REDSKINS PARK — Time moves so fast in the NFL.
One minute a player is having his picture taken on stage during the draft, a spiffy new hat and uniform. In the blink of an eye he is a veteran with six, seven, eight years in the league and time grows short. Winning seasons and playoff appearances and maybe even a Super Bowl can no longer be taken for granted.
The Redskins have a handful of core players who have been standouts for years, but are creeping toward the second half of their careers. Left tackle Trent Williams (30), outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (30), cornerback Josh Norman (31), tight end Vernon Davis (34), running back Adrian Peterson (33) – even tight end Jordan Reed (28) and running back Chris Thompson (28) – have had long careers.
Washington has missed the playoffs four times in coach Jay Gruden’s five years. Kerrigan and Williams were part of the Mike Shanahan era, too, with one playoff appearance and an NFC East title in his four years. There aren't many chances left and they probably won't be around for a long rebuild.
“You realize that this thing isn’t forever,” said Kerrigan, who had 13 sacks in 2018, one half shy of his career record. “Especially seeing the talent we have, especially on the defensive side of the ball with guys like [defensive ends] Jon [Allen] and Daron [Payne], how good they can be and how good they are already. Yeah - that does heighten your sense of urgency and make you think this is our chance. We have to hit the gas and make things happen now.”
Gruden’s two-year contract extension signed in 2017 kicks in next year. There are rumors of changes to the assistants on staff, but nothing concrete yet. Washington picks No. 15 in the NFL draft next April. It should get another good contributor. But the quarterback situation – and the salary cap – is up in the air with the serious leg injury to Alex Smith.
It’s unclear how much money the Redskins will have to spend to patch holes on the roster. But from the coaches to the returning players, 7-9 isn’t good enough. Exclude Gruden’s initial 4-12 season and the record is 31-32-1 the past four years with an NFC East title and one playoff berth in 2015. The players believe it's time for better. Now.
“For any guy that’s competitive and any guy that wants to be great, that’s the mindset every year,” Thompson said. “When we do fall short we should do every thing that we can to bring that intensity up a notch. Our record didn’t show how good this team can be and how good this team is. I think every leader in this locker room can say the same.”
For some, time is shorter than others. Davis will be 35 on Jan. 31 and has had a resurgence with his hometown team when his career appeared over after a trade from San Francisco to Denver in 2015. Davis has 112 catches for 1,598 yards and seven touchdowns with the Redskins. Peterson will be 34 on March 21. There’s no guarantee both will return next year, but if they do both men know the opportunities are running short for another playoff appearance.
“I feel like there should be a sense of urgency whether you’re 25, 30, 35. It doesn’t matter because tomorrow is not promised,” Davis said. “But when you’re in your 30s and 35 there should be more of a sense, you should be cognizant of your aging, the time that you have to win games. It should be that way. I’m eager and I’m sure the rest of these guys like [Peterson] and Trent Williams these guys are ready to get out there and get to the playoffs and win a Super Bowl.”
Davis and Peterson are notorious for keeping in fantastic shape. Peterson is a free agent and could have other options. Williams has missed 13 games the past three seasons – four for an NFL drug suspension in 2016, six in 2017 with right knee surgery and another three this season with knee and thumb surgeries.
Kerrigan is as durable as any player in the NFL with 127 consecutive starts, the most among any linebackers. But will that run of good fortune continue? Reed, who turns 29 on July 3, again didn’t play a full season. He appeared in 13 games and went on injured reserve in December with a foot injury. His numbers have declined steadily since his brilliant 2015 (87 catches, 952 yards, two touchdowns) with 17 games missed the past three seasons due to injuries.
Thompson established himself as one of the best third-down backs in the NFL in 2015 and 2016 and put early-career injury concerns behind him. But a serious broken leg last Nov. 19 limited Thompson to 10 games and he only appeared in 10 this season, too, thanks in large part to a lingering rib injury. The core – other than Kerrigan - is showing signs of wear and tear and that has to be a concern going into a critical 2019. Otherwise, big changes could be coming.
“The average time playing in this league is a little over three years,” Williams said. “Statistics say by year one or two you should be pressing. I say that to say every year we’re supposed to press no matter how long you’ve been in the league. You never should go in saying 'I’ve only played four years, I’ve definitely got one more left.' Because it doesn’t work that way.”
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