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Need to Know: Should the Redskins be confident that Cousins can keep it up?

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Need to Know: Should the Redskins be confident that Cousins can keep it up?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, January 18, 37 days before the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

Question of the day

We’re flipping into offseason mode with Need to Know. At least a few days a week I’ll give an in-depth answer to a question submitted by a fan on my Twitter feed, via the Real Redskins Facebook page, or in the comments section here. On Twitter address the questions to me at @Rich_TandlerCSN with the #NTK hashtag. There will be a comment thread set up on the Facebook page and if you’re asking your question here, put “for NTK” at the start of the comment.

Today’s question comes from the Real Redskins Facebook page.

First of all, it should be stated that there is never any guarantee that a player will perform well after he signs a big-money contract. Some players live up to them, some don’t and past performance does not guarantee future results.

That said, let’s look at some single-season performances of the three quarterbacks that you mentioned and compare them to Cousins in 2015. The seasons for Cassel (playing for the Patriots) and Kolb (Eagles) are the ones right before they got their big contract extensions. Foles’ (Eagles) numbers are from two years prior to his extension since that season was the basis for the contract the Rams ended up giving him.

It’s pretty easy to see that Cassel, who got a who got a six-year, $60 million contract with $28 million guaranteed from the Chiefs after the Patriots tagged and traded him, and Kolb, who got $64 million over five years with $21 million guaranteed after being dealt to the Cardinals, did not have seasons as good as Cousins’ 2015 prior to their paydays. Neither performed as well as Cousins did any any of the major statistical categories. Neither had, in Tim's words, a "great" season.

(I should note here that the salary cap has grown from $116 million when Cassel signed his contract to in excess of $150 million this year. Comparing what Cassel and Kolb got to what Cousins is likely to earn is not an apples to apples comparison. The 30 percent growth in the cap means that Cousins will get more than did Kolb and Cassel)

It appears that the Chiefs fell for the myth that win-loss records should be assigned to the quarterback. Sure the Pats were 11-5 with Cassel filling in for an injured Tom Brady. But his numbers were barely better than pedestrian even though he had Randy Moss and Wes Welker as targets. The Patriots went 11-5 more due to a top-10 defense, a top-five rushing game, and a coach named Belichick than they did because of Cassel's performance in 2008. (full career stats here).

How did Kolb earn his extension? I have no idea. You can look at his full career stats here. I guess it was just a matter of supply and demand or someone on the Cardinals thinking he saw great potential because he certainly did nothing in 2010 or prior to that to deserve a big payday.

Foles is a slightly different case. He did get paid on the basis of a very good season in 2013, his second year in the league. He found himself behind center in Chip Kelly’s very quarterback friendly offense that was like nothing the league had ever seen. Foles missed half of 2014 with a broken collarbone and got an extension (2 years, $24.5 million) from the Rams last summer in apparent attempt to make sure they would be able to keep him around and justify giving up on 2010 No. 1 pick Sam Bradford.

So Gruden and the Redskins organization have reason to be confident that Cousins will not get a big deal and then fade to mediocrity like Kolb and Cassel did (well, Kolb didn't really fade, he started and stayed mediocre). They aren’t certain because you can’t be certain. But given that it’s a gamble, Cousins is a pretty good bet or at least a better bet the Kolb and Cassel were.

Should Foles serve as a cautionary tale? Perhaps, but he had the advantage of Kelly’s very different brand of offense and LeSean McCoy leading the league’s No. 1 rushing attack. Cousins was working in Gruden’s West Coast style offense, which has been around in various forms for decades, and a running game that was 20th in yards gained and disappeared for weeks at a time. It is reasonable to assume that Cousins had a tougher road to hoe in 2015 than did Foles in 2013 and that his numbers were more of a true reflection of his abilities.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game eight days ago. It will be about 237 days until they play another one.

Days until: NFL Combine 37; NFL free agency starts 52; 2016 NFL draft 101

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line

Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line

Training camp opens next week, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope. Over the coming week, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

Defensive line

Additions: Daron Payne (drafted in first round), Tim Settle (drafted in fifth round)
Departures: Terrell McClain (released)

Starters: Payne (NT), Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis
Other roster locks: Stacy McGee, Anthony Lanier, Settle
On the bubble: Ziggy Hood, Phil Taylor

How the defensive line compares

To the rest of the NFL: We are going to have to see about this. Over the last couple of years the D-line has been transformed from an aging group into one where youth is in good supply. Ioannidis is the oldest of the starters at age 24. Allen is 23 and Payne just turned 21 in May. It looks like there is great potential there but we haven’t seen enough of it on the field to make solid comparisons to other lines around the league. Allen missed 10 games of his rookie year with an injury and Ioannidis missed two and was hampered in a few more with a broken hand. Payne, of course, is a rookie. Let’s check back in late October and see how things are going then. 

To the 2017 Redskins:  The primary reason that the line should be significantly better this year is the presence of Payne and Settle on the roster. That means that it is very unlikely that Hood will have to play nose tackle. He has been the starter there for the past two years, forced there by injuries. Jim Tomsula that Hood is not well suited to play the nose. So they have an improvement there. If they get a mostly healthy season out of Allen and if Ioannidis continue to improve this will be the best defensive line they have had since moving to the 3-4 defensive in 2010. 

2018 outlook

Biggest upside: As noted, Payne just turned 21. He seems to have a rare understanding of the game for a rookie. You often see rookies just trying to survive on physical ability early one. Payne has plenty of that, but he also seems to realize that strength and ability alone won’t let him thrive at this level. He pays close attention to his technique during drills, making sure he does things the right way the first time. If he builds on this for the next year or so the Redskins could have a legitimate star. 

Most to prove: Since so many Redskins fans are accustomed to seeing veteran defensive linemen the team signs as free agents play poorly, they automatically put McGee in the “bust” category. But many of his teammates said he was the most consistent player on the line last year. It’s safe to say that he played better than the popular perception. Next year, he will carry a $4.8 million salary cap number and like most players who are not starters but making good salaries, he will need to play well enough to justify that cap number.  

Rookie watch: The Redskins did not expect Settle to be available in the fifth round and he was too good to pass up when he was still on the board. He should get some opportunity as a rookie. He is likely to be the only other nose tackle on the roster besides Payne (sorry, but the numbers make it unlikely that Phil Taylor will make the roster). That could have him active on many game days and that usually means getting some snaps in the rotation. We will see what he can do with his chances. 

Bottom line: The Redskins were last in the league in rushing defense in 2017. It wasn’t all on the line—in particular, injuries to the inside linebackers hurt a lot—but the simple fact is that the organization long neglected the line. The philosophy was to create a patchwork unit from aging free agents. That has changed now with three homegrown players set to start and Settle and 2016 undrafted free agent find Anthony Lanier providing reserve help. It’s going to be a better unit, no question. But improvement over the last several years is a low bar and we’ll find out if this develops into a quality line over the next few months. 

Quote-unquote

Greg Manusky on Payne:

Payne is doing a great job. He’s trying to get acclimated to some of the calls, hasn’t had a lot of mental errors. He’s done a great job. Physical player.

2018 position outlook series

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

 

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10 Questions in 10 days: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart

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10 Questions in 10 days: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart

The Redskins top two linebackers rank among the most productive units in the NFL. When healthy, Mason Foster and Zach Brown are highly efficient tacklers. In fact, Brown led the league in tackles for most of 2017 before his season ended with a foot injury. 

The healthy part is the trick. 

Last year, Foster separated his shoulder against the Rams in Week 2 and was shut down for the season by October. Brown played through nagging injuries all year before shutting things down in December. 

When both players were on the field, the Redskins defense excelled. In just four starts, Foster made 30 tackles to go with an interception, a fumble recovery and half a sack. Brown logged double-digit tackles in nine games last season, and probably would have more without the foot trouble. 

Foster and Brown are very good in the Redskins scheme, and both players are expected to be fully healthy for the start of training camp. Their injuries from last season are not the type that suggest durability concerns, and both players posted full 16-game seasons in 2016.

Foster and Brown aren't the question. The depth chart after Foster and Brown are the question. 

Zach Vigil, Martrell Spaight, Josh Harvey-Clemons and rookie Shaun Dion Hamilton are competing for two or possibly three roster spots. 

Spaight is the most recognizable name in the group. He's been a good special teams player for Washington, and is well liked in the locker room. By last December, however, Vigil was playing better football. 

More telling for both Vigil and Spaight was that Harvey-Clemons took the starter reps alongside Foster when Brown was absent during OTAs. The second-year man out of Louisville has more physical gifts than either Vigil or Spaight, and now given a full year to learn to play linebacker, Harvey-Clemons could make inroads.

A safety in college, Harvey-Clemons can run. He was a bit of a surprise last season making the 53-man roster out of camp, so expect him to definitely have a shot this year. 

Hamilton will be the wild card. An ultra-talented player out of Alabama, he dealt with a number of injuries in college. Redskins VP Doug Williams talked gushingly about Hamilton after the draft, and if the former 5-Star recruit can stay healthy, he could certainly push for a spot as well. 

Prior to 2017, the Redskins kept four inside linebackers on their final 53 roster. In 2017, the team kept five: Brown, Foster, Spaight, Will Compton and Harvey-Clemons. Compton left via free agency and is now playing in Nashville. 

Foster and Brown are roster locks, and it seems like Harvey-Clemons gets the third nod. 

Spaight, Vigil and Hamilton better be ready for serious competition in Richmond. 

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