Last year, the Redskins were coming off of a 4-12 seasons that followed on the heels of a 3-13 campaign in 2013. In those two seasons they were outscored by a total of 281 points, their worst performance in that stat in back-to-back seasons in their long history.
Enter Scot McCloughan as general manager. Although he promised a team that would play tough and fight every game, he did not talk about the possibility of the Redskins finishing with a playoff spot or even a winning record.
Fast forward to this year and it appears that McCloughan has improved on last year’s team, which won a surprising nine games and took the NFC East title. The organization is trying to build on that making offseason moves to retain Kirk Cousins via the franchise tag, retaining some other of the team’s key free agents like Will Blackmon and Mason Foster, signing some solid role players like safety David Bruton and tight end Vernon Davis, and landing Josh Norman when one of the big fish of the offseason suddenly became a free agent.
With the draft still to come, McCloughan likes what he sees, since they showed progress on the field last year.
“There’s more optimism for sure because I think you saw what happened the second half of the season,” he told reporters at Redskins Park on Monday.
After a 2-4 start last year the Redskins won seven of their last 10 games and clinched the NFC East title with a Week 16 win in Philadelphia.
“We’re adding young players that are going to help us win games,” McCloughan said. “The optimism is there. I mean, just seeing the guys out there, how hard they’re working, how excited they are to be here. It’s going in the right direction. Who knows – this year, next year, whatever. But we’re getting better and the organization is getting stronger.”
The Redskins were fortunate that the other teams in the NFC East had their struggles last year. Only once since the division was formed in 1970 (it included the Cardinals until 2002) has a single-digit win total been good enough to take the division. Since 2000 the division winner posted an average of 11.1 games.
Although the division may not be much better this year than it was in 2015, the Redskins have to improve over last season if they want to do anything more than their one-and-done stint in the playoffs. They haven’t been in a position to even get a first-round bye since they last won the Super Bowl in 1991. While it would be a positive step to make back-to-back playoff appearances, playing well enough to earn a bye is what they need to accomplish to say they’ve made it to the next level.
So that means being better than not just the Eagles, Giants, and Cowboys but also better than other NFC powers like the Packers, Seahawks, and Panthers. As McCloughan noted, there should be some optimism that they can get there but 2016 may or may not be the year they do it.