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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.

Quarterback

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 Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

 

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

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USA Today Sports Images

Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, May 23, 65 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

What to look for at OTAs

Redskins OTAs started yesterday. The no-contact drills are the first time during the offseason program that the offense and defense are permitted to line up against each other. The-no pads aspect of it does take off a lot of the edge but the reality is that this will be the closest thing to football we will see until training camp starts in late July. 

Here are some things that I will be looking for during today’s practice.

Who’s in? Jay Gruden told us earlier that we should expect to see some injured key players not participating as they continue to recover from 2017 injuries. Specifically, OT Trent Williams (knee), OT Morgan Moses (ankles), and TE Jordan Reed (hamstring/toe) will only be spectators if they are at Redskins Park at all. Other players who may sit out or participate only in light drills are RB Chris Thompson (leg), and ILB Mason Foster (shoulder). The Redskins have been relatively healthy the past few offseasons so we will see how they deal with the aftermath of the injury scourge that hit the team last year. 

Seven-on-seven—Sure, it’s fun to watch the full team drills with 11 on each side but since blocking and tackling is limited by the rules about contact, there isn’t much to be gleaned from watching an off-tackle run. But when they eliminate the guards, tackles, and interior defensive linemen it’s all passing and then we can watch how well Alex Smith and his receivers are connecting. One thing I’ll keep in mind is that Smith decided not to get the receivers together for a “passing camp” before the offseason activities started. He said that he wanted to get to know the playbook first. Because of that they can be forgiven if they are not quite as sharp as they might be. Also, how natural does Derrius Guice look coming out of the backfield to catch passes? His primary job will be to carry the ball, but if he is a legitimate pass-catching threat, the whole offense will be harder to defend.

Rookies vs. pros—In rookie camp two weeks ago we saw Trey Quinn putting defensive backs on the ground with some moves and Troy Apke showing great makeup speed on some long passes. But those tryout defensive backs and quarterbacks are no longer around. How will Quinn look against veteran Orlando Scandrick or second-year corner Josh Holsey? Will Smith’s ball placement negate Apke’s speed? In the one-on-one pass blocking drills, which emphasize technique over power, can Daron Payne get past Brandon Scherff?

The big guys—With Williams and Moses out, who will line up along the offensive line? Does Payne line up at nose tackle or is he used more as an end with Tim Settle in the middle? Is Ziggy Hood in the middle or will he work outside? How is Phil Taylor looking after a quad injury ended his season in training camp? As noted, the rules make it hard to tell much about linemen before Richmond but we try to glean what we can. 

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

Tandler on Twitter

My reaction to this tweet from the NFL illustrating the changes to the kickoff rules:

Timeline  

Today’s schedule:Redskins OTA practice 11:30; Jay Gruden and Alex Smith press conferences, players available coming off the field, after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 20
—Training camp starts (7/26) 65
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 79

The Redskins last played a game 143 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 109 days. 

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New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

Alex Smith in, Kirk Cousins out.

That's certainly the headline, but there are plenty of other questions for the Redskins, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

For the last two seasons, most of the questions going into OTAs for Washington came from the defensive side of the ball. After consecutive drafts with a first-round defensive lineman selection, the defense should be much improved. 

On offense, however, there are a lot of new parts. 

  1. The headliner - No position in sports is as important as NFL quarterback. This will be Alex Smith's first action in a Redskins uniform with media present. The 34-year-old veteran is coming off the best season of his career, and if he can continue that level of accuracy and play-making, the Redskins could be poised for an explosive year.
  2. The speedster - Washington's wideouts lacked separation in 2017. It was apparent through much of the year, and likely played a roll in some of Kirk Cousins' reluctance to make tough throws. Free agent addition Paul Richardson is supposed to help, immediately. He has elite deep speed and the 'Skins brass hopes he can bring a similar element to the offense that DeSean Jackson provided a few years back. Time to prove it Paul. 
  3. The injuries - There are big reasons for concern, namely two very large men in Jordan Reed and Trent Williams. Reed will not participate in OTAs, and has been dealing with a foot/toe injury for the better part of a year. Williams, who seems highly unlikely to attend OTAs, underwent knee surgery in January. Beyond Smith, Reed and Williams are probably the two most important offensive players on the Redskins. OTAs aren't important, Reed and Williams participating, or even attending, OTAs is not important. Both men being healthy and ready to go in September is quite important. 
  4. The Rookie - Has Derrius Guice become the most popular player on the Redskins? Maybe. The dynamic rookie running back, with an interesting draft weekend slide, has the charisma and ability to be a star. The "off-field concerns" that hurt his draft status seem like myths at this point, but there was some injury concern his junior season at LSU (see video above). Guice has an opportunity to be a huge part of the Redskins offense, and all eyes will be watching the rookie. 
  5. The leap? - In 2017, Josh Doctson showed flashes of the player that warranted a first-round pick in 2016. Will 2018 be the year he proves it, week after week, game after game? Getting off to a good start with Smith should help, and even more important would be an injury-free offseason. 

There are questions for the defense too, particularly at cornerback after Josh Norman, but this year, the offense has more new parts. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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