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What's next for the Redskins at linebacker after releasing Zach Brown

What's next for the Redskins at linebacker after releasing Zach Brown

ASHBURN – Redskins vice president of player personnel Doug Williams said a great many things Thursday after safety Landon Collins’ introductory press conference. Two items involving linebacker and organizational thinking with perhaps what's next stood out.

Ready for Ryan

The Redskins added a couple of key pieces in recent days, but also lost a few players in free agency including outside linebacker Preston Smith. The 2015 second-round pick agreed to a free agent contract with the Packers this week. Smith’s departure leaves Washington with uncertainty at the spot opposite Ryan Kerrigan.

That is unless Ryan Anderson takes over.

Anderson, a second-round selection in 2017, played in 27 games over his first two seasons. There were moments of intrigue from the burly linebacker. Not so much with his statistics: 32 tackles, two sacks, zero starts.

Based on the draft investment, it would seem logical the Redskins give Anderson a chance at the starting spot. The production over the first two seasons suggests the front office may target help. Washington could dip into a strong class of edge rushers in the 2019 draft if it passes on any veteran free agents – or aren’t sure Anderson is ready for the responsibility.

That was exactly the question posed to Williams Thursday.

“That’s a good question for Ryan. A damn good question for Ryan,” Williams said. “I think Ryan’s mentality – Ryan thought he was from Day 1 when he got here. That’s his mentality. His rookie year he was pissed that he wasn’t playing last year. He understands how it works. He didn’t walk into Alabama and start. It’s Ryan’s time. I’m sure Ryan is ready to play.”

A primary focus for the Redskins in my two-round mock drafts involves an edge rusher. That won’t change after Williams’ comments. Anderson’s potential remains, but so do the questions.

Bye bye, Brown

While Smith, Jamison Crowder, Ty Nsekhe and others departed via free agency, linebacker Zach Brown and defensive lineman Stacy McGee were released Wednesday before the official start of free agency.

Brown, who turns 30 in October, signed as a free agent in 2017. Releasing Brown, a starting inside linebacker the last two seasons, saved Washington $5.75 million toward the 2019 salary cap. The ex-Bill was leading the league in tackles before a late-season injury slowed him down in 2017.

Washington re-signed Brown to a three-year free agent contract last March. He dealt with an oblique injury much of last season.

McGee, who signed a 5-year, $25 million contract in 2017, missed a chunk of 2018 with an abdominal injury. He was also buried on the depth chart behind Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Matt Ioannidis and Tim Settle. His release saved another $4.675 million.

On the surface, the justification for both moves seems obvious. The Redskins rank 22nd in available salary cap space ($16.7 million) even after the recent activity, according to the website Over The Cap, with several roster holes remaining.

Williams pushed back on such finances-first thinking.

“That was not a salary cap move. That was a business decision, a team decision,” Williams stated.

He continued.

“You got to look at this from our team and if you notice, players got cut all over the league yesterday. Number one, you give a guy a chance this early to catch on somewhere else. Because No. 1 you look at your football team, where do they fit on your football team? Do they fit your football team?

“You can't just carry a guy just because he was on your team. Somewhere along the line, you've got to make some tough choices.”

Let’s discuss that decision with Brown.

Williams spoke truth when he said this wasn’t a salary cap decision.

Coach Jay Gruden benched Brown late last season amid overall defensive struggles even when the linebacker returned from an illness that cost Brown some practice time. "You see the writing on the wall,” Brown said at the time.

The combination of inconsistencies in the run and pass game and, according to sources throughout Brown’s time in Washington, communication issues with the coaching staff and teammates fueled the decision. Claiming Reuben Foster off waivers in December provided a potential replacement option.

The Redskins have additional tough choices on deck.

“We haven’t discussed the salary cap thing. All we discussed right now is football players,” Williams said of his conversations with team president Bruce Allen and salary cap guru Eric Schaeffer. “Free agency is still open. There are going to be some guys that are going to cut. … There are some guys that haven’t been approached yet. We’re still talking to some guys. We’re just going to have to wait and see what happens in the next couple, three days.”

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Ex-Redskin Donte Whitner unloads on Jay Gruden and the team's lack of accountability

Ex-Redskin Donte Whitner unloads on Jay Gruden and the team's lack of accountability

Donte Whitner played just 11 games with the Redskins in 2016, but apparently, those 11 games taught him plenty about the organization. On Friday, he shared what he observed with 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies.

In the 15-minute radio interview, the now-analyst unloaded on the Burgundy and Gold. 

Host Eric Bickel set Whitner up with a fairly standard question, asking the former safety, "Can you believe where they are as a franchise at this point?"

"It's not hard to understand why they are where they are right now," he answered, before going after Jay Gruden, some assistant coaches, Josh Norman and the general lack of accountability around the Redskins.

According to Whitner, he lost "all respect" for Gruden late in 2016 during a game against the Bears. Whitner went down with an injury and he later heard from some of his teammates that Gruden allegedly said, "Let's get him up so we can get this game over with."

"That shows that you have no respect for your players," Whitner told the Junkies.

"For you to make that comment, and I know that you made it, there's a reason that you're fired," he continued. "There's a reason that your players quit on you. Because you don't know how to be a people's person and how to coach and lead men. There's guys that know how to lead men and there's guys that don't know how to lead men. He should be a coordinator."

Whitner is certainly entitled to his opinion, but just for context, Chris Thompson broke down the day before Gruden was let go because of how much he liked and supported him. That's just to show that not everyone feels like Gruden is a disrespectful guy worth quitting on.

Whitner also doesn't believe in Greg Manusky as a defensive coordinator and really disliked Perry Fewell, who was leading the DBs when Whitner was in Washington. Overall, he believes there isn't enough knowledge on the staff and he took issue with how they're getting the jobs.

"These guys are just friends of the coaches," he said. "A lot of coaches are just hiring their friends. They're not hiring the best teachers."

The last person Whitner targeted was Norman. While on with the Junkies, Whitner recounted one play versus the Panthers where he and Norman botched a coverage and he felt like No. 24 wrongly blamed him for it. That happened often, per Whitner.

"Josh Norman was never accountable," Whitner said.

If you're wondering how a guy who only spent a few months with the franchise can feel so confident about making these kinds of major judgments, you're probably not alone. However, no matter how you feel about his statements, he did offer a piece of advice that would probably serve the Redskins, or any team anywhere, well.

"Everybody has to be accountable," Whitner concluded. "We don't care if you're getting paid $80 million and we don't care if you're getting paid $250,000. Everybody should be accountable."

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Is there any way the Redskins can beat the 49ers? Here's the blueprint

Is there any way the Redskins can beat the 49ers? Here's the blueprint

On pace for an 0-16 year and statistically one of the worst teams ever through five games, the 2019 Miami Dolphins might be the worst team in NFL history. And the Redskins barely beat them. 

Turning the page to Sunday, Washington will face an undefeated 49ers team that excels at running the football on offense and getting after the quarterback on defense. San Francisco has won four of their games by double digits, and two of their victories came by 20+ points. The Redskins have one win by one point against Miami, and then four losses by double digits. 

By all logic and reason, the Redskins won't beat the 49ers. Vegas installed San Fran as a double-digit favorite even though they're on the East Coast for an early start. So, how can the Redskins win? Here's a blueprint. 

  1. Turn turnovers into scores - Usually a team with the plus/minus ratio of the 49ers doesn't have an undeafeted record. San Francisco is only +2 in turnovers, and in their last three games, the Niners have given up the ball seven times. The problem is the opposition isn't converting on those free possessions. In their last three games, despite seven turnovers, the Niners are giving up just 10 points-per-game. Jimmy Garapolo has five interceptions and four fumbles in five games. He's going to turn the ball over. What Washington's offense has to do is turn interceptions or fumbles into touchdowns. Touchdowns, not field goals. 
  2. Trust in Terry - If there's one area the 49ers defense is vulnerable, it's in the secondary. Sure interim Redskins coach Bill Callahan wants to commit to running the football, and that makes sense, but Washington should look to feed rookie WR Terry McLaurin early and often. In their closest game this year, a 24-20 victory over the Steelers, Pittsburgh WRs JuJu Smith-Schuster and Dionate Johnson each got deep for long touchdown plays. If Callahan and offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell study that Steelers tape, and it's a good guess they have, deep shots to McLaurin need to be a big part of this gameplan. Callahan even hinted as much in a conversation with NBC Sports Washington, "Every game is different. This game coming up may be different than last week. We may take certain shots on certain downs and distances, and change our tendencies as we go forward. That's always fluid. I think that you are gameplan specific based on your opponent. Obviously, you want to take advantage of the things you can do."
  3. Muck it up - In the first half against the New England Patriots, the Redskins defense showed up in a big way. Washington's defense sacked Tom Brady three times and generally suffocated the Patriots offense. The effort didn't hold up in the second half, but Callahan has made clear that his team is focused on playing four full quarters. The weather could be bad Sunday, and maybe that will help too. The Redskins want this game to be ugly, and much of that will depend on their defensive line showing up strong. 

It's a long shot, but strange things happen in the NFL. The Redskins need big plays on offense and when turnovers do arrive, Washington needs to capitalize. 

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