In less than a year, the Redskins completed a stunning turnaround, ascending from a laughingstock in 2014 to a division champion in 2015. But now comes the difficult part: taking that all-important next step and improving from a franchise that was fortunate to get into the playoffs to one that can do some damage once it gets there. And that work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.
In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the 25 biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.
Should Alfred Morris return to the Redskins in 2016?
Tandler: If you’re reading this you are well familiar with the Alfred Morris story—a sixth-round pick who broke the team rushing yards record as a rookie, made two Pro Bowl appearances, had good but declining production in his second and third seasons, and becoming a forgotten man at times in 2015. Now that he has completed his fourth season he is a free agent and he and the Redskins need to decide if he will come back.
Morris had some good moments this past season, with two games with over 100 yards rushing and a total of five with at least 75 yards on the ground. But there were far too many unproductive games; Morris mustered 30 yards or fewer in eight of the 16 regular season games.
Part of the issue was an offensive line that by Week 6 had four new blockers from 2014; three of them came into the season with very limited playing time. The other one was rookie Brandon Scherff. Another factor limiting Morris’ production was the coaches wanting to give rookie Matt Jones some carries.
But, make no mistake, a lot of Morris’ issues fall into the player’s lap. It seemed that he lost his ability to make the first tackler miss and when he did have running room he often approached the hole very tentatively.
Add it all up and it does not bode well for a Morris return in 2016. The team will look to Jones and another, more dynamic running back to carry the ball. Morris is much more comfortable running behind a dedicated zone blocking scheme (Washington mixed zone and power running in 2015) and he likely will look for a team that specializes in zone. A parting of ways seems to be inevitable and it’s probably best for both Morris and the Redskins.
El-Bashir: After the Redskins plummeted from 10-6 in 2012 to 3-13 in 2013, Redskins President Bruce Allen acknowledged that the front office had made a major miscalculation: it had retained too many players in the hopes of recapturing 2012’s glory instead of taking a hard, honest look at its personnel and making some shrewd upgrades.
They can’t afford to let that happen again.
Which brings me to Morris. He’s meant a lot to the Redskins for four years and, at 27, it’spossible he’s got several good years left. At the same time, it’s impossible to overlook the steep decline in his overall production. Stats, after all, are how running backs are measured in the NFL. And Morris’ numbers don’t paint a flattering picture. His yards per carry the past four seasons have gone like this: 4.8, 4.6, 4.1, 3.7. This year, Morris’ yards per attempt ranked last among qualified players (40th)—even after strong performances against the Bills (6.0 per) and Cowboys (5.3) in December.
Another telling stat is how Morris was used by Jay Gruden. Rookie Matt Jones played in 13 games and, in eight of those contests, logged more carries than Morris. And it’s not like Jones was some juggernaut; he averaged only 3.4 yards per carry and lost four fumbles.
As the offseason begins, the Redskins’ running back situation ranks as one of the team’s biggest concerns. And, to me, staying loyal to Morris in the face of his plummeting production would only compound the problem. In fact, it's possible Gruden and GM Scot McCloughan need to press the rest button at this position.
25 Questions series
- Yesterday:Is McCoy the answer at backup QB for the Redskins?
- Today: Should the Redskins try to keep Alfred Morris?
- Tomorrow: Should the Redskins cut Andre Roberts?