- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Redskins released corner DeAngelo Hall a year ago, taking a chance that they'd lose him to another team. The reality is that he wasn't close to going anywhere else; no team showed a strong enough interest. And when he returned, the defensive coaches were rather happy. They knew what he added and wanted to keep him around.
Hall rewarded them by playing one of his best seasons, arguably the best since joining the Redskins because of his consistency. He competed against the top receivers and fared well: Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant. The Redskins rewarded him with a new four-year deal, which is worth $4.25 million per year, according to NBC Washington. Would another team have paid him that much? Tough to say and I really don't know.
Of course, the key always is guaranteed money. Last year's top corner signing in free agency, Sean Smith, signed a three-year, $18-million deal with Kansas City. Aqib Talib signed a one-year, $5-million deal to stay in New England last offseason. Most other corners settled for prices far below that figure.
The Redskins could have opted to throw big money at another corner: Talib could hit the open market; Tennessee's Alterraun Verner is a potential free agent as well. Yes, it would be good to have another young corner to pair with second-year cornerback David Amerson, to have two players who could grow together. But that's not always possible -- there's no guarantee they'd come here or even be free by that point -- and the Redskins have plenty of other needs on defense.
Had they opted for one of the top corners on the market, the Redskins would have needed to pay more than what they'll be giving Hall. That would limit their ability to fix other areas. They had a strong option in Hall, who can still play at a solid level. He knows the defense; he's become a leader in the secondary. Perhaps if they didn't have so many needs it would make sense to spend bigger at this spot. But they do have those needs and they had a ready solution at corner. They don't have that at, say, inside linebacker or safety. They HAVE to sign players there (or draft one).
The Redskins still would like to retain linebackers Brian Orakpo and Perry Riley and defensive lineman Chris Baker. For a defense that struggled last year, that's a lot of players to bring back. But, aside from Riley, the other players had strong years so it makes sense. And Riley played well in 2012.
The question I have: How much longer can Hall play well? There's no reason to believe he's on the verge of a major decline in 2014. His play late in the season suggests that's not the case. But how many more years can he be that sort of player?
At some point, though, Hall could always move to safety (if there's still a need). Yes, his skillset can translate: He'd have excellent range and, despite the perception of him, he's done a good job as a corner against the run. But it's far different when you're trying to make those plays from the middle of the field than on the side. He'd also have to learn the defense from a new perspective; as a safety you need to know everyone's job, for example. It's a tough transition, but one that Hall, who is a smart player, could make in a few years if need be.
The Redskins still need to fill some holes at corner. Josh Wilson, a starter last year, will be free next month. But Amerson and Hall need to be their starters. Wilson was good against the run from the slot, but the Redskins can upgrade. They have Richard Crawford coming off a knee injury; I liked his progress last summer in slot coverage. He was more patient and mirrored the receiver's movements well. But it's tough to rely on him for this role without seeing him after his knee surgery.
They also might re-sign E.J. Biggers, but he's still best used as a fourth corner who can provide some versatility. He lined up at safety last season, but that was as much a result of what the Redskins didn't have in the secondary. He needs to stick at corner, but would provide good depth.
Hall developed a reputation as a me-first guy many years ago. For some fans he'll always be that guy. That's fine; but in watching him, I would disagree. There are plenty of corners I've covered who are more me-first than Hall. Yes, he draws some foolish penalties at times but he also plays with passion. It's a fine line.
Overall, Hall still adds value to the Redskins. The defense had many problems in 2013; he was not one of them.
1hEric D. Williams