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Redskins position outlook: Running back

Redskins position outlook: Running back

Over the next few weeks, JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2016, break down the current personnel situation and evaluate the unit's outlook for 2017. We’re starting things off with a look at the running backs.

Running back

2016 starters: Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson (3rd down)

Backups: Matt Jones, Mack Brown, Keith Marshall (IR)

Free agents: Thompson, restricted

Rewind: Kelley took over as the starter for Jones after seven games. He started off well, averaging 107 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry over his first three games as the starter. His production slowed considerably in the last six games, with an average of 47 yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry. Still, it was a very good, totally unexpected season for an undrafted rookie

On the other hand, Jones had a very disappointing season compared to the expectations that he carried into 2016. After Alfred Morris left via free agency Jones was anointed The Man. There was no serious competition for the starting running back job throughout the offseason and training camp. Things started off pretty well as he was starting to figure out where to run. Through the first six games, Jones averaged 4.9 yards per carry and he was on pace to gain over 1,100 yards on the season.

Related: #RedskinsTalk podcast: A new deal for Cousins?

But then came the game in Detroit. Late in the first quarter the Redskins had a first and goal at the seven. Jones took a handoff up the middle and after gaining five yards he was fighting for a couple more. The ball came out and the Lions recovered in the end zone. Jones carried five more times the rest of the game and he was inactive the remaining nine games of the season. We’ll examine that a bit more in the “fast forward” section.

For the first time in his career, Thompson remained healthy and played all 16 games. The third-year player posted over 700 yards from scrimmage split almost equally between rushing (356) and receiving (349). He did well pass blocking and he scored a clutch touchdown late in the game against the Eagles, a 20-yard run around left end to put the Redskins ahead in the last two minutes.

Brown was promoted from the practice squad after Jones was deactivated. His season highlight was a 61-yard touchdown run in Week 16 to run up the score against the Bears. There was some fan buzz about Marshall because of his speed but the health problems that plagued him at Georgia continued in the NFL.

Fast forward: In an age of running back by committee the Redskins took a different approach. Jones had nearly all the carries in the seven games he started and Kelley had the lion’s share of the work in the last nine games. Thompson got some work here and there but he had more than four rushing attempts in a game just four times.

It was just such change from Jones being the unquestioned starter for the offseason and for the first seven weeks of the regular season to Kelley being the unquestioned starter with Jones on the sideline in street clothes that it raises questions for 2017.

Is Kelley good enough to be the running back for the team that the Redskins aspire to be, one good enough to advance deep into the playoffs? His early performance would indicate that he is but he didn’t exactly have a strong finish.

More Redskins: Free agency to-do list

What do they do with Jones? He was a third-round pick just two years ago. You would think that would give him some security at least through 2017. But it appeared that there was something beyond just a key lost fumble that had him on the inactive list for the final nine games. Did he fail to respond to coaching? Was there another attitude-related issue that instantly pushed him from being the unquestioned starter to being a forgotten man?

Eventually we will find out but not until free agency in the draft. If the Redskins go after even a mid-level free agent halfback or a mid-round running back in the draft that player isn’t going to replace Kelley or take Thompson’s third-down role. It would mean that Jones could start thinking about life after the Redskins.

Thompson is almost certain to return. He could come back on the restricted free agent tender or maybe the Redskins will sign him to a relatively modest two-year deal

The wild card is Marshall. It took Thompson a few years to learn how to keep his body ready to play. Marshall may not have that long but if he stays on the field his speed will get him a look.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Need to Know: The five highest-paid 2018 Redskins

Usa Today Sports Images

Need to Know: The five highest-paid 2018 Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, February 24, 18 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.

The five highest-paid Redskins in 2018

Originally published 1/12/18

This is how the five highest-paid Redskins per their 2018 salary cap numbers stack up as of now. The list could change, of course during free agency and if a particular quarterback returns. Cap numbers via Over the Cap.

CB Josh Norman, $17 million—The Redskins do have a window which would allow them to move on from Norman. His $13.5 million salary for this year doesn’t become guaranteed until the fifth day of the league year so it would be “only” a $9 million cap charge to move on from Norman, who turned 30 in December. Don’t look for that to happen but the possibility is there.

OT Trent Williams, $13.86 million—He is one of the best left tackles in the business. Those of you out there who have advocated moving him to left guard should look at this cap number, which is way out of line for what a team can afford to pay a guard. At his pay, he needs to be playing on the edge.

OLB Ryan Kerrigan, $12.45 million—He has delivered double-digit sacks in each of the two seasons that his contract extension has been in effect. That’s good value in a league that values the ability to get to the quarterback.

TE Jordan Reed, $10.14 million—The Redskins knew that he might have a year like last year when he played in only six games when they agreed to Reed’s five-year, $50 million extension. They can live with one such season. If he has another one in 2018 they may rethink things.

G Brandon Scherff, $6.75 million—The fact that a rookie contract is No. 5 on this list is a good sign that, as of now, the Redskins’ cap is not top heavy like it was last year. The top three cap hits from Norman, Williams, and Kirk Cousins totaled $59 million, which was about 35 percent of the cap. This year the total cap numbers of the top three come to $43.3 million, 24.3 percent of the estimated $178 million salary cap.

Next five: OT Morgan Moses ($5.4 million), TE Vernon Davis ($5.33 million), DL Stacy McGee ($4.8 million), DL Terrell McClain ($4.75 million), S D.J. Swearinger ($4.33 million)

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.


Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 5
—NFL Draft (4/26) 61
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 197

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Martavis Bryant could make sense for the Redskins, at the right price


Martavis Bryant could make sense for the Redskins, at the right price

A 2017 midseason trade for Martavis Bryant made no sense for the Redskins. A 2018 offseason trade for Martavis Bryant, however, might make sense for the Redskins. 

Bryant is on the trade block, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, and will be an intriguing prospect for receiver-needy teams across the NFL. In parts of three seasons with the Steelers, Bryant has 17 touchdowns and a 15.2 yards-per-reception average. 

A big play threat from any place on the field, Bryant would immediately make the Redskins receiving unit more athletic and explosive. 

It's not all good news with Bryant, though.

He was suspended for the entire 2016 season after repeated drug violations and caused some distraction for Pittsburgh during the 2017 season when he asked for a trade via social media. 


Is the talent enough to overcome the off-field distractions? Many would say it is. 

Last year, in just eight starts, Bryant grabbed 50 catches for more than 600 yards and three TDs. In their lone playoff loss to the Jaguars, Bryant caught two passes for 78 yards and a TD. 

Remember, too, the Steelers have an explosive offense, and Bryant is coupled with Antonio Brown on the receiver front along with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and Le'Veon Bell at running back. The Pittsburgh offense is loaded. 

Washington's offense is not nearly the prolific unit that the Steelers send out, but Jay Gruden does design a good offense. 

The real question surrounding any talk of trading for Bryant is the cost.

The Redskins are not in a position to send away any more draft picks this offseason after giving up a third-round pick, in addition to Kendall Fuller, to acquire Alex Smith. Bruce Allen and the Redskins front office need to improve their team in plenty of spots, and the team's draft picks are quite valuable. 

Bryant only has one year remaining on his rookie deal, and it's hard to balance that sort of short-term investment with the value of adding a rookie committed to the team for at least four years. Perhaps a late-round pick would make sense, but it would need to be a sixth-rounder. 

This could be one of those rare situations in the NFL where a player for player swap could work, though pulling that type of maneuver requires a lot of moving parts. 

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!