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Gruden has missed on two defensive coordinator choices; will he survive a third?

Gruden has missed on two defensive coordinator choices; will he survive a third?

Two years ago, Jay Gruden hired Joe Barry as his defensive coordinator over several other better-known names. Barry was fired today along with multiple defensive assistants on Thursday.

Now that Barry is gone after two seasons of heading up defenses that were in the bottom third of the league in virtually every important statistical category the spotlight turns from him to Gruden.

Hiring Barry wasn’t the first debatable move at defensive coordinator that Gruden has made in his three years on the job.

When he came on board he kept Jim Haslett on board. In his four years as Mike Shanahan’s defensive coordinator, Haslett’s defenses weren’t significantly better than the ones Barry has run here the last two years. But Gruden opted for continuity.

A year later, Haslett was out.

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The search for Haslett’s replacement included interviews with some accomplished, well-known defensive coordinators such as Wade Phillips and Vic Fangio. But Gruden opted for Barry, reportedly because he liked his energy and enthusiasm. But the poor results on that side of the ball remained.

But let’s be clear here. The Redskins’ defensive woes are not all the fault of the coordinator.

The defense suffered from major holes, particularly on the line and at safety. A good share of the blame for the problems has to fall in the lap of GM Scot McCloughan. But there is little evidence that Barry was able to maximize the talent he did have available or that he could put together an effective unit even if he did have better players at his disposal.

So now Gruden has gone against the conventional wisdom twice and he turned out to be wrong twice. The question becomes what now?

Phillips wanted the job two years ago.

After it was apparent that the Redskins were going in another direction, Phillips had to “settle” for coordinating the Denver Broncos’ defense. You may remember that they won the Super Bowl after the 2015 season. They were pretty good defensively last season, too, ranking in the top 10 in most defensive categories.

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Phillips is now a free agent, his contract with the Broncos having expired.

Head coach Gary Kubiak retired a few days ago and his replacement may or may not want Phillips to return. Even if the new head man does want Phillips he may want to join his son, tight ends coach Wes Phillips, on the Redskins coaching staff.

Could Gruden turn down Phillips again after things didn’t work out so well with his choice two years ago? Or if former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley is interested would Gruden have to seriously consider him? I’m not sure if Rex Ryan is a good fit in a lot of ways but if he expresses interest in the job can Gruden afford to not at least listen?

Some have said that Gruden has preferred to go with lower profile defensive coordinators because he did not want to be overshadowed by the likes of Phillips, who has decades of experience in the league including stints as a head coach. Whether that’s true or not. the end product on defense has not been good. He had better cast a wide net and strongly consider hiring a coordinator who has a track record of success. If that means he might be overshadowed, so be it.

When you dig down to the core of it, Jay Gruden has two strikes against him in the defensive coordinator department. If the defense continues to struggle, the next coach to go might be him.

 

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Forget about the RG3 trade and realize that good teams are making bold moves for QBs

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USA Today Sports

Forget about the RG3 trade and realize that good teams are making bold moves for QBs

Forget about RG3 for a second. 

For some NFL teams, trading up for a quarterback actually works out well. 

That will be on display Sunday when Patrick Mahomes starts the AFC Championship game for the Chiefs. Two seasons ago, Kansas City traded up to draft Mahomes even though Alex Smith was on the roster at the time. 

The Chiefs gave up a first-rounder and a third-rounder to go from the 27th pick to the 10th pick and take Mahomes, and he's been dynamite since taking over the starting spot this year. He threw for 50 touchdowns this season and seems very likely to win the NFL MVP Award. 

The Chiefs made an aggressive move to get a franchise quarterback and it worked. 

They’re not alone. 

The Eagles did the same thing in 2016. Philadelphia moved up from the eighth overall pick to the second overall pick to select Carson Wentz.

The trade required the Eagles giving up additional picks, including a first-rounder in 2017 and a second-rounder in 2018, but the move has been great for Philly. Even with injury troubles for Wentz, the Eagles are committed to their young franchise passer, so much that they will likely lose Super Bowl MVP backup QB Nick Foles this offseason. 

In Chicago, a 2017 trade to acquire Mitchell Trubisky has paid dividends.

The Bears gave up a lot to move up just one draft spot to be sure they could get Trubisky, and this year, the Bears won their first division title since 2010. As a passer, Trubisky is hardly a finished product, but he's given the Bears offense some playmaking ability at the most important position on the field. Chicago's team is driven by a great defense, but Trubisky has plenty of upside. The Bears are certainly happy with the trade. 

That's a long way of saying that not all NFL teams regret trading up in the draft for a quarterback. 

There have been other examples where the trade doesn't work, and probably the most notable is in Washington. 

For one season, Robert Griffin III looked like the future of the NFL: A strong-armed, lightning fast quarterback that could beat defenses multiple ways. Early on, the league didn't know how to stop Griffin. Eventually, teams figured out how to slow the read option and RG3's body took a lot of abuse. 

It's now a cautionary tale, especially because the 'Skins gave up a lot to get RG3, but it's also worth pointing out that 2012 was their best, and maybe only, chance at real playoff success in the last decade. Griffin was the engine.

What does all this mean for the 2019 NFL Draft?

With Alex Smith's significant leg injury, quarterback is again a position of need for Washington. The draft has one elite QB prospect in Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins, and then a number of other passers with upside but question marks. Is Kyler Murray big enough to hold up? Has Daniel Jones shown enough? Is Drew Lock accurate enough? 

Moving up to get Haskins would be a bold move for Washington. The team has a number of holes and could use a strong draft to fill them. Going to get Haskins would sap the organization of their stable of picks. 

The flip side is nothing can change the tide of an organization like a really good QB. How different were the Colts this season with the return of Andrew Luck? Yes, it helped a lot that they invested on their offensive line and defense, but an elite arm throwing the ball changes everything for a football team. 

It might not be prudent for the Redskins to try and go get Haskins, but it might not be dumb either. It would be bold. 

In a league where aggressive moves are becoming the path to the playoffs, maybe Washington needs to try strong actions. 

Go back to the Bears. A year after giving up a lot to take Trubisky, the team then gave up another first-round pick to acquire Khalil Mack. Mack's been a star for Chicago, turning their defense from good to great. 

Bold moves can work. 

There is a big difference, however, between bold and reckless.

It's hardly a sure thing the Redskins will take a quarterback in the first round, and even less of a definite that the club would move up in the draft for a QB.

Still, framed by the incredible success of Mahomes in Kansas City, the Redskins cannot approach the 2019 offseason scared of making a move for a quarterback.

What the team cannot do — cannot — is make a move just to create buzz. This is not a deep draft class at QB, and paying up for any player other than Haskins seems like a short-sighted investment. 

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Redskins make new hire at special teams coordinator, and he comes from Tampa Bay

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Redskins make new hire at special teams coordinator, and he comes from Tampa Bay

The Redskins announced the hiring of Nate Kaczor as their new special teams coach on Saturday morning. Kaczor will take over the role vacated by Ben Kotwica, who left Washington to take the same role in Atlanta.

Kaczor spent the last three seasons with the Buccaneers as special teams coordinator, but that coaching staff got let go this offseason. Prior to his work in Tampa, Kaczor coached in similar roles for the Titans and the Jaguars. 

It's not particularly easy to rank special teams, but Kotwica's groups did some things very well, particularly in punt coverage. Football Outsiders ranked all 32 special teams groups across the league based on a formula that combines field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kick returns, punts, and punt returns; The Redskins ranked 8th and Tampa ranked 29th. 

On the flip side, the Redskins had some of the lowest kick and punt return yardage in the NFL last season. The Redskins gained just 110 yards on all of their punt returns for the year. 

Head coach Jay Gruden spoke about bringing in Kaczor.

"We are excited to have Nate join our staff. We have had the opportunity to face his special teams play during his time at Tampa Bay and respected competing against him," Gruden said via press release. "He is a competitor and we have noticed and admired the intensity his units have played with through the course of his time as a special teams coordinator and assistant coach in the NFL."

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