In less than a year, the Redskins completed a stunning turnaround, ascending from a laughingstock in 2014 to a division champion in 2015. But now comes the difficult part: taking that all-important next step and improving from a franchise that was fortunate to get into the playoffs to one that can do some damage once it gets there. And that work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.
In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the 25 biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.
Should DeSean Jackson be back in 2016?
Tandler: This may seem like a clown question, bro. It is if you have a short memory. If all you remember is the last half of the season, when Jackson caught 10 passes for 20 yards or more including three that covered more than 50 yards, you might think that bringing Johnson back is a no-brainer. If you look at Kirk Cousins’ performance last year, when seven of the quarterback’s nine games where he posted a passer rating of over 100 came after Jackson’s Week 9 return, it looks like an easy call.
But let’s step back and look at what transpired before November. Jackson decided to skip a substantial number of the team’s OTA sessions to film a BET reality series. Those sessions are voluntary and Jackson certainly has the option to attend or not. But Scot McCloughan also has the right to look at that and decide that he doesn’t like that example being set by a veteran player making over $9 million.
McCloughan also has the option to wonder about Jackson’s commitment after he suffered a slight shoulder sprain early in training camp. Jackson didn’t participate fully the rest of camp and didn’t appear in any preseason games. He returned for the season opener but just 13 snaps into the season he suffered a hamstring strain. Jackson himself admitted that his light workload leading up to the season may have contributed to the injury. He was on the shelf for the next six games.
So when McCloughan looks at the 2016 season and Jackson’s commitment and production compared to his $9.25 million cap number and the $6.75 million in cap space the team could save by letting him go he has a decision to make. I think the chances are that he decided that Jackson is worth it even though he has plenty of flaws. But it’s not an easy decision and it should not shock anyone if McCloughan decides that the best course if to part ways with Jackson.
El-Bashir: I think we can all agree that this wasn’t DeSean Jackson’s finest season—statistically or otherwise.
He suffered a significant hamstring injury in the season opener, raising questions about his fitness as it related to his decision to skip some OTA sessions and sit out the entire preseason while nursing a shoulder sprain.
Jackson, 29, was also involved in two of the more controversial plays of the season: the fumbled punt return against the Cowboys and the non-touchdown vs. the Packers.
All that said, I think there are more pros than cons when assessing Jackson's value to the Redskins. Consider:
- Jackson is one of three players on offense that I’d put in the ‘high quality starter’ category (Trent Williams and Jordan Reed are the others). If the Redskins want to take the next step, they need more players of that ilk, not fewer. One more thing to consider here: signing another impactful wide receiver would cost the Redskins a lot of money, too.
- The effect Jackson has on opposing defenses/game plans can't be denied. In the first seven games of the season (without Jackson), Kirk Cousins completed 17 passes of 20-plus yards. In the final nine regular season games (with Jackson), the Redskins completed 35 passes that went for 20 or more yards.
- Because of his elite speed, Jackson remains one of the game’s top deep threats. In fact, his four touchdowns came from 56, 63, 28 and 77 yards out. In addition, his average of 17.6 yards per catch ranked fifth among all NFL pass catchers in ’15.
Sure, the Redskins could roll the dice and hope that the offense—which was decidedly more dangerous with Jackson on the field—can overcome the loss of a player of his caliber. But I’m not sure the gamble is worth it. To me, the good still outweighs the bad with Jackson—even if the margin between the two is somewhat smaller than it used to be.
25 Questions series
- Is McCoy the answer at backup QB for the Redskins?
- Should the Redskins try to keep Alfred Morris?
- Should the Redskins cut Andre Roberts?
- Will there be a surprise cap casualty?
- Will DeAngelo Hall return?
- Should the Redskins draft a quarterback?
- Are the Redskins set at outside linebacker?
- Should the Redskins make changes on the offensive line?
- Should Pierre Garçon return?
- What should the Redskins do at tight end?
- Is Matt Jones ready to assume the Redskins' No. 1 running back job?
- Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016?
- Who will start at inside linebacker?
- Who on defense will take the next step?
- How can the Redskins make it to the Super Bowl?
- Who on offense will take the next step?
- Today: Should DeSean Jackson return?
- Tomorrow: How can the Redskins fix the running game?