Filling safety need, Swearinger finds match with Redskins
When D.J. Swearinger and fellow Arizona Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson watched film or broke down rosters last season, they did so with the understanding that they would likely join one of those other teams as free agents soon enough.
The Redskins, with their ongoing problems at safety, stood out.
“Watching it on film we was like, ‘Bro, one of us is going to Washington for sure’,” Swearinger said.
“Just from watching it from where we were in Arizona, just seeing how we played ball at safety, we just could tell they needed help at safety,” Swearinger said. “Whether it was a missed tackle or a guy not making a play on the ball.”
Swearinger was right, and Washington signed him this offseason. (Jefferson went to nearby Baltimore.) After inconsistencies of his own for his first three years in the league, Swearinger parlayed a career year in interceptions (three), passes defended (eight), sacks (two) and solo tackles (56) last season into a new deal.
“I felt I was able to finally get my fair opportunity [in Arizona],” Swearinger said. “Ever since I left Houston, you know, I never got the fair opportunity to play right away or to even get on the field and do what I’m capable of doing.”
Houston drafted Swearinger in the second round of the 2013 draft but cut him after two years, reportedly in part because Swearinger didn’t want to play special teams. Swearinger made a couple of headlines off the field in Houston, most notably when his dog bit Jadeveon Clowney and when he was accused of stealing his own truck from a dealership without paying for customization work.
Swearinger went to Tampa, where he was cut in November of the 2015 season, then wound up in Arizona, where he was signed to the Cardinals practice squad but was soon promoted to the active roster where he remained for his breakout year in 2016.
Swearinger mostly felt confident entering free agency, in part because he’d been able to showcase himself playing in the deep middle part of the field, where he’s happiest, in Arizona. The Texans had mostly played him at strong safety. He still worried, though, that parts of his reputation could turn teams off of him.
“Previous teams labeled me a bad guy, a character-issue guy and I think that harmed me a little bit,” Swearinger said. “Some coaches, you know, were scared to take chances here or there but I think everything happens for a reason.”
The Redskins do have an out from Swearinger’s contract, which should pay him an annual average of $4.5 million over the next three years. The team could release Swearinger with a post-June 1 designation after the season and save $3 million against the salary cap. But their experience with Swearinger thus far does not indicate that they would want to use it.
“D.J. has been great,” said coach Jay Gruden. “He’s been to every meeting, every practice and practices hard. He’s got a great attitude for the position. You can tell he’s got a mindset to play safety.
“I think you’re going to see more of D.J. Swearinger when the pads come on and he’s tackling more so than you are now. But I think he’s been great. I have no questions about his character.”
Swearinger has been the Redskins starting free safety through spring workouts and minicamp, with Su’a Cravens at strong safety. As Cravens makes the switch over from linebacker, Swearinger has offered instruction and advice.
One week, during organized team activities, tight end Vernon Davis got behind Cravens and burned him for a touchdown during an 11-on-11 drill. Swearinger was quick to Cravens’ side, gesturing enthusiastically as he explained to Cravens how to tell when he needs to get more depth.
A week later, during minicamp, Kirk Cousins targeted Davis with similar throw. Cravens had the right depth, broke up the pass, and Swearinger romped to his side, shouting praise with enthusiasm.
“D.J. is a leader,” said secondary coach Torrian Gray. “He’s intense. He’s the one who kind of gets the group together and kind of says a lot of things to get us going and brings that juice and brings that attitude, so it’s been great having D.J.”
New Washington Redskins free safety D.J. Swearinger will make $4.5 million a year over the next three years.