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Post-Free Agency Roster Grades: Questions remain at cornerback despite plenty of roster turnover

Post-Free Agency Roster Grades: Questions remain at cornerback despite plenty of roster turnover

With free agency in the rearview and the NFL Draft fast approaching, the NBC Sports Washington Redskins crew examines the entire roster, position by position group. Today: Cornerbacks.

CBs: Kendall Fuller, Ronald Darby, Fabian Moreau, Jimmy Moreland, Greg Stroman, Danny Johnson, Simeon Thomas

2019 Recap: Like many positions on the Redskins defense, cornerback was a unit that was massively inconsistent throughout the 2019 season.

A year ago, the Burgundy and Gold's best player on the defensive side of the ball was cornerback Quinton Dunbar. The 27-year-old appeared in just 11 games but notched a career-high four interceptions and finished the 2019 season the No. 2 graded cornerback by Pro Football Focus, trailing only San Francisco 49ers' star Richard Sherman.

Unfortunately for the Redskins, Dunbar is no longer with the team. The cornerback grew unhappy with his contract in February -- which has just one year remaining and zero guaranteed money left -- and requested to be traded. Weeks later, Washington dealt the cornerback across the country to Seattle in exchange for a fifth-round pick.

Outside of Dunbar, cornerback was a position that struggled significantly in 2019.

Josh Norman, Washington's second-highest-paid defender in 2019, was so poor on coverage that interim head coach Bill Callahan benched him prior to the Redskins Week 12 clash with the Detroit Lions. Even as injuries in the secondary began to tally, Norman remained on the sideline for the remainder of the season, as the Redskins opted to play guys they signed just days prior over him. The veteran corner was released this offseason and has since signed with Buffalo.

The 2019 season was expected to be one where Fabian Moreau took a step forward. The third-year pro was putting together a solid training camp before suffering an ankle injury that cost him the first two games of the season. When Moreau returned, he struggled, especially in the slot. He moved to his natural outside position following Norman's benching, and immediately produced with two interceptions against Detroit. 

One of the better storylines that surrounded the Redskins during last year's offseason was the emergence of seventh-round pick Jimmy Moreland. The James Madison alum made a name for himself during OTAs, intercepting three passes during one session. He backed up his solid offseason and training camp with a strong preseason, too. But once the regular season started, the rookie failed to make much of an impact when he was out on the field.

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2020 Potential: The Redskins have had a lot of turnover at this position, but plenty of questions linger with this group.

After two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, Washington reunited with cornerback Kendall Fuller this offseason on a four-year deal. Fuller primarily played the slot during his first tenure in Washington but was used in several different positions with the Chiefs, including spending time at safety, too.

Fuller returns to the nation's capital in a much larger role in Washington this time as the team's top cornerback. How well the 25-year-old lives up to that challenge will largely impact the overall success of this unit.

Besides Fuller, Washington added another starting-caliber cornerback in free agency in Ronald Darby. A second-round pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2015, Darby excelled as a rookie and followed that up with a solid sophomore campaign. But injuries have derailed him over the past three seasons, leading him to sign a one-year, prove-it deal with Washington.

Moreau and Darby are expected to compete for the second outside cornerback position opposite Fuller. Moreau is entering the final year of his rookie deal and Darby is on a one-year contract, so both players should be motivated to win the job and put together their best season yet. Otherwise, their future not just with the Redskins -- but in the NFL -- could be in question.

The Redskins would also benefit from a sophomore jump from Moreland. The JMU product had a handful of flashes in 2019 where he showed his play-making ability and now has a full year in the NFL under his belt. With Fuller likely to play on the outside, it's Moreland's job to lose in the slot. But if he wants to take command of that position, he'll need to have a better second season than what he did as a rookie.

Washington could also add another piece to this unit during the draft. The Redskins have selected a cornerback in nine (!!!!) straight drafts, as the last time they avoided the position during the annual April event was in 2010. The Redskins have several holes to fill on both sides of the ball, but don't be surprised if they choose to add at least one defensive back this upcoming weekend.

Overall CB Projection: This unit has some talent, but there are a lot more questions than answers that surround this group. How will Fuller handle top cornerback duties? Will Darby be able to stay healthy? Will he even be effective when he is healthy? Will Moreau finally make the jump? Is Moreland capable of being a full-time starter in the slot? These are all questions the Redskins won't be able to answer until the season begins.

CB Grade: There's just way too much uncertainty surrounding this unit. If this group plays up to their potential, they could be a solid B, or maybe even a B+. But this grade is not based on potential; it's based on current reality. So for now, this unit can't be graded any higher than average, which would give them a C.

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Adrian Peterson willing to play 'three to four more' seasons to break Emmitt Smith's rushing record

Adrian Peterson willing to play 'three to four more' seasons to break Emmitt Smith's rushing record

As Washington running back Adrian Peterson enters his 14th NFL season, he sits just 4,139 yards away from Emmitt Smith's all-time rushing yards mark of 18,355.

For Peterson, who has put together one of the best careers at the position ever and currently ranks fifth on the list, surpassing Smith has been something he's chased since he first stepped foot in the league in 2007.

‘Obviously that’s one of my goals that I set for myself when I entered into the NFL was to be able to pass the GOAT," Peterson said on NFL Network's Good Morning Football.

Now just over 4,000 yards away, the goal is in Peterson's sights. But the 35-year old veteran is not only trying to catch Smith, but outlast "Father Time" as well. Though the 2012 MVP has shown no signs of slowing down over the past two seasons in Washington, the yardage total he needs equals about four more grueling seasons of football that would push him near the age of 40.

As challenging as that may be, Peterson expects to get there. He's already explained that he wants to play four more seasons, and though his body will call the shots, he's feeling healthy and fresh entering the 2020 campaign. 

“My body is feeling good. I look forward to playing a couple more years, three to four more years, who knows," Peterson said. "Depends on how my body is feeling, because it talks to me.”

He also didn't realize that he was only 4,139 yards from the record. To him, that makes the task even more plausible.

“I didn’t know it was that close. 4,000, that sounds a lot better than 6,000 or 5,000," Peterson said. "We’ll see what happens, I’ll put my best foot forward to reach it I promise you that.”

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While passing Smith is surely something Peterson will take note of as he continues to suit up each Sunday, his desire to continue playing the sport doesn't come from personal achievements.

Throughout his illustrious career, he's consistently collected personal accolades that demonstrate just how successful he's been. But, one thing that has eluded Peterson is team achievements. In 13 seasons, he's still yet to reach a Super Bowl. As he continues to show age is just a number, it's the ring that he really wants. Smith's rushing record would just be the icing on the cake.

“That’s not really my ultimate goal, it’s one of my top goals," Peterson said. "Win a championship is the one that I’m chasing the most.”

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Making a case for a DC-themed name for the Washington Football Team

Making a case for a DC-themed name for the Washington Football Team

It's been several weeks since the Washington Football Team announced it was retiring its former name and logo after more than 80 years. Ever since FedEx became the first known sponsor to formally ask Washington to change its name, fans have taken to social media to voice some of their favorites among potential replacements. I spoke with several marketing experts about a few of the fan-generated names, and will use their responses to make a case for some of the most popular suggestions. This is the case for a DC-themed name.

Case for: Washington, D.C.

If there was one sentiment most common amongst the marketing experts interviewed for this project, it was that the Washington Football Team’s best option for a new name is something related to the city the team plays in.

This opinion wasn’t specific to Washington, D.C., as the experts cited other sports teams with great brands related to the city they represent, but the experts did cite the unique opportunities D.C. provides for a brand.

“The general rule of thumb for sports franchise branding is to tap into the elements of a city, a geography, a people that is highly relevant, highly aligned with how people in that area identify themselves,” said Whitney Wagoner, director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at University of Oregon. “The Pittsburgh Steelers are called the Pittsburgh Steelers for a reason. And that identity, that industry, working class, blue collar, hard hat kind’ve imagery really speaks emotionally to people in that city. And that is the strength of that connection, and that’s the strength of that brand. So, in general, you want to find things that really best represent the culture and the people and the uniqueness of that city, of that region.

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“And so what are those things in the greater Washington, D.C. metro area about people from there? What is to be from there? And the more you can align and tap into those things, conventional wisdom says the stronger that connection, the better the fan base connection will be.”

If done correctly, the Washington Football Team should be able strengthen an already loyal fan base by picking a name based on its city. Tapping into the region is a way to not only pacify some of the fans upset about a name change, but also gain new fans in the people who were not so fond of the previous brand. Doing it correctly, however, will take time, which is why it was wise for the team to temporarily change its name to Washington Football Team for this upcoming season.

Fans have tossed around names like the Senators, Generals and Monuments, but the marketing experts don’t like any of those to win people over. The Washington Senators already existed as the city’s Major League Baseball team until the franchise relocated in 1961. The Washington Generals still exist, but as the frequent lovable losers to the Harlem Globetrotters. And the Monuments, according to RedPeg Marketing CEO Brad Nierenberg, don’t have much energy.

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“They’re not gonna be a name that is gonna create energy,” Nierenberg said. “That passion, it doesn’t evoke the type of emotion that a fan base is gonna be rallying around.”

Tim Derdenger, associate professor of marketing and strategy at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, said a name like the Monuments would become a running joke. But according to his research, if the right name does exist for the team to connect its brand to the city, that is the direction the team should go.

“I did some analysis of that,” Derdenger said, “and what I’ve found is that teams that actually have a connection -- the team brand and name that has a connection to the local environment -- has actually stronger brand equity, higher brand equity.”

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If Washington opts to go in this direction, it wouldn’t be the first professional sports team in the region to do so, and by all accounts, the others have built pretty successful brands. The Washington Capitals struggled for many years after their inception in the mid-1970’s but became a successful brand even before winning their first Stanley Cup title in 2018. Same can be said for the Washington Nationals, who broke through for their first World Series title a year later. Winning obviously helps strengthen a brand, but how that brand sustains through losing is a better judge of how good it is.

Thanks to its location, Washington can create that very type of brand by appealing to more than just people in DMV area. Playing in the capital of the United States also allows the team to build a brand around a name that represents the entire country.

“I think that would be one of their strongest brand elements for them to bring forward,” said Keith Scully, CEO of Strategic-Noise Group and a graduate adjunct professor at Georgetown and American universities. “I think it would be accepted better as well, both on those current customers that they have as well as a nation.

“Taking a look at the Americans, something like that. Something that’s wholesome, and it’s Washington, D.C. How do you go ahead and develop an emotion that goes along with the country. I think they’re in the only place in the United States that can do it. Why not try it?”

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