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What do the Redskins need to do to build a Super Bowl team?

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What do the Redskins need to do to build a Super Bowl team?

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.

No. 15

How can the Redskins make it to the Super Bowl?

El-Bashir: The Redskins laid a solid foundation in the second half of 2015, no doubt. They learned how to practice with focus and intensity. They learned how to win on the road. They also figured out what it takes to string together a few wins. As a result, Jay Gruden and Co. won five of their final six games en route to claiming the NFC East title.

But once they got into the playoffs, the Redskins learned the hardest lesson of them all: They’ve still got a ways to go before they’re ready to challenge the NFL’s elite. Which leads us to today’s question.

Here are the top three things that must occur for the Redskins to make it to the big game:

  • Kirk Cousins must take his game to the next level. He was outstanding down the stretch, but next season is going to be more challenging. Expectations will be higher. Opponents will be better prepared for him. And the schedule will be harder, too.
  • The defense must be, in a word, better. Each of this year’s final four—Denver, Carolina, New England and Arizona—finished among the top-10 in yards and points allowed. The Redskins, meantime, were 28th and 17th, respectively. Getting Junior Galette back will make the pass rush a lot more dynamic. But GM Scot McCloughan also must address a secondary that allowed 30 passing touchdowns. Only eight teams allowed more and, of course, none of those teams sniffed the postseason.  
  • As good as the passing game proved to be from November on, the Redskins must acquire a reliable running game to complement Cousins and the air attack. Last season, the Alfred Morris and Matt Jones-led ground game averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. As a result, McCloughan has some tough decisions to make. Is Jones ready to be the starter? Or does McCloughan need to make a bold move in free agency or the draft? Whatever he decides, it had better work because 30th in yards per attempt ain't going to cut it, obviously. 

Are there other areas where the Redskins need to be better? Sure. But if they make significant strides in those three, I think they'll be in position to make a run.

Tandler: With the NFL operating under a hard salary cap it is difficult to piece together a team that is dominant on both sides of the ball like the 1991 Redskins did. So building a high-scoring offense and a punishing defense sounds like a good plan on paper but the difficulty of doing so is high.

The Panthers are strong on both sides of the ball but they are in the Super Bowl thanks to the generational talent they have under contract. Carolina has some very good players but wouldn’t be playing in the Super Bowl today if not for Cam Newton. Getting a franchise quarterback is an important part of the formula but unless you have the good fortune of holding the No. 1 pick in a year when a player like Newton is in the draft pool it’s not going to happen.

The Broncos are more like the unbalanced teams that we have seen a lot of in the big game lately. Their offense was pedestrian. Peyton Manning struggled mightily all year. But it’s arguable that due to their defense, first in the league in terms of yards allowed, fourth in points allowed, they could be playing today with just about anyone behind center.

Back to the Redskins and their Super Bowl drought of nearly a quarter of a century, McCloughan’s first task needs to be to get the Redskins to where they are competent on both sides of the ball and then pour resources into one side or the other. It appears that they are further ahead on offense right now so building up the running game and continuing to develop Cousins could be the ticket to bigger and better things. 

25 Questions series

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New free agent Doug Martin unlikely fix to Redskins' woeful run game

New free agent Doug Martin unlikely fix to Redskins' woeful run game

News broke Tuesday that the Tampa Bay Bucaneers released former Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin, and while the name certainly triggers value, his play of the last two seasons should calm the excitement. 

Since a 2015 season where Martin rushed for 1,400 yards and averaged nearly 5 yards-per-carry in 16 games, Martin has been suspended, undergone substance abuse rehab and missed games due to injury.

In the last two seasons, Martin has played in 16 of 32 games, rushed for 827 yards and averaged less than 3 yards-per-carry.

Over his six year NFL career with the Bucs, Martin has only played two full seasons. Those two seasons were great, in 2012 and 2015, but the other four have been largely disappointing. 

RELATED: WHAT SHOULD THE REDSKINS DO AT RUNNING BACK?

The Redskins averaged just 3.6 yards-per-carry last season, and could definitely use a boost in the run game. It's entirely possible Washington might look to upgrade their offensive backfield this offseason, either in free agency or in the 2018 NFL Draft, but Martin does not look like the player to help. 

Early in the 2017 season, it appeared the Redskins run game might be a strength for the offense. After a disappointing effort on the ground to open the year in a loss to the Eagles, the Redskins rushed for at least 111 yards in their next three contests, including nearly 230 yards on the ground in a Week 2 win over the Rams. 

Injuries undid the run game, however, as Rob Kelley got hurt and the offensive line lost players, too. Over the course of the season, rookie Samaje Perine sustained minor injuries and Chris Thompson was lost for the year with a broken leg. 

Going into 2018, Kelley, Perine, Thompson and Kapri Bibbs are all on the roster and expected for now to stay with the team. That's yet another reason why the Redskins are likely to stay away from Doug Martin.

RELATED: 2018 NFL MOCK DRAFT 5.0

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Need to Know: Redskins' Junior Galette will be a valued free agent

Need to Know: Redskins' Junior Galette will be a valued free agent

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, February 20, 22 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.

Galette to be a valued free agent

Originally published 12/13/17

Like the Redskins, the Broncos are no longer relevant in 2017. Both teams’ fan bases have started to look towards the coming offseason.

To give their readers what they want, the Denver Post published an article by Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus that discussed some of the top pending free agents who have done the most to increase their values in the past year. There were two Redskins named, one you would expect to see on such a list and one that might surprise some people.

Kirk Cousins is at the top of the list. “The Washington signal-caller is grading as a top-10 quarterback (82.8), and soon he’ll have the long-term contract of one,” Renner wrote. “Only this time its value will be exponentially higher than any one he would have signed back when he first became a free agent in 2016.”

But the surprising name is that of Junior Galette. After missing the last two seasons with two torn Achilles tendons, he played this year on a one-year, $800,000 deal. And while he hasn’t been on fire in the sack department with just two on the year, he has been getting pressure on the passer.

“He’s accumulated the 27th-highest pass-rushing grade of any edge defender this season, but in only 264 snaps,” wrote Renner. “At 29 years of age, it’s doubtful he ever gets back to the level of the contract that he once had on the table with New Orleans. With how he’s played this season though, some pass-rush-needy team will pay handsomely for his services.”

One team that could be considered to be pass rush needy is the Redskins. Preston Smith is the starter and supposedly one of the Redskins’ top pass rushers. But in 100 fewer pass rush snaps this year, Galette has only three fewer quarterback hits than Smith and six more hurries.

And after missing those two seasons, Galette has remained healthy. Although he was limited with a hamstring during much of the preseason, he has not missed a practice or appeared on an injury report this year.

But would the Redskins be willing to pay him “handsomely”? Perhaps a good comp would be Connor Barwin, who moved from the Eagles to the Rams this past offseason at the age of 31. He had five sacks in Philly in 2016. That got him a one-year deal worth $3.5 million.

Barwin likely will have more sacks on his ledger going into free agency so let’s say Galette could command around $3 million. Perhaps he could offer Washington a bit of a hometown discount and agree to something in the $2.75 million range. If that is the case, the Redskins would be smart to keep him around for another year.

Plenty of things could alter the equation. If Galette gets hot in the last three games and posts a few more sacks his price could rise. With Smith and Ryan Kerrigan both back next year, perhaps Galette will want to go somewhere that he might get more playing time.

The details need to be sorted out but don’t be surprised if Galette gets a lot of attention in free agency, as much as teams need pass rush, and if the Redskins have to make a very tough decision about how much he is worth.

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) 9
—NFL Draft (4/26) 65
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 201