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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—What should expectations be for the 2018 Redskins?

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USA Today Sports Images

Need to Know: Tandler's Take—What should expectations be for the 2018 Redskins?

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 11, 31 days before NFL free agency starts.

The expectations game

The 2017 Redskins season was like a paper sack containing a can of tuna fish, a golf glove, an old sweatshirt, a non-functioning flip phone, a half-full bottle of hand sanitizer, and a roll of duct tape. It was a mixed bag.

That certainly was not the goal going into the season. They wanted to build on their eight-win 2016 season. The organization did not go all-out to try to do what the Eagles just did and win Super Bowl LII. But the plan was to at least be relevant in December and to finish off the season with the playoff spot that had eluded them in Week 17.

What will the Redskins try to do this offseason? Do they think that they are one of the teams that are close enough to win it all, organizations that will do what it takes to bring home the Lombardi Trophy from Super Bowl SIII? Or are they so far away from contending that they should tear things down and start over again?

The right answer is neither. The Redskins are one of the 12 to 15 teams in the muddled middle of the NFL. They are more than just a couple of pieces away from making a legitimate run at a title. But they have enough quality players to have something to build on. The Redskins aren’t close enough to being one of the top handful of teams to take the all-in approach. And the Alex Smith trade shows that they aren’t going the rebuild route.

What the Redskins brass will try to do is what most teams do, which is to attempt to meet reasonable expectations. That will keep the fans interested and energized, the media should be generally positive, and the sponsors will be content.

The question that is generated here, then, is what are reasonable expectations for the 2018 Redskins?

I think that we can agree that any season short of the seven to nine wins they have had the last three seasons would be a disappointment. A return to the land of double-digit losses, which is where they were in five of the six seasons prior to winning the NFC East with a 9-7 record in 2015, would have fans restless at best, rebellious at worst. Swaths of FedEx Field seats that are empty or, worse, occupied by fans of the opposing team would be a common sight.

Even staying the same, entrenched in the NFL’s mass of mediocrity, would lead to discontent. No, the Redskins need to take a leap forward. But how big a leap would constitute a reasonable explanation? Let’s look and see how teams that were in similar situations fared.

Since 2000, an NFL team has gone through three or more consecutive seasons with between seven and nine wins 16 times. The Redskins and Lions have such streaks that hit three years this past season, so we don’t yet know how they did in the fourth year.

The average record for other 14 teams in the fourth year is 8-8 (to be exact, 7.6-8.4). However, this is a case where an average from a relatively small sample size doesn’t tell the story. Only two of the teams, the 2004 Saints and the 2006 Broncos actually finished 8-8. Four teams went 9-7 or better and went to the playoffs. The 2017 Bills went one and done. The 2014 Cowboys, who posted the best post-mediocrity record of this group going 12-4, the 2010 Bears and last year’s Saints each won one playoff game.

The 2013 Chargers finished 9-7 but they did not make the playoffs. The other seven teams went in the wrong direction. The 2009 Bills, the 2006 Vikings, the 2010 Texans, the 2014 Giants, and the 2015 Dolphins all went 6-10. Bringing up the rear were the 2003 Redskins at 5-11 and last year’s Texans went 4-12.

You could see some of those bad seasons coming a mile away. The Redskins had four different coaches during their mediocre stretch from 2000-2002 with Norv Turner, interim Terry Robiskie, Marty Schottenheimer, and Steve Spurrier all manning the headset. Although they kept Spurrier in 2003, the instability of the previous three years caught up with them and they took a nosedive. The Texans looked good early last year but a multitude of injuries, especially ones to J.J. Watt and Desean Watson, sunk their season.

But most of the other teams that went downhill largely stayed healthy and did what you’re supposed to do. They tried to improve enough to be able to take the next step, but it didn’t work out.

The Redskins, of course, would like everyone to believe that they are headed in the positive direction, like last year’s Saints. They were a Minneapolis Miracle away from going to the NFC title game. They didn’t make any major free agency moves but they did have one of those once in a lifetime drafts, landing both the offensive and defensive rookies of the year in RB Alvin Kamara and CB Marshon Lattimore. Oh, and they have a guy named Brees at QB.

Alex Smith is a good quarterback but he’s not Brees. It’s unrealistic to expect the Redskins to get as much immediate help from the draft as the ’17 Saints did; it might be a few years before any NFL team gets that much instant juice.

However, between the players under contract who are coming back from injury, players from last year’s draft who could take the next step, and additions in the draft and free agency, the Redskins do have a reasonable chance of improving.  

How much improvement would meet a reasonable expectation? Some might say Super Bowl or bust but, as noted above, that’s not where every team is. With their cap space (~$31 million) and players coming off of IR, a 10-win season seems to be attainable. If they were bringing home a report card from school, that would be like getting an A in art, a B in English class and the gentleman’s C in calculus.

Those aren’t Ivy League grades and 10 wins will not put Washington in with the NFL’s elite teams. In fact, 10 may or may not be enough to make the playoffs. In the last eight seasons, four 10-win teams have failed to play in the postseason. That would not be a satisfactory outcome for many—we’re not talking about a bright line here, it’s more of a continuum—but the team would generally be seen as moving in the right direction. The 2019 offseason talk would be mostly positive, season tickets would get renewed, and the ad sales staff would have no problems selling space in the stadium and in game day programs. 

The further they fall short of that the more fan and media discontent would grow. Maybe Jay Gruden could survive another season in the doldrums, but his seat would be very, very hot with a record within a game of 8-8. Falling back into 10-loss territory like many of the teams in the sample discussed above would have all of the coaches preparing their resumes.

Ten is the magic number that will keep most people happy. The job in Ashburn is to build a team capable of hitting that mark. 

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.

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Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

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Associated Press

Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, May 26, 17 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Contract makes Alex Smith a Redskins for at least three seasons

This post was originally published on March 19. 

When the Redskins traded for Alex Smith on January 30, news also broke that he had agreed to a four-year extension with Washington in addition to the one year left on his contract with the Chiefs. While we got some top-line numbers on the deal, we have gone since then without any details. 

Until now. 

The details show a deal that has a slightly higher cap hit in 2018 than was on his original Chiefs contract and the numbers rise gradually over the life of the deal, which runs through 2022. 

Smith got a $27 million signing bonus and his salaries for 2018 ($13 million) and 2019 ($15 million) also are fully guaranteed at signing making the total $55 million (information via Over the Cap, which got data from a report by Albert Breer). 

But there I another $16 million that is guaranteed for all practical purposes. On the fifth day of the 2019 league year, his 2020 salary of $16 million becomes fully guaranteed. He almost assuredly will get to the point where that money will become guaranteed since the Redskins are not going to cut him after one year having invested $55 million in him. So the total guarantees come to $71 million. 

His 2021 salary is $19 million and it goes up to $21 million in 2022. There have been reports of some incentives available to Smith but since we have no details we’ll set those aside for now. 

The cap hits on the contract are as follows: 

2018: $18.4 million
2019: $20.0 million
2020: $21.4 million
2021: $24.4 million
2022: $26.4 million

The Redskins can realistically move on from Smith after 2020. There would be net cap savings of $13 million in 2021 and $21 million in 2022. 

The first impression of the deal is that the Redskins did not move on from Kirk Cousins because they didn’t want to guarantee a lot of money to a quarterback. The total practical guarantee of $71 million is second only to Cousins’ $82.5 million. It should be noted that Cousins’ deal runs for three years and Smith’s contract is for five. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Early returns show solid Redskins squad, with potential for more

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USA TODAY Sports

Early returns show solid Redskins squad, with potential for more

More than 100 days remain before the Redskins take the field in meaningful NFL action.

Any and all excitement needs to be tempered, significantly, because what happens on a practice field in May without pads does not represent what will happen in September, October and beyond. 

Still, the Redskins group that took the field this week for OTAs showed promise. 

New quarterback Alex Smith looked crisp, connecting with a variety of wideouts and commanding the huddle. New wideout Paul Richardson made the best play of the session when he streaked down the field past rookie cornerback Greg Stroman and hauled in a deep pass from Smith. The play showed Smith's ability to identify open receivers downfield, as well as Richardson's ability to go up and grab a contested catch. Even Stroman, the seventh-round rookie, positioned himself well, he just fell victim to a perfect pass and tremendous athleticism.

That was only one play in a two-hour session. Again, don't take too much from May, when players don't wear pads or engage in any of the violence that the NFL is predicated upon. But the OTAs do serve a purpose, both for players and coaches, and there were nuggets to absorb and try to project for the fall. Here they are:

  • Jay Gruden made clear he's not concerned about the health of his offensive line. Trent Williams and Morgan Moses are recuperating from offseason surgery, but Gruden believes both are on track for when things start to matter. It's a good thing the coach isn't concerned because this was the 'Skins line in OTAs (left to right): Geron Christian, Shawn Lauvao, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, John Kling. Should that lineup take the field this fall, there will be trouble. 
     
  • The Redskins lost Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland this offseason, and the secondary depth will be something to watch throughout training camp. At OTAs, newly signed veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick lined up opposite Josh Norman in the team's base 3-4 defense. In nickel and dime coverage, Quinton Dunbar lined up opposite Norman and Scandrick moved to the slot. As things progress, it will be interesting to see if Dunbar surpasses Scandrick in base coverage, and what becomes of 2017 third-round pick Fabian Moreau. Stay tuned.  
     
  • Rookie running back Derrius Guice looked every part of the first-round talent many judged him to be before draft season rumors caused him to slide to the late second round. Guice cuts with authority and is able to see holes before they form and patiently wait to hit the open space. Guice also looked fine in pass-catching drills, one area that was a question coming out of LSU (but that says more about LSU's prehistoric offense). Watching the Redskins offense work, it seems clear Guice will be the heaviest used runner this fall.
     
  • That said, don't count out Robert Kelley. He looks leaner and plenty quick, showing a few impressive runs during the session. Byron Marshall also looked good, and Gruden pointed out his success in his post-OTA press conference. The running back group will have plenty of competition all the way through Richmond. 
     
  • Jonathan Allen has switched jersey numbers from 95 to 93. Rookie Daron Payne is now wearing 95. Payne and Allen both went to Alabama, both are huge, and both play defensive line. The number switch will take some getting used to. 
     
  • Zach Brown missed the OTA session as he was moving, and interestingly in his spot with the starting defense was Josh Harvey-Clemons. The second-year pro out of Louisville showed impressive speed in coverage, and remember he played safety in college and performed quite well. He has ball skills and great size to be a coverage linebacker. Some were surprised when the Redskins kept JHC last season at the cut to 53, but his development appears to be paying off for the organization. 
     
  • Another linebacker that made a play was Zach Vigil. He impressed for the Redskins late last season and was running the Washington second-team defensive huddle. At one point, Vigil broke through the line of scrimmage and blew up a run play. That prompted D.J. Swearinger to yell from the sideline, "OK Zach. OK ZACH!"
     
  • Speaking of Swearinger, the Redskins defensive captain seemed in midseason form when it comes to yelling encouragement on the field. Nobody hypes up the defense like Swearinger, particularly when the secondary makes a big play. On one pass Dunbar made a nice diving play to break up a pass, and Swearinger and Josh Norman got very fired up, shouting and jumping around. The entire defense responded. Little stuff like that helps disrupt the monotony of offseason work. 
     
  • Jamison Crowder looks jacked and quick. The end. 

 

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