- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS — The Washington Redskins have a problem. A big problem, actually. The NFL’s new league year and unrestricted free agency begin two weeks from Tuesday, and the Redskins still are over the 2013 salary cap.

The $18 million remaining in the salary cap penalty imposed upon them by the NFL is disrupting the team’s offseason plans, team and league sources say. What should be the opportunity to fortify a division championship roster is instead significantly limited by a sanction the Redskins protest.

While the team continues to plot its next move to attempt to recoup salary cap space, Tuesday is important for a parallel reason.

The draft is the best way to acquire relatively cheap talent. The Redskins need to improve their secondary play, and the candidates to help them do that will work out on the field at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

And fortunately for the Redskins, their greatest need matches a strength of this draft.

“It’s a great safety class — best safety class I’ve seen in years,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “Maybe not with a bunch of first-round guys that you’re going to run around and say, ‘That’s my guy,’ but depth of the class. Offensive line, defensive line, inside linebacker, safety — all of the non-sexy positions are pretty deep this year.”

Washington’s first pick isn’t until 51st overall, so it will miss out on the first defensive backs selected. However, the depth of talent means the Redskins likely will have the option to draft a quality player who can start as a rookie.

Mayock ranked Florida International’s Johnathan Cyprien third among draft-eligible safeties shortly before the combine. He is capable of playing free safety, where the Redskins have an immediate need, or strong safety, where Brandon Meriweather is recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery. The Redskins often interchange those positions.

“My biggest strengths is leadership and communication and tackling, being physical,” said Cyprien, who stood out in last month’s Senior Bowl. “Things I need to work on, I need to work on those things, and I want to get better on all those things all the time.”

Cyprien will run the 40-yard dash Tuesday despite a hamstring injury, ESPN reported Monday. Results in that event, especially for defensive backs in the second and third tiers, will help determine the order in which they are drafted.

After Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro and Florida’s Matt Elam, “I have at least 10 or 12 safeties jumbled together,” Mayock said. “Some are only strong [safeties], some are free, but some could play both that you can get in the second and third rounds. But they’re all kind of jumbled together right now. I’m looking forward to watching them run.”

Safety J.J. Wilcox of Georgia Southern, a Football Championship Subdivision school, is widely projected to be selected in the mid-to-late rounds. He was a running back until switching to defense his senior year. He also returned kickoffs.

Wilcox spoke to reporters Sunday with an upbeat Southern twang that would remind longtime Redskins fans of former cornerback Fred Smoot, a Mississippi native. Wilcox attended Cairo High in Georgia, where the mascot is the Syrupmakers.

“The sky’s the limit with me,” Wilcox said. “I’m definitely on the incline. I feel like I can always improve my game. With just one year, I’ll progress just more and more and more.”

The draft outlook is similar at cornerback. The Redskins need help in the face of some difficult decisions in the next two weeks, beginning with veteran DeAngelo Hall and his $8 million cap number.

Mayock believes the class of cornerbacks isn’t top-heavy, but the options he expects the Redskins to have with the 51st pick don’t include anyone he currently ranks among his top five at the position.

He suggested California’s Marc Anthony, Connecticut’s Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Southeast Louisiana’s Robert Alford, William & Mary’s B.W. Webb and Rutgers’ Logan Ryan for Washington at No. 51.

“There are five guys there that are going to go in the second or third round that some of them are longer, outside corners; some of them are quicker, shorter, inside slot-type guys,” Mayock said. “But they’re going to fall in that range from 50 through the end of the third round.”

Beyond that, there’s the rather fascinating case of former Louisiana State cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.

Also known as the Honey Badger, Mathieu was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011, when Robert Griffin III won it. He was kicked out of school, though, and sat out the 2012 because of drug and alcohol problems.

He has since completed drug rehabilitation and continues with counseling.

“My best friend right now is honesty,” he said. “I want to be as open as possible because I’m trying to rebuild people’s trust, and I want those guys to be able to trust me, and I hold myself accountable.”

Mathieu was scheduled to visit with the Redskins at the combine.

“I know what it’s like not to have football,” he said. “I know what it’s like not to be the center of attention, and I know what it’s like to be humiliated. To go back down that road, nah, not a chance in this world. Not a chance in my lifetime again. Every day it’s a process. I’m not saying that I’m totally there, but I am taking strides everyday to be the best person that Tyrann can be.”

Mayock projects Mathieu as a nickel cornerback and return man, one who won’t require a high draft pick to obtain.

“I don’t think he’s going to run better than the 4.5 or 4.55,” Mayock said. “If he does, that will help him. So most teams that I’ve talked to have him more in the fourth round because they don’t think he’s very big and he’s not going to run very fast, and he’s had off‑the‑field issues. That could change with a good time, but he’s an intriguing guy.”

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