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Need to Know: How will the Redskins' safety situation shake out?

Need to Know: How will the Redskins' safety situation shake out?

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, January 21, 34 days before the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

Five thoughts on the Redskins as the offseason sets in

—Did Jay Gruden and Sean McVay underutilize Jamison Crowder? The rookie slot receiver was targeted 78 times during the season. In 2014 slot receiver Andre Roberts was targeted 73 times. Considering that Crowder was a clear upgrade over Roberts he should have had a lot more opportunities. After nine games Crowder was on pace to catch 75 passes. He ended up with 59.

—The situation with Terrance Knighton shows why leaning so hard on free agency hurts the team building process. Knighton played OK and he got better as the year went on. But “not horrible and improving” is not the standard that a team that wants to make the playoffs and advance should be striving for. They might be inclined to let him go but unless they can attract one of the very few quality nose tackles on the market they might end up without anyone qualified to play NT. They could wait for the draft but the chances of finding an immediate starter at nose tackle in the draft are very slim. If they sign Knighton to a multi-year deal and then find a NT in the draft, the draft pick will be at least halfway through his rookie contract before a position opens up for him. They are kind of stuck in the free agent market.

—It will be interesting to see how the safety situation will shake out. They have Dashon Goldson and DeAngelo Hall under contract but their cap hits total just over $13 million. Both have their strong points but they could sign the Chiefs’ 27-year-old All-Pro Eric Barry and another mid-range free agent for that money. Duke Ihenacho, who won a starting job but broke his wrist in the season opener, is a restricted free agent. If the Redskins want to have the right to match any offers for him they’ll have to tender him at around $1.5 million. They might try to get him to sign for less. Jeron Johnson is still under contract and Kyshoen Jarrett should continue to grow. I don’t see all five of them being back, at least not at full price, but it will be interesting to see who takes their places.

—Would Scot McCloughan draft RB Ezekiel Elliott if he is sitting there at pick No. 21? It’s very early in the draft process but many of the mocks and rankings I’ve see have Elliott going right about there. Whether he does go to the Redskins or not, it won’t be because McCloughan won’t be held back by the conventional wisdom that says that you don’t draft a running back in the first round. He drafted a right tackle who converted to guard No. 5, something you’re not supposed to do, and the word was that he might have tabbed Todd Gurley if the Redskins had traded back. If Elliott is the best player on the board when the Redskins’ pick comes up McCloughan won’t hesitate to pull the trigger on him.

—I’ll start taking a look at draft prospects here starting soon but it’s more a matter of trying to identify McCloughan/Redskins-type players the team might be interested in. What we can’t determine as observers is the results of the background checks, what the trainer in the weight room has to say about a player’s work habits, how that broken leg the player had in high school has healed up, and other such details. But it’s fun to do and maybe we can learn something.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 11 days ago. It will be about 234 days until they play another one.

Days until: NFL Combine 34; NFL free agency starts 48; 2016 NFL draft 98

In case you missed it

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No tension between Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins, but the coach wants improvement 

No tension between Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins, but the coach wants improvement 

MOBILE -- Jay Gruden is making jokes about Kirk Cousins again, and that's good news for Redskins fans that worried about a fracture between coach and quarterback. 

It all started in the weeks following the Redskins dreadful Week 17 loss to the Giants as Gruden and Cousins seemed to be throwing slight jabs at one another.

Gruden, in his end of year press conference, explained that while Cousins "showed flashes" in 2017, when the team goes 7-9, the coach can't say any player was outstanding: 

You know when you’re 7-9, you know it’s hard to say, ‘Wow, this guy really was outstanding.’ You know there’s a few guys obviously that jump out, Pro Bowlers like Ryan Kerrigan had a solid year. Obviously Trent when he played was Pro Bowl type, Brandon when he was healthy was Pro Bowl type guy. Kirk had his flashes where he was really good. From a consistent standpoint, over the course of 16 games, you know we’re 7-9. He did some great things, threw for over 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns I believe. So, I think he’s a very, very good quarterback without a doubt, but as far as getting us over the hump from 7-9 to winning a division with all the injuries that we had, I think he competed and did some good things.

Cousins, in his year-end radio appearance with 106.7 the Fan, explained that he wants the team to do better but doesn't think the 7-9 record should fall on his shoulders alone. (Quote via Washington Post)

What I gathered from the comment was 7-9 and the quarterback play are causally related and that quarterback play is 7-9, 7-9 is the quarterback play. I saw that and I thought, ‘I think it’s slightly more complicated than that.’ I think there’s a few more dynamics in play as to what your final record is. … At the same time, his job is to evaluate. That’s a big part of his role and his position. In that comment, he’s just doing his job, he’s evaluating the position and he has the right to say what he wants to say.

Both comments were fairly innocuous, but also clearly at odds. Combine that dialogue with the undercurrent of another offseason contract negotiation, and it seemed things between coach and quarterback weren't quite right. 

On Tuesday, speaking at the Senior Bowl, Gruden cleared the air. Asked directly about tension between he and Cousins, the coach was blunt. 

"No." 

Gruden went on to explain his answer about Cousins 2017 play, the now infamous 7-9 line.

"When I say 7-9, if I say one player played great that means I'm saying everybody else was not very good," the coach explained (full video above). "I think we all have to stick together, we all have to improve from a 7-9 season, coaches, players, everybody."

Cousins was good in 2017, throwing for more than 4,000 passing yards for the third straight season. He also showed that he can produce offensively without a great supporting cast, as injuries robbed the Redskins of many of their best passing game threats and seriously damaged the offensive line. 

The quarterback did play two terrible games in the last month of the season, however, including a three interception stinker in the Week 17 finale.

It's possible that Gruden had that fresh in his mind when he spoke in early January, and with the benefit of a little time, his assessment mellowed by late January. 

Either way, Gruden joked about Cousins deserving a vacation, and even said the QB needs a tan. Gruden often uses humor to defuse touchy situations with Redskins players, and maybe he just did it again. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Redskins have begun contract talks with Zach Brown, but free agency looms

Redskins have begun contract talks with Zach Brown, but free agency looms

Redskins fans want Zach Brown back. Bad. And for weeks there had been no news about contract talks between Washington and Brown. 

Now that's changed.

"We've been talking to his agent," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said on Tuesday. 

Gruden, speaking from the Senior Bowl, explained that the team would like Brown back in 2018 but Washington also understands that the linebacker might want to explore the free agent market. 

"It’s a process," Gruden said (full video above). "These guys have a chance to be a free agent, they had a good year and they want to check what the market is sometimes. If we can get them before they get to free agency, great, but if not, the bidding wars will begin."

For Brown, free agency will look different in 2018 than it did last season when he signed a one-year. bargain deal with the Redskins. 

Prior to injuries forcing him to miss the final three games of the season, Brown led the NFL in tackles. For two straight years, 2016 in Buffalo and 2017 in Washington, Brown has proved to be a tackling machine and arguably the fastest linebacker in the NFL. Brown also signed new representation last offseason, Jason and Michael Katz of CSE Football, and should Brown hit the free agent market the Katz brothers will aggresively market their client. 

Washington Senior Vice President of Football Operations Eric Schaeffer will handle the contract discussions for Washington, and is known as a shrewd negotiator. 

Like many business deals, this will come down to money. Brown established himself as a fit in Washington, both on the field and in the locker room. Interior linebackers do not command top dollar like pass rushers do, but Brown will still expect to be compensated appropriately. 

Further complicating matters for Washington, the Redskins only have Josh Harvery-Clemmons, Zach Vigil and Martrell Speight under contract for 2018. 

It's too early to predict what "it's a process" means from Jay Gruden, but Redskins fans should draw some encouragement that talks have begun with Brown. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!