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Questions facing Ron Rivera: What should the Redskins do at running back?

Questions facing Ron Rivera: What should the Redskins do at running back?

The Redskins offense in 2019 was abysmal, to say the least, and the numbers back it up. Washington's historically bad unit finished last in all three of these categories: points per game, passing yards per game, and total yards per game.

The organization has gone through major changes during this offseason, but the questions about the offense remain.

Outside of emerging star Terry McLaurin and promising slot receiver Steven Sims, the wide receiver talent is scarce. Many are skeptical whether 2019 first-rounder Dwayne Haskins is the answer at quarterback. And of course, the team needs to figure out if a return of seven-time Pro Bowler Trent Williams is realistic.

There's also another position the Redskins must address prior to next season that very few people are talking about: running back. The Burgundy and Gold have a lot more questions than answers at the position.

The top of the depth chart remains veteran Adrian Peterson. The Redskins have a team-option with No. 26, but almost everyone expects Washington to pick it up.

The future Hall of Famer turns 35 years old in March, and while he's shown he still has stuff left in the tank, he's not getting any younger. There's no telling how much longer Peterson will be a serviceable starter, and Washington should not expect him to turn in a third-straight 200-carry season.

Sitting behind Peterson is Derrius Guice. The LSU product has played just five NFL games in two years and has undergone three knee surgeries since August of 2018. When he's on the field, he's shown glimpses of being a dominant running back (watch highlights from the Carolina game and see for yourself).

But staying on the field has been the third-year running back's biggest problem. Guice doesn't like the "injury-prone" label one bit, but when you've only played in five of 32 potential games, it follows you around.

At this point, any production the Redskins get from Guice should be considered a bonus. The flashes of talent have been great to see, but the durability is already too much of a concern for the Redskins to be able to commit to him every week.

In an ideal world, the Redskins would like Peterson and Guice to each have between 10-12 carries a game, if not more. But Guice has never had more than 10 carries in a game -- ever -- and Peterson cannot carry the load for another full season by himself.

But perhaps the biggest question mark surrounding the Redskins running back unit is who will be the primary receiving back.

Both new head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner come to the nation's capital from Carolina, a team that relied on their running backs catching passes more than anyone. Of course, the Panthers have Christian McCaffrey on their roster. The Redskins simply...don't.

But the need for a pass-catching back in Turner's system remains a necessity. Chris Thompson has served that role for Washington over the past few seasons, but he's an unrestricted free agent. While he stated he'd be open to a return to Washington, there's no guarantee he stays, especially with the other needs the Redskins will have to address in free agency.

Thompson, like Guice, has also been hampered by injuries over the past three seasons. The 29-year-old has not played a 16-game season since 2016 and missed five or more games in each of the last three seasons.

The X-factor in the Redskins running back unit is Bryce Love, a second-year product from Stanford. Love, once considered a first-round talent, slipped during the 2019 NFL Draft due to an ACL injury he suffered in December of 2018. Love spent his entire rookie season rehabbing.

If Love can return to being the dynamic back he was at Stanford, the Redskins might have gotten a fourth-round steal. Love excelled both on the ground and catching passes out of the backfield with the Cardinal, a trait that would be very valuable in Washington.

But like the other running backs on the Redskins roster, Washington simply cannot trust Love to be healthy for an entire season and be productive.

If Chris Thompson decides to leave via free agency, the Redskins could target a cheaper running back. But with Peterson, Guice, and Love all under contract, it may make sense for Washington to address this need in the later rounds of the draft, where they could grab a young back at an inexpensive price.

Thompson's decision will be crucial for the Redskins. If he departs, they will need to add a solid receiving back in order to run Turner's offense at its peak.

In his first offseason as Redskins head coach, Rivera has plenty of decisions to make, including multiple at running back.

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Two teams Peter King thinks could emerge in potential Trent Williams trade

Two teams Peter King thinks could emerge in potential Trent Williams trade

The question of will Redskins left tackle Trent Williams be traded is no longer an if, but when.

If Washington is unable to move the seven-time Pro Bowler over the next couple of weeks, the NFL Draft seems to be a likely time for the left tackle to be dealt. The Redskins don't have a second-round pick due to the Montez Sweat trade from a year ago and could be looking for one in return in a potential deal for Williams.

NBC Sports Peter King believes the Redskins should be able to find a trade partner for Williams, whether that's before or during the draft.

"I would be surprised if they weren't able to trade him," King told NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay.

The longtime NFL analyst went on to name two teams that Redskins fans should keep an eye on in a potential deal for the 31-year-old, with the first being the New York Jets.

"I'd really watch the Jets," King said. "It makes so much sense with the Jets."

New York signed tackle George Fant to a three-year, $27 million contract in free agency, but the tight-end-converted-lineman could shift to right tackle should the Jets be able to acquire Williams. The Jets interest in Williams isn't new, either. Just a day after the longtime Redskin was given permission to seek a trade in early March, the Jets were rumored to be interested in the left tackle.

Left tackle is a position the Jets needed to address this offseason, and the signing of Fant has led to more questions than answers. In 2019, New York allowed an average of over three sacks a game, the fourth-worst mark in the league. After signing prized free-agent running back Le'Veon Bell a year ago, the rusher was unable to maximize his talent behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. Jets' rushers averaged just 0.7 yards before contact a year ago, the NFL's worst mark.

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The Seattle Seahawks were the other team King believes could be eyeing a deal with Williams. 

"Honestly, I'd watch Seattle, too," King said. "Seattle is forever in search of an offensive line fix."

Trading Williams to the Pacific Northwest would be the second deal between the Redskins and Seahawks this offseason, as Washington shipped disgruntled cornerback Quinton Dunbar to Seattle for a fifth-round pick a couple of weeks ago. Dunbar, like Williams, also wanted a new contract. Both have one year remaining on their current deal, each with zero guaranteed money.

Seattle currently has Duane Brown at left tackle, and he's been above average at the position since the Seahawks traded for him in 2017. But Brown, who has two years remaining on his contract, will turn 35 before the 2020 season begins. Williams is simply better and three years younger, which could intrigue Seattle into making a deal.

Williams held out all of the 2019 season after Redskins team doctors misdiagnosed a cancerous growth on his brain for nearly six years. He reported to Washington minutes before the trade deadline last season and planned to return, but the Redskins placed him on the Non-Football Injury list days later, ending his season without No. 71 him playing a snap.

The longtime left tackle was given permission to seek a trade by the Redskins last month but hasn't been able to find a trade partner for what the Redskins feel is fair value for the seven-time Pro Bowler. Last week, Williams' agent ripped to Redskins for "not acting in good faith" and blamed the lack of a trade solely on the Redskins.

King believes that once Williams is eventually moved, he should be able to net the Redskins either a second or third-round pick.

"He should still be able to get a mid-to-low 2 or a very high 3," King said. "That would be my expectation that would happen."

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When will the NFL kick off play? NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith not ready to predict

When will the NFL kick off play? NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith not ready to predict

A world without sports was impossible to imagine just a few weeks ago.   

Even under the worst circumstances, sports brings us together, provides hope during times of adversity, heals the broken and offers a glimpse of better times to come. That isn’t available now to help us distance ourselves from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  

The NBA, NHL, and MLS seasons are suspended. MLB’s season is delayed. College spring sports are cancelled. This is the new reality of social distancing and quarantine.  

In these trying times, the NFL has provided some sense of normalcy because its offseason could go on despite some necessary adjustments. Free agency went off without a hitch and the NFL Draft is expected to do the same later this month. But what happens after that? Will the season begin on time? 

NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith is taking the cautious approach.  

“I think it’s hard, if not impossible, to make concrete projections on what things might look like three, four, five, six months from now,” Smith said.  

Where we are today could not have been predicted months ago, leaving uncertainty in its wake. Yes, sports fans are desperate for football. But this scenario is just bigger than the business of the game. So, we pause. 

“The country is in desperate need of good leadership right now to make sure that we halt the spread of the virus, that we try to make sure that we are doing everything to make the peak of this outbreak happen as quickly as possible,” Smith said.  

Teams are not allowed to meet with players currently. And while the league has yet to cancel off-season training activities, Covid-19 is disrupting day-to-day business. Virtual contact is expected soon, but when players and coaches meet for the first time in person may not come until training camp in July.  Even that is in question. The 2020 Summer Olympics were scheduled for the same time in Tokyo and they were postponed weeks ago.  

While we don’t know when football will return, we do know it will.  But will it be different?  It’s been suggested games could be played without fans. Smith says contingency plans are coming together, but games without fans seems unlikely.  If the virus hasn’t been contained, don’t expect players to come out first and play alone.  

“I certainly am a fan, like everybody else out there,” Smith said. “Whether it was being a fan of basketball, baseball, or being a fan of hockey – all of that got cancelled because it was in the public’s best interest.” 

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A team could test all of its players and be in the clear, but what about when they go home to their families?  Or resume normal activities outside of football?  It’s too much of a risk.    

“Football certainly has a strong and meaningful place in American culture, whether it’s played in high school, college, or played on the professional level,” Smith said. “But first and foremost, we have to make decisions that are in best interest of the public and best interest of the players.” 

The NFL and the NFLPA have gathered the best doctors they can to monitor the safety of their players and organization staffs.  The biggest determining factor on when football, and all sports, return is what you do at home to help slow the spread.  

Do your part, stay home and don’t expect football to return before it returns with you, the fan, who hopefully will be cheering from the stands, from your homes. Soon enough it will be safe to return. And when that happens, the players will be ready, too.  

“I know that there is going to be a group of people that are going to love to play football on the field,” Smith said.  

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