WASHINGTON — The Redskins’ season ended in disappointing fashion, but it’s never too early to start looking at next year.
They did finish with a winning record in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1996-97, so that could be classified as moving in the right direction. Assuming Dan Snyder, Bruce Allen and Scot McCloughan feel that enough progress has been made over the last three seasons, expect Jay Gruden to return for his fourth as head coach.
The team had plenty of chances this season to lock up a playoff berth and came up short in the biggest games of the year, finishing with losses in four of their final six. But a second straight season with a winning record, and the fact that they hung in playoff contention all year and developed an offense that ranked near the top of the league, all seems to be enough to inspire faith in Gruden moving forward.
“The next couple weeks we are going to do talent evaluations on our team,” Gruden said this week. “We’re going to go through them very closely, each player, from a play standpoint, from an off-the-field standpoint, leadership standpoint, weight-room standpoint, all of those, and really do a good job, thorough evaluation, more so than has ever been done. And then schematic — we’re going to get our scheme broken down, make our cut-ups for the next couple weeks, take a little bit of time off and go from there.”
This team will look different when it takes the field in Richmond at the end of July for training camp, but there are a lot of questions that need to be answered between now and then.
I’m not even going to go into the Kirk Cousins situation because that’s a topic that will be discussed and debated every day of the offseason until a resolution has been reached — even after that. So, until something is concrete, let’s move on to other issues.
1. Will Joe Barry return as defensive coordinator?
After Cousins, this seems to be the number-one topic on the minds of the fans. It’s no secret that the defensive side was not addressed last offseason, and the talent just wasn’t there. The unit also suffered season-ending injuries to DeAngelo Hall, Junior Galette and Kedric Golston, to name a few.
Regardless, the Redskins had serious trouble stopping the run and getting off the field on third down. Were these problems due to lack of talent or a failure in the scheme? It remains to be seen which direction Gruden will decide to go here, or whether he will even have a say in the matter.
“How much say would I have? Hopefully a lot,” Gruden said on Monday. “I was the main reason we brought him in here and so, ultimately I would think it is my call — our call. Bruce [Allen] will have some input’ Dan [Snyder] will have some input; Scot [McCloughan] will have some input, but from a staff standpoint, I like to think I have a lot of pull on that one.”
There could be a change at offensive coordinator as well. Sean McVay, after his second year, will be interviewing for head coaching jobs this offseason. There’s a chance he departs, but probably a better chance that he stays at least for another year.
2. What is the biggest need this offseason?
Defense is the easy answer to this question — more specifically, the defensive line. McCloughan knows that he must address this side of the ball, whether through the draft, via free agency or both. Fans will see a completely revamped defense next year, with up to 11 or 12 new faces.
McCloughan is a big fan of the “best player available” draft philosophy, but this year that process could be altered because of the tremendous need to upgrade the defense. The Redskins will pick 17th overall in the 2017 Draft.
3. Will the team re-sign DeSean Jackson or Pierre Garcon?
When they drafted Josh Doctson last year, the decision of which wide receiver to keep was supposed to be an easy one. The problem is, Doctson was injured all year and played in only one game. So the team really doesn’t know what they have in him, but they are counting on the first-round pick.
Garcon and Jackson both had productive years, but the team won’t re-sign both. They might not even re-sign either of them: The emergence of Jamison Crowder this season, along with Jordan Reed, give the Redskins some pretty good threats in the passing game.
Jackson is a very dangerous downfield threat; he can break open a game like few can. Garcon is more durable, willing to go across the middle, pick up extra yardage, and not afraid to block. The team will have to decide which one (if either) is worth more bang for the buck.
There have been reports that Jackson would welcome a return to Philadelphia. Could he also go back home to California? Either way, don’t expect to see #11 and #88 on the field together next year.
Questions surround the other 14 free agents on the roster, including Cousins.
“It’s our job to make sure we target the ones we definitely want back, that really have an impact on this football team — not only from a talent standpoint, but from a leadership standpoint,” Gruden said.
Players spoke a surprising amount about that last aspect at the end of the season: A number of players voiced concern over the lack of leadership in the locker room.
“If they said it, they’re the ones in there,” Gruden said. “You’d like to say that we have good, strong leadership down there, but if that’s starting to creep up in the conversation, then maybe we do need to address it. You know, we have some very good football players that may not be great leaders as far as vocal leaders. Like, Kirk [Cousins] is not exactly a vocal leader; Ryan Kerrigan is not exactly a vocal leader. Maybe we need a couple more of those.
These are just a few questions that need to be answered as the Redskins head into a very important offseason. A lot of decisions need to be made that will shape the direction of the franchise for the foreseeable future. Everything is on the table, especially after the way this season ended.