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El-Bashir: Bigger sample size needed to evaluate Cousins properly

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El-Bashir: Bigger sample size needed to evaluate Cousins properly

After Thursday night’s unsightly loss in the Meadowlands, Redskins Coach Jay Gruden uttered six words that were sure to stir a strong reaction in Washington.

“There is no quarterback controversy, whatsoever,” he said, asked about Kirk Cousins’ performance in the 32-21 defeat.  

That, of course, meant Kirk Cousins, despite throwing two interceptions for the second time in three games, is still his guy.

And, for now, it’s the right decision.

Now is the time for Gruden—and, more importantly, for first-year General Manager Scot McCloughan—to study Cousins’ DNA as a quarterback.

Can he become a reliable game manager who puts the ball in the hands of his playmakers, avoids negative plays and keeps his team in the game? Or is he simply predisposed to telegraphing his passes and, quite literally, throwing games away?

Through three weeks, we’ve seen both sides of Cousins.

He ranks eighth in the NFL in completion percentage (69.2 percent), 15th in passing yards (715) and has been sacked fewer times (4) than 19 other quarterbacks. Buuuuuuut…there’s that other stat. The one in the column labeled, ‘INT’. It says he’s thrown four interceptions. Sure, seven other starters have tossed at least four picks. But it’s a little different in Cousins’ case because of his history of throwing the ball to wrong team.

Indeed, Cousins has produced interceptions at a historic rate. In fact, he’s thrown two or more interceptions eight times and has tossed 23 on only 514 attempts.   

That, obviously, is not sustainable.

But, to me, there are still too many unknowns, too much potential to contemplate a change now. Or in the next few weeks, really.

Can Cousins be coached up? Learn to minimize risks? Is more experience (not to mention the return of DeSean Jackson) the answer?

Gruden acknowledged that he can’t say for sure. Not yet, anyway.

“Well, we’ll have to see,” Gruden said. “You know, he’s thrown some interceptions in the past—I guess his first year he came in as a backup role, and came in as a backup role again [in 2013]—and now we’re letting him be the starter here, and he’s going to have to play through some of these pitfalls, so to speak. We’re hoping that he does. We’re hoping that a more mature Kirk Cousins will bounce back from these performances.”

He added: “He did some great things [against the Giants], no question about it. But there were some plays that he needs to make to be a starting quarterback in the National Football League…”

A bigger sample size is required.

Cousins has made 12 starts in his career; some talent evaluators believe that it can take twice as many (or more) starts to figure out a quarterback's true identity. If Gruden sticks with Cousins, by season’s end, he'll have 25 starts on his resume. He’ll also be a free agent. At that point, an informed decision on his future can be made.

I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that Gruden has made up his mind on Robert Griffin III (35 starts) and Colt McCoy (25 starts). If that’s the case, then what is there to lose by gathering more intel on Cousins? Or, more succinctly, what is there possibly to gain from turning over a rebuilding team to a quarterback that you’ve already decided is not the future?

Of course, recent history suggests that patience really isn’t the Redskins’ thing, particularly when it comes to quarterbacks. And, as we know, Gruden has an itchy trigger finger, having benched Griffin and Cousins for performance-based reasons just last year. We also know this: the temptation to make a change could grow in the coming weeks, particularly if Cousins continues to make poor decisions with the football and it begins to look like 8-8 might be enough to take the NFC East.

But for the long term future of the franchise, I say Gruden and Co. should stay the course (within reason, of course) because it takes time for some quarterbacks to hit their stride. It also takes time to determine whether that will ever happen.  

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Need to Know: The five highest-paid 2018 Redskins

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Need to Know: The five highest-paid 2018 Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, February 24, 18 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

The five highest-paid Redskins in 2018

Originally published 1/12/18

This is how the five highest-paid Redskins per their 2018 salary cap numbers stack up as of now. The list could change, of course during free agency and if a particular quarterback returns. Cap numbers via Over the Cap.

CB Josh Norman, $17 million—The Redskins do have a window which would allow them to move on from Norman. His $13.5 million salary for this year doesn’t become guaranteed until the fifth day of the league year so it would be “only” a $9 million cap charge to move on from Norman, who turned 30 in December. Don’t look for that to happen but the possibility is there.

OT Trent Williams, $13.86 million—He is one of the best left tackles in the business. Those of you out there who have advocated moving him to left guard should look at this cap number, which is way out of line for what a team can afford to pay a guard. At his pay, he needs to be playing on the edge.

OLB Ryan Kerrigan, $12.45 million—He has delivered double-digit sacks in each of the two seasons that his contract extension has been in effect. That’s good value in a league that values the ability to get to the quarterback.

TE Jordan Reed, $10.14 million—The Redskins knew that he might have a year like last year when he played in only six games when they agreed to Reed’s five-year, $50 million extension. They can live with one such season. If he has another one in 2018 they may rethink things.

G Brandon Scherff, $6.75 million—The fact that a rookie contract is No. 5 on this list is a good sign that, as of now, the Redskins’ cap is not top heavy like it was last year. The top three cap hits from Norman, Williams, and Kirk Cousins totaled $59 million, which was about 35 percent of the cap. This year the total cap numbers of the top three come to $43.3 million, 24.3 percent of the estimated $178 million salary cap.

Next five: OT Morgan Moses ($5.4 million), TE Vernon Davis ($5.33 million), DL Stacy McGee ($4.8 million), DL Terrell McClain ($4.75 million), S D.J. Swearinger ($4.33 million)

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 5
—NFL Draft (4/26) 61
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 197

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Martavis Bryant could make sense for the Redskins, at the right price

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USA TODAY Sports

Martavis Bryant could make sense for the Redskins, at the right price

A 2017 midseason trade for Martavis Bryant made no sense for the Redskins. A 2018 offseason trade for Martavis Bryant, however, might make sense for the Redskins. 

Bryant is on the trade block, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, and will be an intriguing prospect for receiver-needy teams across the NFL. In parts of three seasons with the Steelers, Bryant has 17 touchdowns and a 15.2 yards-per-reception average. 

A big play threat from any place on the field, Bryant would immediately make the Redskins receiving unit more athletic and explosive. 

It's not all good news with Bryant, though.

He was suspended for the entire 2016 season after repeated drug violations and caused some distraction for Pittsburgh during the 2017 season when he asked for a trade via social media. 

MORE: CAN YOU GUESS THESE REDSKINS BASED ON THEIR COMBINE NUMBERS?

Is the talent enough to overcome the off-field distractions? Many would say it is. 

Last year, in just eight starts, Bryant grabbed 50 catches for more than 600 yards and three TDs. In their lone playoff loss to the Jaguars, Bryant caught two passes for 78 yards and a TD. 

Remember, too, the Steelers have an explosive offense, and Bryant is coupled with Antonio Brown on the receiver front along with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and Le'Veon Bell at running back. The Pittsburgh offense is loaded. 

Washington's offense is not nearly the prolific unit that the Steelers send out, but Jay Gruden does design a good offense. 

The real question surrounding any talk of trading for Bryant is the cost.

The Redskins are not in a position to send away any more draft picks this offseason after giving up a third-round pick, in addition to Kendall Fuller, to acquire Alex Smith. Bruce Allen and the Redskins front office need to improve their team in plenty of spots, and the team's draft picks are quite valuable. 

Bryant only has one year remaining on his rookie deal, and it's hard to balance that sort of short-term investment with the value of adding a rookie committed to the team for at least four years. Perhaps a late-round pick would make sense, but it would need to be a sixth-rounder. 

This could be one of those rare situations in the NFL where a player for player swap could work, though pulling that type of maneuver requires a lot of moving parts. 

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