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Is Matt Jones ready to assume the Redskins' No. 1 running back job?

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Is Matt Jones ready to assume the Redskins' No. 1 running back job?

In less than a year, the Redskins completed a stunning turnaround, ascending from a laughingstock in 2014 to a division champion in 2015. But now comes the difficult part: taking that all-important next step and improving from a franchise that was fortunate to get into the playoffs to one that can do some damage once it gets there. And that work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.

In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the 25 biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.

No. 11

Is Matt Jones ready to assume the Redskins' No. 1 running back job? 

Tandler: Last year rookie running back Matt Jones played like, well, a rookie. He had some moments like a 78-yard touchdown rumble with a screen pass against the Saints where he looked like he could be a very valuable player if not a star. At other times, like when he didn’t protect the ball and fumbled into the end zone against the Giants, he looked like a player who needed a lot of work.

It added up to Jones gaining 490 on 144 carries and three touchdowns on the ground and another 304 yards on 19 pass receptions. He fumbled four times and lost all of them and he missed one game with a knee injury and the last two regular season games and the playoff game with a hip pointer.

With Alfred Morris likely to depart as a free agent the role of “lead dog” running back will be vacant. The Redskins will need to look at Jones’ mixed bag and figure out if he can take the next step in 2016.

It’s going to come down to how much faith they have in Jones’ desire to do the little things that a professional has to do to stay on the field and refine his craft. He took a step in the right direction later in the season when he started coming in to Redskins Park on off days to physically recover from the pounding on game days.

But it takes more than that. He had 38 runs that went for either no gain or a loss of yardage last year. Blocking was the problem on many of those runs but at other times it was a matter of Jones not reading the play correctly. Getting that down requires a lot of work, both on and off of the field. He has the size and speed to be a very good No. 1 back if he puts in the time.

El-Bashir: Matt Jones showed off his immense talent as a rookie, but it came in fits and starts. In fact, I’m not sure anyone on the Redskins’ roster was as inconsistent from week to week as Jones. But that’s often the life of an NFL rookie, and I suspect the Florida product will be a more consistent player in 2016 as the game slows down for him.

But I’ve got a couple of concerns as it relates to today’s question: Jones’ fumbles and his health.

Let’s start with the fumbles. As I pointed out in my rookie review last month, Jones put the ball on the ground five times and ended up losing it four times. (Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin was the only running back to lose more fumbles with five.) Jones’ ball security, though, did improve in the second half of the season. In fact, he lost only one fumble in his final six games after losing three in his first seven.

Jones’ ability to stay healthy was a problem, too. He missed three regular season games and the playoff game with toe and hip injuries. As I’ve said before, blaming injuries on a player isn’t fair. But the NFL isn't fair, either. In this game, availability is almost as important as ability. And Jones was unavailable too often last season. He did tell me on locker clear out day that he learned late in the year about the importance of spending time in the training room, even when you’re not suffering from a specific injury.

It seems Jones recognizes his flaws and is taking steps toward correcting them. But is that enough to hand him the keys to one of the game’s most important positions? I suspect this is one of the tougher decisions facing GM Scot McCloughan this offseason.  

If it were my call, I’d give Jones the opportunity to be the No. 1. But I’d also have a solid backup plan in place—just case it doesn’t work out. 

25 Questions series

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Need to Know: Redskins' Junior Galette will be a valued free agent

Need to Know: Redskins' Junior Galette will be a valued free agent

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, February 20, 22 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.

Galette to be a valued free agent

Originally published 12/13/17

Like the Redskins, the Broncos are no longer relevant in 2017. Both teams’ fan bases have started to look towards the coming offseason.

To give their readers what they want, the Denver Post published an article by Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus that discussed some of the top pending free agents who have done the most to increase their values in the past year. There were two Redskins named, one you would expect to see on such a list and one that might surprise some people.

Kirk Cousins is at the top of the list. “The Washington signal-caller is grading as a top-10 quarterback (82.8), and soon he’ll have the long-term contract of one,” Renner wrote. “Only this time its value will be exponentially higher than any one he would have signed back when he first became a free agent in 2016.”

But the surprising name is that of Junior Galette. After missing the last two seasons with two torn Achilles tendons, he played this year on a one-year, $800,000 deal. And while he hasn’t been on fire in the sack department with just two on the year, he has been getting pressure on the passer.

“He’s accumulated the 27th-highest pass-rushing grade of any edge defender this season, but in only 264 snaps,” wrote Renner. “At 29 years of age, it’s doubtful he ever gets back to the level of the contract that he once had on the table with New Orleans. With how he’s played this season though, some pass-rush-needy team will pay handsomely for his services.”

One team that could be considered to be pass rush needy is the Redskins. Preston Smith is the starter and supposedly one of the Redskins’ top pass rushers. But in 100 fewer pass rush snaps this year, Galette has only three fewer quarterback hits than Smith and six more hurries.

And after missing those two seasons, Galette has remained healthy. Although he was limited with a hamstring during much of the preseason, he has not missed a practice or appeared on an injury report this year.

But would the Redskins be willing to pay him “handsomely”? Perhaps a good comp would be Connor Barwin, who moved from the Eagles to the Rams this past offseason at the age of 31. He had five sacks in Philly in 2016. That got him a one-year deal worth $3.5 million.

Barwin likely will have more sacks on his ledger going into free agency so let’s say Galette could command around $3 million. Perhaps he could offer Washington a bit of a hometown discount and agree to something in the $2.75 million range. If that is the case, the Redskins would be smart to keep him around for another year.

Plenty of things could alter the equation. If Galette gets hot in the last three games and posts a few more sacks his price could rise. With Smith and Ryan Kerrigan both back next year, perhaps Galette will want to go somewhere that he might get more playing time.

The details need to be sorted out but don’t be surprised if Galette gets a lot of attention in free agency, as much as teams need pass rush, and if the Redskins have to make a very tough decision about how much he is worth.

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) 9
—NFL Draft (4/26) 65
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 201

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As money skyrockets, don't expect Kirk Cousins to give discounts on open market

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USA TODAY Sports

As money skyrockets, don't expect Kirk Cousins to give discounts on open market

Kirk Cousins repeatedly said his free agent decision will not be just about money. Be clear, however, that money will be a huge factor in this decision. 

After the Redskins traded with Kansas City to acquire Alex Smith before the Super Bowl, it became obvious Washington will move on from Cousins. Whether that means the quarterback simply walks away in free agency or the organization attempts a highly risky tag-and-trade scenario, regardless, Cousins will throw footballs for another franchise in 2018.

Cousins wants to choose where he will play via free agency, and might even file a grievance if the Redskins do deploy a third franchise tag to control his rights.

Assuming Cousins hits free agency, a new report out of New York suggests the Jets will pay "whatever it takes" to land the passer. That could even include a fully guaranteed contract, and will certainly get close to a $30 million a year price tag. 

A notion exists too that Cousins might take less to go to a winner, and many think that could be the Broncos. Denver won five games in 2017, same as the Jets, though the Broncos have a strong defense and have been getting particularly awful QB play. 

The important thing to remember for curious Redskins fans watching the Cousins saga unfold: Don't expect much, if any, discount. 

The quarterback himself made that clear. 

"There’s other quarterbacks that come after you and it would be almost a selfish move to hurt future quarterbacks who get in a position to have a contract," Cousins said last year on 106.7 the Fan.

The quotes came after the 2016 season but before the Redskins again used a franchise tag with Cousins for the 2017 season. Washington wanted to attempt a long-term deal with Cousins at that point, though the quarterback decided to not negotiate and instead play on the tag.

The point remains that Cousins, and his representatives, believe the quarterback has a duty to other players to maximize his earnings. 

"If you don’t take a deal that’s fair to you, then you’re also taking a deal that’s not fair to them and you’re setting them back as well. So there’s different reasons. You just do the best you can."

If he hits free agency, Cousins will likely sign the richest contract in NFL history. Those opportunities don't come around often, and the quarterback should take full advantage. 

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