise to take a page from Michigan's playbook to find creative ways to deploy Collins in various sub packages, while keeping his coverage abilities to a minimum.
Washington will certainly have some tough decisions this offseason when it comes to roster additions and subtractions. It seems pretty clear that Landon Collins' job is safe this season. His rehabilitation from his mid-season Achilles tear will take time but when he returns to form, he'll still have a significant role in Del Rio's defense.
*Credit photos/video to Washingtonfootball.com and Elijah Walter Griffin Sr/Washington Football Team and SwayRun21
Written By Adam Aniba