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Need to Know: What is the Redskins' game plan at running back?

Need to Know: What is the Redskins' game plan at running back?

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, January 28, 27 days before the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

Question of the day

We’ve flipped into offseason mode with Need to Know. At least 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.

Today's question comes from Twitter:

After four years of relative stability at the running back position it feels like the Redskins are about to undergo some upheaval there. Alfred Morris, the starter for those four years, is set to be a free agent. The player many thought would replace him, Matt Jones, flashed some potential but inconsistency, fumbles, and injuries raised some doubts about him.

Will Morris return?

I don’t think that Morris will be back but I wouldn’t rule it out completely. I think the Redskins like a lot about him—his dependability, his work ethic, the fact that he’s a solid citizen and that he is a good example for younger players. But the organization wants a prime back who is more dynamic, who can make something happen when catching a pass out of the backfield, who is a threat to break off a long run at any time, who can take a play that is blocked for three yards and make five or six. Morris used to be able to do the latter but he hasn’t done it consistently the last two years.

I don’t think the Redskins are going to offer him a contract before free agency starts or at least not anything that he would accept. If he looks around for a while and can’t find anything and is willing to return for a fairly inexpensive contract he could end up back in Ashburn. But I don’t expect that to happen; I think a team that emphasizes zone blocking will give him a reasonable deal and his time in Washington will be over.

Won't hand it to Jones

But if he goes, they won’t hand the position to Jones. From what I have heard they like Jones but they are not sure that he will be able to fix everything he needs to fix between now and September. He’s a part of the team’s future but he’s not necessarily the 2016 workhorse running back.

If Morris ends up leaving, then, who will be either ahead of or right behind Jones on the depth chart? I’m sure that McCloughan would rather find one in the draft. But the problem is you can’t count on finding one there who is a decent value when your pick comes up. McCloughan doesn’t want to draft for need.

What about Thomas?

Might Pierre Thomas re-sign? There is some mutual interest. But Thomas would have been playing for the Redskins all season but he chose to sit out rather than play for what the Redskins were offering. I don’t see the Redskins upping their offer substantially with Thomas being a year older (he turned 32 last month). So it may be up to him to lower his demands if he wants to play in Washington again.

I know someone will ask about Silas Redd, so let me address that situation. He will get a shot at making the team as he should be recovered from last year’s knee injury. But he is less proven that Jones is; I can’t see the team figuring that he can be the Plan B if Jones struggles.

A possible scenario

There are a lot of things that could happen here but let me lay out a scenario. Morris leaves as a free agent, signing with the Falcons. The draft comes and goes and the only back who is the best available player is a seventh-rounder who is destined for a practice squad. The Redskins look at the secondary free agent market, which will have some good players who are starting to get desperate for a job. Maybe they sign Thomas, maybe they get someone like Ahmad Bradshaw. You can fill in the blank with your favorite name, there will be some experienced backs looking for work.

One more thing about the draft—no matter what round, if McCloughan sees a running back as the best available player, he’ll take him. That could be Ezekiel Elliott in the first round or Derrick Henry in the second or Jonathan Williams of Arkansas in the third or fourth. That is the wild card in all of this.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 18 days ago. It will be about 227 days until they play another one.

Days until: NFL Combine 27; NFL free agency starts 41; 2016 NFL draft 91

In case you missed it

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Redskins Fan of the Year bracket: Which Washington supporter deserves the title?

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Redskins Fan of the Year bracket: Which Washington supporter deserves the title?

Every week during the 2017 Redskins season, NBC Sports Washington found two Redskins fans in the crowd and paired them in a head-to-head matchup on Twitter to determine the fan of the game.

And now that the season is over, it's time to take each of those winners, throw them into a NCAA Tournament-style bracket and let Twitter pick the Redskins Fan of the Year.

Starting on January 8 over on the @NBCSRedskins Twitter account, one matchup a day will be posted at 11 a.m., and fans will have 24 hours to vote for their favorite supporter by retweeting or liking depending on their preference. Week 1's winner will face off with Week 17's, Week 2's will play Week 16's, etc.

The winners will advance, and eventually, one member of the Burgundy and Gold faithful will stand above all the rest, earning the coveted title of Redskins Fan of the Year. 

Check out the results below, which'll be updated every day. To see the tweet that corresponded with each matchup, click the link after the date, but remember, retweets and likes submitted after the 24-hour period won't be counted.

January 8: Round one, matchup one

This was a close one that came down to the last-minute, but at the 24-hour mark, Week 17's winner garnered justtttttttt enough retweets to move on.

January 9: Round one, matchup two

In this tournament, a giant Redskins chain is apparently worth more than a giant football hat.

January 10: Round one, matchup three

In the tournament's third showdown, we have our first winner from the Likes side:

January 11: Round one, matchup four

Was there anyway she wasn't gonna win, especially with the little Hogettes nose?

January 12: Round one, matchup five

Our fifth matchup's winner earned the most retweets of anyone up to this point:

January 15: Round one, matchup six

These three 'Skins fans had to witness Washington's Thursday night flop in Dallas, so it's only fair that they get to advance to the second round:

January 16: Round one, matchup seven

There's still time to vote on this one:

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Who will be the Redskins' core offensive players three years from now?

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Who will be the Redskins' core offensive players three years from now?

Just before training camp, I took a stab at figuring out who on the Redskins roster would still be with the team and contributing in the year 2020. Now that the season is over, let’s revisit that look, move it up to 2021, and see how much the picture has changed. The offense is up today, the defense later this week.

The terms used here are mostly self-explanatory. If you want details you can look at this post from a couple of years ago.   

Offense (age as of Week 1 2021)

Potential blue-chip players: Brandon Scherff (29), Morgan Moses (30)
Changes from last prediction: Moses added, removed Trent Williams (33), Jordan Reed (31)

Scherff and Moses both are two young players who should get better with more experience. The right side of the line will be in good hands assuming the Redskins will be able to re-sign Scherff, who will be a free agent following the 2019 season.

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Williams will be 33 in 2021. He can play at a very high level at that age but I think he will be just below the perennial Pro Bowl status he enjoys now. Although I think that the Redskins can still get some good play out of Reed in the next couple of years, it’s hard to imagine him staying productive into his 30’s. He is under contract through 2021 but it’s hard to see him playing in Washington past 2020.

Solid starters: Jamison Crowder (28), Josh Doctson (27), Chris Thompson (30), Williams
Changes: Doctson, Thompson, Williams added, Kirk Cousins (33), Terrelle Pryor (32), Moses removed.

I’m probably higher on Doctson than most. I don’t see him attaining All-Pro status or catching 100 passes in a season but his physical talent is so good that he will be a solid, productive receiver for the next several years. The Redskins will need to find a third receiver but they will have two good ones in Crowder and Doctson.

Third-down back isn’t technically a starting position but Thompson should still be contributing as much to the offense as many starters.

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I think that Cousins will be a solid starter somewhere in 2021 but it is not looking like it will be in Washington. Pryor obviously did not work out and he is very likely to be playing elsewhere next year.

Potential starters: Spencer Long (30), Rob Kelley (28), Samaje Perine (25), Chase Roullier (28)
Changes: Added Roullier, moved Doctson up

Long could be a fixture on the O-line in 2021 or he could be signed by a different team in March. I don’t think that Kelley or Perine will be workhorse backs but either or both could be a part of a tandem. Roullier could move up to the “solid starters” category if he can repeat what he did in a small sample size (7 starts) in 2017.

There are other players who could end up on these lists a year from now. But we haven’t seen enough of 2017 draft picks TE Jeremy Sprinkle or WR Robert Davis to offer an intelligent assessment of where their careers are headed. It’s the same with undrafted linemen Tyler Catalina and Kyle Kalis. They might not make the team in 2018 or they could be competing for starting jobs in 2019.

There also are reserves like Ryan Grant (30) and Ty Nsekhe (35) who still could be on the roster but who would only be spot starters.

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.