Their main competition in the division, the Philadelphia Eagles, opted to bolster their offense at the deadline. The Washington Redskins went the other way and strengthened their defense, acquiring safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from the Green Bay Packers.
While many fans wanted the Redskins to add a receiver, their passing game is not one receiver away from being significantly better. The receivers aren’t a standout group, but there are too many other issues, including a quarterback who is either struggling or going through growing pains in his first year with Washington.
The passing game lacks rhythm and timing. Adding a receiver would still leave the Redskins in need of both those traits. If Alex Smith starts to feel more comfortable, then the passing game will improve. If he doesn’t, then it won’t.
However, Washington's defense is darn good and got better with Clinton-Dix. He isn't considered a fast safety, but he is capable of big plays, as evidenced by his three interceptions this season. He also can move around, playing deep or in the box.
It’s also an insurance move for the Redskins. On Monday, one team source suggested that Washington wouldn't make any trades, though there were some injury concerns that could precipitate one.
It turns out Montae Nicholson is a little banged-up, and the Redskins don’t know if that will change anytime soon. If he must sit, the Redskins should be covered with Clinton-Dix and D.J. Swearinger. If Nicholson doesn’t have to leave the lineup, then they have three safeties who can play. It gives them more flexibility in what they can run defensively. Two weeks ago, for example, they used a third safety, Deshazor Everett, in some packages. Adding another safety in Dix allows them to do that even more if desired.
It’s not that Clinton-Dix was acquired to stop Philadelphia's latest addition, receiver Golden Tate. Or to cover Dallas’ newest toy, receiver Amari Cooper. But the Redskins have gone 5-2 thanks to their defense and run game. Swearinger, for example, is having a standout season. One reason: Nicholson playing every game has allowed Swearinger to spend the bulk of his time in the box, where he’s at his best. Last season, when Nicholson missed 10 games, Swearinger had to play more free safety. He can do it, but he’s better closer to the line.
The Redskins have had a lot of luck lately with Alabama players, notably defensive linemen Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen. Those two have helped transform a once weak link for the franchise. Clinton-Dix, a teammate of Allen’s at Alabama, doesn’t need to transform the Redskins’ defense. He just needs to be himself.
There was risk in not making a move because of Nicholson’s health and the lack of overall depth in the secondary. There’s also some risk in the move. The Redskins surrendered a fourth-round pick, though they still have six picks next April and anticipate receiving an additional four compensatory picks.
If Clinton-Dix doesn’t get a big deal this offseason or gets hurt, then Washington essentially traded a fourth-round pick for a nine-game rental (unless they re-sign him, of course). If he signs a bigger deal elsewhere next offseason, the Redskins could add a compensatory pick in 2020. Apparently this was Green Bay's big consideration, though it's always odd when a contending team surrenders a good player. That should raise eyebrows, at least a little bit.
Still, for Washington, this was a good move. The Redskins have preached the importance of those compensatory picks, giving them flexibility to make a trade such as this one. It wasn't the sexy move a lot of fans might have wanted, but it's probably the one the Redskins needed.