ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Raiders have had their eyes on safety D.J. Swearinger, who they signed on Saturday, since last December when he was released by the Redskins.
Oakland coach Jon Gruden confirmed Monday the team put a claim on Swearinger then but lost out to the Cardinals, who owned a higher spot on the waiver wire. But when he didn’t work out in Arizona and the Raiders lost safety Karl Joseph to injury last Thursday, the Raiders finally got their man.
Swearinger had been excellent for the Cardinals in 2016 and followed it up with two solid seasons in Washington before he was cut late in 2018 after criticizing defensive coordinator Greg Manusky in the media.
His return to Arizona didn’t go so well. Swearinger played every defensive snap the first four weeks of this season, but was released after an 0-3-1 start.
Swearinger admits his play wasn’t up to his own lofty standards.
“They really didn’t give me an explanation,” the 28-year-old said Monday after his first practice with the Raiders. “It was a new coach, so I guess they wanted to go young. From my end, I know I didn’t do as well as I did in the past in the first couple games, but that’s September football. You have to learn in September. You have to learn the coaching staff and what they want. That’s where I think the struggles came in. I think they pulled the trigger too early and didn’t really give me the time to settle in with the defense.”
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the seven-year veteran, who got to take a few weeks off before signing with the Raiders this weekend.
“I don’t regret anything at all,” he said. “I’m happy to be here. These last couple weeks have been great for me, actually. … I needed the time off to get my mind right. I couldn’t be more ready for this opportunity to get here and work hard.”
Swearinger hopes the change of scenery will rejuvenate his career. The South Carolina alum had a career year in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus, which awarded him a grade of 83 on a scale of 1-100. He followed that up with impressive grades of 73.6 and 79.8 in his two seasons in Washington.
Then came the 45 he got for his body of work over four games with the Cardinals this season. He still earned a 69 against the run, but slipped all the way to a 36.3 in coverage.
The Raiders are hoping he can revert to form. Swearinger was signed when Joseph became the Raiders’ second starting safety to be placed on season-ending injured reserve, following rookie Johnathan Abram. So he will be pressed into duty sooner than later.
“I like Swearinger,” Gruden said. “He played for my brother (Jay) in Washington. I think he’s a good player. He’s just got to put it all together. That’s what he needs to do. He’s got to start that process today.”
The Raiders clearly weren’t scared off by Swearinger’s propensity for criticizing his coaches in the media. Gruden said he did due diligence by talking to his brother, who released Swearinger in Washington.
“If you don’t consult your own brother who can you consult?” Gruden asked.
In addition to the physicality he brings, Swearinger has a reputation as a cerebral player, hard worker and a leader. He was voted a captain in Washington before he had ever played a snap with the Redskins.