ASHBURN — Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger checked the schedule and smiled.
When negotiations with the Arizona Cardinals fell apart on the eve of free agency last March, Swearinger signed with Washington instead on a three-year, $13.5 million contract. He soon saw that his former team was visiting FedEx Field on Dec. 17.
The Cardinals had an offer for Swearinger, but he said they pulled it the night before free agency opened on March 9. So while appreciative that Arizona gave him a third chance in the NFL after being cut by the Houston Texans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 2013 second-round draft pick is ready to show the Cardinals what they’re missing.
“It’s definitely extra juice,” Swearinger said. “I’m going to be on the edge. I can’t wait to play.”
The game has little meaning. The Redskins (5-8) have been eliminated from the NFC playoff race, and the Cardinals (6-7) would have to win their final three games and hope for a miracle.
But Swearinger, who has solidified one of the two safety spots for the Redskins, has plenty to play for personally. That is also a minor concern for his teammates, who know how intense Swearinger can get.
“We can’t let him get too caught up in that moment,” veteran safety DeAngelo Hall said. “Because D.J. is an emotional player, he’s a passionate player, he’s a fiery guy. I know speaking from firsthand experience, if we just let him be him too much it might take away from what we’re trying to do. We’ve got to rein him in a little bit.”
Swearinger has become a mainstay at a position where the Redskins were desperate for stability. He’s missed only four snaps this season, a rarity on an injury-ravaged team. Swearinger has three interceptions, eight passes defended and 60 tackles in 13 games. He’s also just 26.
The Redskins have filled a gaping hole on the roster with a player who should be around for two more years at least. The Cardinals, with five key free agents on defense last offseason, couldn’t afford to keep Swearinger at the price he wanted.
“Never had a problem with D.J. off the field,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. “He was a model citizen here. Great preparation, really studied the game and was a really solid player. … He plays the game so hard. He’s very passionate about the game, and I think the players respect that a ton.”
Swearinger’s teammates echo that description. He grew up in the same hometown (Greenwood, South Carolina) as cornerback Josh Norman. Every Wednesday before practice, Swearinger runs a team huddle to set the tone for the week — though he’s been publicly critical of teammates’ practice habits as Washington’s losses began to mount. That can cause friction in a locker room.
“I think sometimes, after a loss, you get a microphone stuffed in your face and sometimes you get emotional and say some things that kind of you mean well, but they get taken out of context from time to time,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “It’s happened to me once or twice, by golly. I don’t really see a whole lot into it. I know that D.J. plays his heart out out there. He’s not perfect, nor am I. But I love his passion for the game.”
It was not a given that Swearinger would be given another chance in the NFL. The Texans made him a second-round pick in 2013, but quickly grew tired of his lack of production and stubbornness. They cut him after two seasons.
Swearinger briefly landed in Tampa Bay for seven games, but his time there ended, too. He was reduced to signing with Arizona’s practice squad later in the 2015 season. He eventually finished that season strong, appearing in four games, and started 12 games for the Cardinals in 2016 with appearances in all 16. This weekend they meet again, but on opposite sides.
“It’s not that I want to show out in front of my old team. It’s more I want to make a lot of plays in front of my old team,” Swearinger said.