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Through 9 games, the case for Jamison Crowder as Redskins MVP

Through 9 games, the case for Jamison Crowder as Redskins MVP

Coming into the 2016 season, expectations were high for the Redskins offense, highest for Kirk Cousins.

The quarterback steam rolled through the second half of 2015, breaking numerous Redskins passing records and guiding the franchise to an NFC East title.

Nine games into this year, Cousins is again producing at a high rate. In fact, he could break some of the records set just last year.

Playing the season on the franchise tag, it's getting harder to see any other decision the Redskins could make but to sign Cousins to a long-term, big-money deal, ensuring he remains the franchise QB for a long time.

So without taking anything away from Cousins, who is completing 67 percent of his passes and has thrown 14 touchdowns to seven interceptions and more than 2,700 yards, the quarterback has not been Washington's most important player so far this year.

That distinction belongs to Jamison Crowder.

RELATED: THE BEST IMAGES FROM REDSKINS' WEEK 10 WIN

The second-year slot receiver leads the 'Skins in catches (44), yards (535) and touchdowns (5). That's right - for all the hype surrounding DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon and Jordan Reed coming into the season, Crowder has become Cousins most trusted target

"He can be an easier target than he may look at his size. He’s a friendly target," Cousins said last week of the 5-foot-8 Crowder. "I feel like sometimes he makes me a more accurate quarterback with the way that he chases down the football and brings it in. He’s a great player for us."

During the Redskins four-game win streak earlier this season that propelled the team back into playoff contention, Crowder logged more than 180 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He's also developed into a dangerous threat on punt returns, averaging 16.9 yards-per-return, good for the No. 1 spot in the NFL.

In Sunday's win against the Vikings, Crowder caught the first touchdown of the game. Cousins threw the ball low where only Crowder could grab it, and it took a great catch to score. Both Cousins and Gruden say that Crowder plays much bigger than his size, and it showed on the TD grab.

"He’s shown that he plays a lot bigger than he is. He runs great routes," Gruden said. "He’s very quarterback friendly. He understands concepts – how to get there, when to get there, how to set up the defender."

That's what Crowder has delivered all year, and perhaps most importantly, he's done it consistently. Reed is arguably the most talented skill position player the 'Skins have, but he missed two games with a concussion earlier this season. Few players have speed and the ball tracking ability of Jackson, but he's lost time to a shoulder injury.

Trent Williams - Washington's most decorated Pro Bowler - is in the midst of a four-game suspension. Defensively, Ryan Kerrigan is delivering at an All Pro level as an outside linebacker, but the defense does not depend on Kerrigan like the offense has begun to lean on Crowder.

Gruden and Sean McVay run a highly efficient, crisp proxy of the West Coast Offense, a scheme designed for quick passes. Crowder fits it perfectly, a strong route runner with good hands that knows how to find soft spots in coverage.

It's hard to argue any Washington player being more valuable than Cousins. And other players could get on a run in the back half of the season to rival Crowder - a healthy Reed back on the field, or if Kerrigan continues to pad his sack total, or if Josh Norman can hang on to a few more possible interceptions. Still, it would be hard to match what Crowder has meant to the Redskins, at least through nine games.

Redskins GM Scot McCloughan has a simple way to describe what he looks for on the field: football players. Guys that just get the job done. Crowder fits that bill.

"You can’t really coach all the nuances of the coverages, but he just naturally sees it, feels it and reacts," Gruden said of Crowder. 

"Really not a lot of negative things if there’s anything to say about him as a wideout or as a player or as a person."

Sure sounds like an MVP. 

RELATED: BEST & WORST OF REDSKINS' THROWBACK UNIFORMS

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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