Over the next few weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2015, break down the current personnel situation and evaluate the unit's outlook for 2016. Previously, we took a look at the defensive line, offensive tackles, interior offensive line, wide receivers, running backs and tight ends. Today, it’s running backs.
2015 starter: Kirk Cousins
Backups: Colt McCoy, Robert Griffin III
Free agents: McCoy
Rewind: Did Cousins have a magical season? Or was it a pretty good half year that was built on the backs of a string of mostly mediocre opponents? Whether you viewed it optimistically or pessimistically, the results were pretty good as Cousins broke a few team passing records and led the team to a 9-7 record and the NFC East title.
He did this after spending OTAs and all of training camp as Griffin’s backup. After a bizarre incident in which Griffin was first cleared to play after suffering concussion only to have the independent neurologist reverse the decision, Cousins started the third preseason game against the Ravens. He played well and a few days later Jay Gruden announced that the Redskins were “Kirk’s team”.
Griffin’s fall from franchise savior hit rock bottom as he was active for just one game and didn’t take a snap. He handled the situation well, staying in the background and working to stay prepared if his number had been called.
The issue was at least as much about money as it was about Griffin's ability. Last May the team picked up his fifth-year option, which carried a salary of $16.1 million. The money was guaranteed only if Griffin suffered an injury that would cause him not to pass a physical at the end of the year. The organization was unwilling to risk an expense and a cap charge that big so Griffin was glued to the bench.
McCoy appeared in two games in mop up duty.
Fast forward: There are a couple of things we know about the Redskins’ 2016 quarterback situation. One is that Cousins will be behind center in Week 1. He signed his franchise tender and he is guaranteed nearly $20 million in salary. We will see how he performs with higher expectations and with defensive coordinators having a year of film on him.
We also know that Griffin will be playing elsewhere in 2016. That $16.1 million option becomes guaranteed at 4 p.m. on Wednesday and there is no chance the Redskins will pay him that money to be a backup. There is a very slim chance for a trade; his release is more likely. He will move on to another team and the Redskins will start to get some evidence as to whether they made a mistake in making the megadeal to acquire him or if they goofed in letting him go.
McCoy will be a free agent on Wednesday. While the Redskins are interested in bringing him back McCoy may want to go somewhere that he has more of a chance to play.
If McCoy doesn’t return the Redskins will be in the market for two quarterbacks. They will need to sign a veteran to serve as a backup in 2016, perhaps someone like Matt Schaub or Charlie Whitehurst. It’s likely that they won’t use a top pick on a quarterback but anytime from round four on they might grab Dak Prescott of Mississippi or, perhaps a little later, Kevin Hogan of Stanford.
If McCoy is back they still will look to draft a QB. Unless Cousins has signed a long-term contract by draft day the Redskins will have to look at him as though he is on a one-year contract. If you’re not always looking for a successor at the most important position on the field you can find yourself in trouble quickly.