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Redskins offseason Q&A: Who will be the third down back?

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Redskins offseason Q&A: Who will be the third down back?

With a new general manager in charge, new faces throughout the lineup as well as new assistant coaches bringing new ideas to the table, the Redskins are a team in transition. Between now and the start of training camp, CSNWashington.com reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the top questions facing Jay Gruden and Co. as they prepare for the season.

Who will the third down back be?

When Roy Helu Jr. signed with the Raiders as a free agent in March, the Redskins lost the running back who had played most of the third-down snaps for the past two years. The team struggled on third down last year, converting just 31.5 percent of their chances, 30th in the NFL. That wasn’t all Helu’s fault, of course, but perhaps in the process of making a change they can also make an upgrade and find someone who can help improve that dismal conversion rate.

Tandler: In 2014 Helu caught 17 passes for 157 yards on third down but only six of those receptions led to first downs. Can the Redskins find someone who has a better conversion rate? They have two contenders and a dark horse who will try.

The long shot is Trey Williams, a rookie free agent scatback who turned some heads with his speed and moves at Texas A&M. He would have to blow up in camp and in preseason games to have a chance to make it.

Chris Thompson got a brief audition as the third down back late last season. We need more evidence to determine if he can catch and pass protect well enough to get the job Week 1. On the plus side, Thompson has plenty of speed; the down side is that he spends a lot of time in the injured list.

At 6-2, 231 rookie Matt Jones does not have the prototypical size for the job. But he is not the plodder you might expect to see with a back his size. “He does have good change of direction – he’s shown that out in space – and good hands,” said Jay Gruden during minicamp.

If Thompson stays healthy he is definitely a threat to get the job but I’m putting my hypothetical money on Jones. I think that Jay Gruden and company think that they might have quite an unusual weapon in the rookie and they will give him a shot to see what he can do.

El-Bashir: After getting a good look at Jones in OTAs and minicamp, I’m now expecting the Florida product to end up as a direct replacement for Helu, meaning he’ll occasionally spell Morris and fill the role of third down running back.

GM Scot McCloughan didn’t spend a third round pick on Jones for him to simply serve as a backup this season. Based on his workload this spring, I suspect McCloughan, Gruden and Co. have big plans for Jones, and I think we’ll see it revealed soon enough. 

Jones, obviously, has a lot to learn and he still must refine his game. But he’s arrived with a solid foundation. He’s a willing and able blocker. He possesses impressive quickness and agility for a player of his size. And, just as important, he’s got natural pass catching hands.

“He’s shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, which is important,” Gruden said earlier this offseason. “He handles any blitzing linebacker, that’s for sure, which is also very good. …Matt has got a lot of ability [and] a lot more versatility than I think what we first thought, really, because he didn’t catch a lot of balls at Florida. It wasn’t his fault; he just wasn’t asked to. We have high hopes for him both on first down and third down.”

What that all remains for Thompson, Redd and Williams remains to be seen. Last season, Gruden kept Morris, Helu, Redd and fullback Darrel Young at the final cutdown. The year before that, the Redskins’ previous staff kept Morris, Helu, Evan Royster, Thompson and Young.

If I had to take a crack at it now, I’d go with Morris, Jones, Thompson and Young making the 53. But I also don’t think you can rule out Redd, though he figures to be a tight competition with Thompson.

Previously on Redskins preseason Q&A:

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Costly cornerbacks, offseason blueprint

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Costly cornerbacks, offseason blueprint

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, February 17, 25 days before NFL free agency starts.

The Redskin week that was

My weekly look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics on RealRedskins.com and NBCSportsWashington.com.

An offseason blueprint for the Redskins—Should the Redskins focus their free agency money on keeping their own? In addition to unrestricted free agents Zach Brown and Trent Murphy, they need to consider extensions for Brandon Scherff, Preston Smith, and Jamison Crowder. That could chew up a bunch of the approximately $31 million of cap space that they have. They may get some help on the market but most of their improvement should come from the draft and from within.

Redskins offseason will hit warp speed soon—With the exception of the Alex Smith trade, which actually hasn’t happened yet, there hasn’t been much going on with the Redskins. That is going to change soon, check out the post for the calendar and how the events matter for the Redskins.

No mixed messages from Alex Smith—In a radio interview, Alex Smith said that he was “jacked” to be a part of the Redskins. Now, the phrase often repeated here is that you shouldn’t listen to what they say, you should watch what they do. And the moment that he signs the reported four-year extension that he has negotiated with the team, a deal that likely would put him in Washington for the rest of his career, we will see his actions backing up his words. Then we will know.

What we know, and what we think, of the Su'a Cravens situation—This will be a true test of the acumen of the front office. It’s a very tricky situation. The Redskins have to decide if they want to keep Cravens. Should they decide to keep him, there will be a lot of smoothing over of ruffled feelings that would need to be done over and trust in Cravens would have to be restored. If they don’t want him around, they have to make it look like they are willing to go into the season with him in order to be able to trade him. Otherwise, teams may just wait for them to cut him and sign him as a free agent. Again, don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.

Tweet of the week

Quarterback is not the only NFL position with rising salaries. The players teams hire to try to stop opposing QBs, cornerbacks, are getting expensive, too. Bashaud Breeland is a good cornerback, not a great one. His coverage skills are solid, he’s a good team player (if a bit of a hothead at times) and his work ethic is not questioned. For a fourth-round pick who everybody thought left Clemson a year too early, he has done well for himself But he hasn’t made a Pro Bowl and he hasn’t even come close enough to be considered a snub. Breeland has eight interceptions in four years in the league with a high of three in 2016.

The price tag for good at cornerback is likely to be in the vicinity of $10 million per season. And good for him if he gets it. But with the Redskins employing Josh Norman, who has cap hits in the range of $14.5 million-$16.9 million over the next three years, it would be difficult to fit him in. Truth be told, Breeland has probably been destined to leave as a free agent ever since Norman signed his contract in April of 2016.

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) 12
—NFL Draft (4/26) 68
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 204

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Cousins would reportedly look to file grievance if Redskins use franchise tag on him

Cousins would reportedly look to file grievance if Redskins use franchise tag on him

The Redskins might try to franchise tag quarterback Kirk Cousins to try to get some compensation for him as he leaves. But Cousins’ camp might not let that happen without a fight.

According to Albert Breer of the MMQB, Cousins might file a grievance if he is tagged, saying that the Redskins would be violating the spirit of the rules regarding the use of the franchise tag. He would be seeking to have the tag voided because the team clearly isn ’t interested in reaching a long-term deal with him given the acquisition of Alex Smith. The tag is supposed to be used to buy time to get an agreement done, not to squat on a player’s rights in order to trade him.

There is precedent for the tag being used in order to facilitate a trade. In 2009, the Patriots tagged quarterback Matt Cassel. They clearly had no intention of keeping him as they had Tom Brady on the roster. But New England pulled it off, shipping Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs for a second-round pick.

But it is up to the player to object to being tagged and for whatever reason Cassel and his agent went along with the tag and trade rather than fighting for free agency.

It looks like Cousins ’camp won’t go as quietly.

It’s up to the Redskins to make the first move. The window to be able to tag a player opens on Tuesday with the deadline coming on March 6. We will see how things play out after that.

MORE REDSKINS: THE EXPECTATIONS GAME

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