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Redskins position outlook: Deal or tag? Cousins' status will affect '17 plans

Redskins position outlook: Deal or tag? Cousins' status will affect '17 plans

Over the next few weeks, JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will evaluate each position group’s performance in 2016, break down the current personnel situation and look forward to the unit's outlook for 2017.


2016 starter: Kirk Cousins

Backups: Colt McCoy, Nate Sudfeld

Free agents: Cousins

Rewind: In some ways, Cousins was better than he was in 2015 when he burst onto the scene and grabbed the Redskins’ starting quarterback job. But in some other ways, he was worse.

Cousins passed for 4,917 yards, shattering the team record he had set the year before. His average per attempt went up nearly half a yard. But he threw four fewer touchdown passes last year despite attempting 27 more passes. His passer rating slipped about four points, dipping below the 100 mark that is the rough equivalent of a baseball player batting .300.

But the difference between Cousins’ 2015 and 2016 season is not so much measured by the numbers as it was by looking at the results of games. Two years ago the Redskins needed to win three games down the stretch to make the playoffs. Cousins passed for 300 yards against the Bears, 319 against the Bills and 365 in the division clinching win over the Eagles.

This year, however, in two must-win home games down the stretch Cousins was not nearly as effective as the Redskins dropped two of their final three to miss out on the playoffs. The end came on an ugly interception Cousins threw in the last two minutes against the Giants.

Neither loss was completely on the shoulders of Cousins, just like the rest of the team had a lot to do with the 2015 wins. But Cousins did not step up and take his game to another level when the team needed him to. That’s what the best quarterbacks in the league do. Cousins could get there but he’s not there yet.

Cousins was the only quarterback to take a snap. The only buzz surrounding McCoy came when Jay Gruden revealed that he was the team’s emergency long snapper. Sudfeld was the inactive third QB all year.  

Fast forward: It is very likely that Cousins is back under center for the Redskins in 2017 whether via the franchise tag or a long-term deal. The way that it happens may influence how the team handles the position this offseason.

Should he sign a long-term contract they likely will stand pat. McCoy is under contract for another year and he would remain the backup. The organization would like to see Sudfeld develop to the point where he can become the active backup quarterback either in late 2017 or the year after that.

If Cousins gets and signs the franchise tag, however, it’s a different story. The organization would have to proceed as though he is in his last year as a Redskin. It would be easy to see them spending a second- or third-round pick on a quarterback to groom. At the very least they would need to invest in quarterback in the latter rounds of the draft to have someone to challenge Sudfeld since, at the very least, the 2017 third-string QB could very well play a key role in 2018.

Right now there seems to be a very slim chance that the Redskins will trade Cousins but that could change. If they do they will have to choose their starting quarterback from McCoy, a draft pick, or a horrendous list of possible free agents including Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Barkley, and Geno Smith.

2017 Position outlook series

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.


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Kyle Shanahan says he won't make Redskins game personal, but it sure sounds like he will

Kyle Shanahan says he won't make Redskins game personal, but it sure sounds like he will

Kyle Shanahan had to know the question was coming, and for the most part, his answer was perfectly polite and diplomatic. Until a nice, little elbow at the end, that is.

The 49ers coach was asked on a Wednesday conference call how he'll avoid making this Sunday's game against the Redskins personal. Shanahan was with Washington from 2010-2013 along with his dad, Mike, but the end of his tenure in D.C. was very messy.

In his response, he explained how he'll try to treat the Burgundy and Gold like any other opponent, but then he dropped one comment that indicated he is in fact looking for some major revenge.

"It's not my first time back there," he said. "I've been in three buildings since. I've moved on with my life in many other ways and I think my family has also. I think it's pretty easy not to make it personal. The guys it'd be personal with don't play in the game."

That last portion was no doubt directed at the Redskins' front office, with whom Kyle and Mike had plenty of issues with. It wasn't the only part of the call where Shanahan slighted the Redskins, either. 

At one point, the 39-year-old was pushed to describe how he's gone about rebuilding San Francisco's culture since he took over. He stressed having a united vision with the decision-makers above him and sounded quite pleased to be in a place where he feels like that's happening.

"To me, culture's based off the type of people you have there," he explained. "I knew, during the interview, meeting the owner, then being able to get a general manager like John Lynch, we knew we had the people, the right people with the right intentions that were in it for one thing, and that was to win. And we also could be very honest with where we were at at the time."

"We've got people who live and die football and they know how to treat each other," he added. "It's one of the more fun groups and higher-character groups that I've been around."

So, that wasn't as direct as his first jab, but it still got the job done. Don't worry, though. He found time for one more obvious remark about his old employer before facing them in Week 7.

Near the end of the discussion, Shanahan was given a hypothetical where a young, up-and-coming coach approaches him about possibly working with the Redskins. What would Shanahan tell that person? After a quick chuckle, he played along the best he could.

"Just look into it. See what the situation is, who you want to work for," he said. "Anytime you get opportunities, you've got to look into it. But I'm not there, I don't know how it is right now, so that would be up to that person."

Then came the kicker.

"I'm probably not the person they want to call on that advice."


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Dwayne Haskins took the first-team reps in practice on Wednesday and Bill Callahan was impressed

Dwayne Haskins took the first-team reps in practice on Wednesday and Bill Callahan was impressed

While the Redskins 2019 campaign has not gone as expected, news from Wednesday's practice should give the fanbase a glimmer of hope for the future at the quarterback position.

Starting QB Case Keenum was held out of Wednesday's practice to rest his body. With Keenum absent, rookie Dwayne Haskins took all of the first-team reps. Callahan was impressed with the Ohio State product and pleased with his development.

"Dwayne took all the reps today and it’s invaluable for a backup to take starting reps," Callahan said. "Especially at the beginning of the week in terms of putting your plan together and laying it out there and making all the adjustments, whether it’s new communication, new formations, handling the shift-motion game.

"I thought he did a really good job today, so his growth is starting to show in practice and also in his preparation," Callahan continued. "He’s in earlier, he’s out later, so it’s all coming to fruition. It’s going to take a little time, but it’s good to see him take a major step today in practice."

Keenum wasn't the only veteran to be held out as practice, as running back Adrian Peterson missed Wednesday's practice, too. Interim head coach Bill Callahan held out both players simply to rest their bodies. It's not atypical for veterans to miss Wednesday practices, especially as it gets to the deeper portion of the season.

"Definitely just veteran guys, backing them down and just trying to take care of their bodies a little bit better," Callahan said of why he held them out.

When Callahan took over as interim head coach last week, many expected the team to turn to Haskins as their starting QB. At the time, Washington was 0-5, and both Keenum and Colt McCoy had been largely ineffective under center.

Although Callahan did not immediately turn to the signal-caller, he's at least given a plan of action to develop the rookie, something that was unclear while Jay Gruden was the head coach.

"He will be [the starter] at some point in time,” Callahan said on Haskins during his introductory press conference last Monday. “We’re going to continue to develop him and heighten his maturation process, try to get him on schedule so he is prepared."

Gruden had Haskins running the scout team. Even when Keenum does practice, Callahan has given the rookie at least a few reps with the starters.

"We've got to be conscientious in getting him some repetitions during the course of the practice," Callahan said last week. "So that will a little be a shift in philosophy moving forward."

When Callahan ultimately pulls the trigger to move to the rookie remains uncertain. But with Haskins improving by the day, and Keenum continuing to turn in subpar results on Sunday's, that move could come sooner rather than later.