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Can Redskins beat the Romo-less Cowboys and stay on top?

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Can Redskins beat the Romo-less Cowboys and stay on top?

The Redskins spent the past two Decembers hoping to spoil someone else’s postseason hopes.

When they host Dallas tonight at FedEx Field, however, the script will be flipped.

The Tony Romo-less Cowboys (3-8) have lost eight of their last nine games and would like nothing more than to drag a bitter rival down with them.

Are the Redskins (5-6) up to the challenge? Can Kirk Cousins and Co. win back-to-back games and end their struggles in prime time? Will they extend their tenuous lead in the NFC East, or will they wake up Tuesday morning in a three-way tie with the Eagles and Giants?

Redskins vs. Cowboys is always a big game. Tonight it’s a little bigger.  

For all of the your pregame and postgame coverage, tune into CSN Mid-Atlantic. Redskins Kickoff begins at 7:30 on CSN+, and Redskins Postgame Live starts at 11:30 on CSN.

Here are my five storylines to monitor:

1-Next man up. With inside linebacker Perry Riley sidelined, Mason Foster will make his first start since Week 16 of last season when he played for Tampa Bay. Foster has plenty of experience, having started 54 games for the Bucs from 2011-14, but he’s played only 17 snaps for the Redskins. You’ve also got to wonder when/if all the injuries will become too much to overcome. Riley, who was playing his best football of the season when he broke a bone in his foot in practice Thursday, is the second starter to be lost since Thanksgiving, joining cornerback Chris Culliver. “We’ve had a million injuries this year from the beginning of the season until now,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “Next man will step up and we’ll keep moving a million miles-per-hour forward and not flinch.”

2-No Romo. Speaking of injuries, the Cowboys' starting quarterback is sidelined again with a cracked collarbone. It could be argued that no single player (on either roster) is as important as Romo is to his team. The Cowboys are 3-1 with Romo this season, and 0-7 without him. Matt Cassel, who is with his fourth team in four seasons, will start in Romo’s place. He’s 0-4 as a starter this season, with four touchdowns and five interceptions. Those stats, though, mean little to the Redskins, Barry said. “I know No. 9 [Romo] is hurt and is not playing, but No. 16 [Cassel] has played a bunch of games,” Barry added. “He’s had a pretty darn good career. He’s got a [good] supporting cast around him. He’s got a great offensive line. He's got No. 88 [Dez  Bryant], No. 82 [Jason Witten] and No. 20 [Darren McFadden] has played a lot of good football in his career. This is the National Football League. You’ve got to be ready every week.”    

3-Rediscovering the run game. One of the keys to beating the Giants was the Redskins’ resurgent ground attack. Alfred Morris rushed for 78 yards on 23 carries, just a week after rushing for 0 yards on 2 carries at Carolina. Game situation, of course, had something to do with it; Washington jumped out to a 20-0 lead against New York. But Coach Jay Gruden says he really liked what he saw from Morris, particularly on the decisive fourth quarter drive as the Redskins protected a six-point lead. “He looked a little bit more decisive,” Gruden said. “There were a couple of one or two yards gains in there, but he was decisive. …He was able to carry some tacklers and get the tough extra yard or two, which was good to see.” Morris’ 2015 season has been marked by inconsistency, though. Good games have often been followed by poor ones. Which Morris will show up tonight in Landover? The Cowboys' Sean Lee-led defense, by the way, is allowing 106.9 yards rushing per game (17th).

4-Hitting his stride. After missing the offseason while recovering from a minor knee surgery and then battling through a midseason hand injury, Ryan Kerrigan has started to resemble the player who enjoyed a breakthrough last season. The 27-year-old has three sacks and 10 quarterback pressures, according to ProFootballFocus.com, in the past two games after failing to register a sack in the four prior contests. For a little more on Kerrigan and the recent mental adjustment he's made, click here for a story I wrote last week.

5-Trends to watch. The Redskins are riding a five-game winning streak at home, their longest run since 1991. …During that stretch, Cousins is 5-0 with 1,336 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 3 rushing touchdowns and a 121.2 passer rating. …Washington, however, has not won back-to-back games since Weeks 7-8 of last season, and Cousins has never won back-to-back starts. …The Redskins are 2-8 on Monday night since 2008. Their last win, of course, came in overtime at Dallas last October. Can they beat their bitter rivals under the lights again? Their playoff hopes could be riding on it.  

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Brandon Scherff confirms that he and the Redskins have 'been talking' about a contract extension

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Brandon Scherff confirms that he and the Redskins have 'been talking' about a contract extension

Bruce Allen identified getting a contract extension done for Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff as one of the Redskins biggest priorities of the 2019 offseason. To this point, however, nothing has happened. 

That doesn't seem to have Scherff concerned. 

"We've been talking, but I'm not really worried about that," he said after OTAs on Monday. "I'm here for another year, so that's all I'm worried about right now. Everything will take care of itself."

Scherff, the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, has played at an elite level since his rookie season. He's made two Pro Bowl teams in four years, and until last year, had been remarkably durable. 

In 2018, Scherff's season started very strong. 'Skins coach Jay Gruden described the former Iowa Hawkeye as the best pulling guard in the NFL and it was well-earned praise. Then, in a Week 8 loss, Scherff went down with a torn pectoral muscle. His season was over. 

At OTAs, however, Scherff was a full participant with no brace or apparent encumbrances from the injury. 

"I'm feeling really good, just taking it slow and making sure I'm 100 percent," he said. 

Expect the free agent market to be quite bullish. Once a lesser-paid position than tackle, guards have recently started pulling in significant cash. Zach Martin's recent contract extension in Dallas pays him more than $14 million per season, and Jacksonville is paying Andrew Norwell more than $13 million this year. 

For Scherff, expect top of the market money. He has the talent, pedigree and ability that if Washington won't pay in the neighborhood of Martin and Norwell, he can wait for free agency. 

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Reuben Foster's season-ending injury hurts the Redskins from a contract perspective, too

Reuben Foster's season-ending injury hurts the Redskins from a contract perspective, too

There are a lot of questions stemming from Reuben Foster's injury at Redskins OTAs, which looks to be a season-ending one.

Where does Foster, whose career has really yet to take off due to other injuries as well as numerous off-field troubles, go from here? What are Washington's options at inside linebacker now, since they were counting on him to produce?

And then there's this: How does Foster missing this year affect his contract with the 'Skins?

The answer, according to salary cap expert J.I. Halsell, is not much.

"When a contract tolls, that means basically the pause button is pushed and whatever you were supposed to make in 2019 carries over to 2020. That's not the case for Reuben Foster," Halsell said Tuesday while on the Redskins Talk podcast.

"Reuben Foster will earn his $1.29 million salary regardless of if he plays this season or not. While he'll probably spend his entire season on injured reserve, he'll make his $1.29 million in 2019."

Essentially, everything proceeds as normal. And that in and of itself is a decent setback for the organization.

One of the reasons the Redskins dealt with the controversy and backlash when they claimed Foster last November was because they were adding a first-round talent on his rookie contract. The team was hoping they could secure two years of elite play out of him at a bargain price, and then potentially exercise the fifth-year option on him to keep him in D.C. through 2021.

Now, however, they're losing one of those precious seasons and will have to make that decision on his fifth-year option next offseason without any tape or experience to really base that decision on. That's an important choice, and one that will carry significant financial implications as well.

"The fifth-year option for the 2021 season will be pretty expensive," Halsell said. "The long and short of it is it's going to be a lucrative dollar amount and given his injury history, his current injury, you would think that when they have to make that decision by the 2020 Draft, they will decline that option."

Haslell's right. The likelihood of the Burgundy and Gold committing big money to a guy with literally one rep in their uniform — and it's not like he was proven for the 49ers, as a linebacker or as a person, either — feels unbelievably slim. 

Yet — and now we're looking pretty far down the line — if he is able to return from this injury and contribute in 2020, the franchise could still look to keep him beyond that. There's a ton of time between now and then, but it's certainly possible.

"Theoretically, even though you don't have the fifth-year option for 2021, you can work on a contract extension for Reuben Foster assuming he comes back to full health," Haslell explained.

Still, not only does the injury hurt the player as well as the unit the player was going to start on, but it limits the team's potential payoff from claiming the player. The situation, from every angle, is an unfortunate one. 

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