This has undeniably been an injury plagued season for the Washington Redskins. Week after week, while hoping things would get better, they’ve seemed to only get worse. At one point in the season, Washington had 11 potential starters on IR. The stat is quite baffling because that means that Washington was missing enough players to field one side of the ball.
Granted, mental mistakes can be attributed to some key losses this season; for example, blowing a 15 point lead to the New Orleans Saints in the final five minutes of the game. However, losing key players like Chris Thompson, who at the time led the team in rushing and also was second on the team in receiving, and rookie Johnathan Allen, who was Washington’s first round draft pick, and top pass rusher for the season, really set them back.
One player that has been consistent on a weekly basis, no matter the circumstance, is quarterback Kirk Cousins. While Cousins has proven over the years that he hasn’t been able to consistently win games in the tightest situations, he has shown that he can put a mediocre team in the best situation to win games.
Proof of this comes from weeks nine and ten against the Vikings and Saints. In both games, the offense put up at least 30 points, and in the end, the defense failed to stop the other team from scoring just as much. Cousins still had the chance to lead the game by winning or tying drives downfield, but ultimately could not make it happen. At that point, you ultimately can’t get upset with Cousins failure in such situations, because Washington is basically asking him to do too much, with too little.
Cousins taking the franchise tag this season really was obviously a test to see if he was going to be worth all the money that he was asking for. But in true Redskins fashion, getting rid of two 1,000 yard receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon did not help in Kirk’s favor. Not only that, but Terrelle Pryor, who Washington acquired this offseason and had high hopes for, turned out to not be a contributing factor to the team; only registering 20 catches in nine games, one touchdown, and not to mention, currently on IR.
Prior to this point in the season, I thoroughly believed Cousins was capable of to proving his worth. Reason being, Kirk has managed to remain relevant since becoming a starter. While his name may not shake a room like Brady, Brees, Rodgers, or Roethlisberger, he’s been able to accomplish other elite feats, like finishing the 2015 season with the highest completion percentage (74.7) in home games in NFL history. Or, finishing the 2016 season with a career-high 4,917 passing yards, which was third in the NFL. You know, things of that nature.
With that being said, Cousins has held up on his end, has the stats to prove it; and thus, I cannot condemn him for the money he had asked for. However, if the Redskins want any chance to compete and be in the top tier in the league over the next few years, paying Cousins his asking price will not be in the Redskins best interest.
For example, let’s compare Cousins and the Redskins to the Detroit Lions and their situation with Matt Stafford.
The Lion’s dilemma comes from the fact that they put all their money into Matt Stafford, and face the problem of not having enough money to try and add any significant value at other positions on the field. This has caused them to plateau over the past couple seasons, even after having one of the best receivers of all time, Calvin Johnson. A team like this is forced to build strictly through the draft instead of being able to mix decorated veterans through free agency.
So, if the Redskins paid Cousins, they limit their opportunities to surround him with substantial talent. And don’t forget, Washington already has the highest paid corner in the league on their books with Josh Norman. Washington would be in a tight bind trying to allocate money around the team in the best way possible.
If the Redskins want any chance of making a run into the playoffs, or having any hope in the future, their best bet this off season is to let Cousins walk and free up some salary cap space. With this approach being the most sensible one the organization should make, they’ll be able to build a defense to carry the team over the next couple years; while also, drafting some young players and developing them on the offensive side of the ball as well.
Here’s my analysis of how the Redskins should draft in the first few rounds, considering they allow Kirk Cousins to walk.
Quarterback – Baker Mayfield
8-8 is a reasonable finishing record for Washington this season. With that being said, they will initially be given a pick around 15 – 17, give or take.
Given some of the teams who are capable of picking in front of the Washington, I believe that acquiring a pick like Baker Mayfield is a more than attainable task, and would be very beneficial.
Currently, Mayfield is listed as the sixth or seventh best quarterback in the draft according to some websites, which means that teams in the draft may be inclined to leave him available for some time. Coming out of the Big 12, Mayfield has been able to thrive throwing the ball down field, which is something that Jay Gruden likes to build his offense around (Assuming he’s still Washington’s head coach next season) Drafting a young quarterback in Mayfield allows the Redskins to free up that Cousin’s cap space, and help out on defense. Also, it helps with the fact that if the Redskins focus on their defense more in the coming years, it’ll allow a Heisman trophy winner like Mayfield to truly develop his skill set, and flourish in Jay Gruden’s pass heavy offense.
Not only does Mayfield bring a fearless knack for throwing the ball downfield, but his leadership is one of his best traits. He’s also extremely skilled at extending plays, which is something Cousins doesn’t flourish at. While Cousins has grown in his ability to extend plays as well, Mayfield’s athletic ability and arm talent enables him to make plays that most quarterbacks can’t.
Defensive Lineman – Derrick Nnadi
If you want to change the culture of a team to become more defensive-oriented, it starts up front. Already having two interior linemen like Johnathan Allen – who is known for his ability to take on double teams – and Matt Ioannidis – who really stepped up this season before breaking his hand – added a sense of stability to the defense before the injuries kicked in.
After losing those two, there was a really big drop off in production in the pass rush as the team struggled to try to field healthy players. One player that Washington should take a shot on in the second round, if he is still available, is Florida State defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi.
Nnadi is not really known for rushing the passer; however, his run stopping ability still makes him a top prospect at his position. Just like Johnathan Allen, he has durability and the knack to take on double teams, as well as the athleticism to still make plays outside of the pocket. Bringing Nnadi into the mix with a healthy Allen, and allowing him to develop as a pass rusher, really allows Washington to have a solid rotation of lineman that can help down the stretch.
This season, not having that healthy and solid rotation of defensive lineman really took its toll on the secondary and the defense as a whole. The lack of pass rush during our mid-season stretch allowed for Case Keenum to throw for 314 yards and four touchdowns, Drew Brees to throw for 385 yards and two touchdowns, and Phillip Rivers to throw for 319 yards and two touchdowns, and as mentioned before, in two of those losses, the offense had scored at least 30 points. Aside from that, while the run defense has made an improvement from last year, it still isn’t up to par to be a top contender in this league. The losses to the Cowboys and Saints proved that Washington has failed to stop the run in crucial moments throughout the game.
A young player like Nnadi can thrive in this system because the Redskins already have dynamic, movable linemen. For example, Allen can move from nose tackle to defensive end, and either be in a stance or standing up. Nnadi will be able to do the same thing, and also take some of the work load away from Allen and Ioannidis at the same time.
Running Back – Sony Michele | Ronald Jones
Jay Gruden’s offense and coaching style is catered around a quarterback who can throw the ball. However, Washington’s best games have come from being able to establish a run game early, and from there let Kirk take over in the later half with the play action pass and screen game. In the Los Angeles Rams game, this was definitely the case as the Redskins had three running backs rush for at least 65 yards, which allowed for some of the pressure to be taken off of Cousins. As promising as that sounded, as the season went on, their rushing attack could only get so far once lineman started getting hurt and when two running backs went down.
Rob Kelley more than likely will be gone next season as Perine looks to have taken over the power back role in his absence. Shifty running back, Chris Thompson has sealed his spot as one of the top playmaking third down backs in the league. Next season as he returns from injury, Washington’s best bet is to keep him in that third down role since that’s where he has had the most success. With that being said, they need to draft a running back that has the mix of power and speed and will be a great compliment to both Perine and Thompson.
Their best bet is either Georgia running back Sony Michele, or USC running back Ronald Jones. Both players are able to come in and take on that starting role and be that explosive player that the Redskins failed to have in Matt Jones. From there, Perine can be our short yardage back/change of pace running back, and Chris Thompson can be the playmaking x-factor on the offensive side of the ball as well as our primary returner man on special teams.
Wide Receiver – Michael Gallup
The future of the Redskins receiving corp has a lot of questions to be answered headed into next season. Luckily, they aren’t bound to Terrelle Pryor as he only signed a one-year deal, and his performance wasn’t what was expected. It’d be in their best interest to let him go and pick up a number one receiver in free agency.
From there, drafting a low key receiver in the fourth round will only be beneficial in developing a young quarterback like Baker Mayfield (considering they get him in the first). One player that stands out on my radar is Colorado State wide receiver Michael Gallup. Gallup, who was a first-team All-American, has the ability to come into a loaded receiving corp and take on the role of a fourth receiver, which can complement others like Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder. Not to mention, Gallup’s addition could potentially complete a potent air attack that also includes Jordan Reed (If healthy) and Vernon Davis at the tight end position. Gallup can really bring another element of playmaking ability on offense, almost like Pierre Garcon a few years back when he thriving at running drag routes for RG3 and Kirk Cousins.
The future of the Redskins is contingent upon investing in multiple positions on the field, instead of just one player—Kirk Cousins. As the season comes to an end, so does Cousins time in Washington. Considering he will not be a part of the organization next year, the Redskins can really make a few acquisitions that can help them become legitimate contenders headed into next season. Although this is all hopeful speculation, if our management decides that the quarterback position is more important than building an entire roster, than I believe we as fans will only continue to see subpar performances from the team.