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Need to Know: What is Morris' future with the Redskins?

Need to Know: What is Morris' future with the Redskins?

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, April 15, 15 days before the Washington Redskins go on the clock at the NFL draft.

Question of the day

A few days a week I’ll give an in-depth answer to a question submitted by a fan on my Twitter feed, via the Real Redskins Facebook page, or in the comments section here. On Twitter address the questions to me at @Rich_TandlerCSN with the #NTK hashtag. There will be a comment thread set up on the Facebook page and if you’re asking your question here, put “for NTK” at the start of the comment.

What is Alfred Morris’ role on the team, both this season and going forward?

This question isn’t from a particular tweet or Facebook post. It’s a combination of about half a dozen that have rolled in lately asking about Morris’ future. So I figured I’d roll them into one and take a look at Morris situation. I have to warn you going in that there are more questions than answers right now and a lot has to play out before we know what will happen with him.

For the last three years he has been the unquestioned prime back for the Redskins, getting most of the running back carries with just a few sprinkled around for Roy Helu, Evan Royster (in 2012), and Silas Redd. Since Morris came into the league only Marshawn Lynch has more carries and more yards.

The big picture is fine but his production has gone down year by year. In 2012 he set the Redskins record with 1,613 yards but he posted just 1,275 and 1,074 in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Although his carries also declined each season, so have his yards per carry, from 4.8 to 4.6 to 4.1.

Of course, Morris should not shoulder all of the blame for the drop in production. Robert Griffin III was a tremendous running threat in 2012 while the last two seasons defenses have been able to focus on Morris. The offensive line is not as bad as many fans believe but it’s also not a great asset to him.

We’re all familiar with the past but what’s going to happen going forward? There are a few factors in play here. One is that this is the final year of Morris’ contract. Another is that Helu has left as a free agent so there is an opening for Morris’ main backup and third down back. And there is talk that the Redskins are going to shift to putting an emphasis on a power rushing game rather than the zone scheme that Morris rode to so much success over the last three years.

The draft is deep at running back so the Redskins could go there for Helu’s replacement. But if they draft a back somewhere in the top half of the draft, are they going to want to use him for more than the 40 rushing attempts that Helu got? Will the rookie back—or an in-house option like Redd or Chris Thompson—cut into Morris’ carries? The Redskins are one of the few NFL teams that has one back carrying so much of the load. We could see a job sharing arrangement with a more dynamic back getting 10-12 touches per game.

We’ll have to see how Morris performs behind power blocking, if he can hit the hole quickly and pick his way through the line. I tend to think that he’ll do just fine but it’s hard to say until he actually does it consistently. And keep in mind that they will still run plenty of zone plays; Gruden has emphasized that they’re not shifting to all power run plays.

The depth and Morris’ effectiveness will come into play next year when Morris will be a free agent. If the Redskins do find a good back in the draft, one who can be a receiving threat out of the backfield, or if Redd or Thompson performs well, will they want to move on and cast their lot with the younger, cheaper, lower mileage back? Would Morris want to stay if there is a reduced role?

It’s also possible that Morris performs well in 2015, the Redskins are happy with him as their primary running back, and he signs a new contract that is satisfactory to both sides.

As noted in the beginning here there are many more questions about Morris’ future than there are answers. But that applies all but perhaps a handful of players on the roster. When you’re on a team that has won seven games in the last two years, got a new head coach a year ago and a new GM this year, it’s the way things are.

Timeline

—It’s been 108 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be about 151 days until they play another one.

Days until: Redskins offseason workouts start 5; 2015 NFL Draft 15; Redskins minicamp starts 62

If you have any questions about what's going on at Redskins Park, hit me up in the comments. And I'm always on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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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!